Fantastic Four Director: Josh Trank
Screenwriters: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank
Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Heidecker 20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 | 100 Minutes
Release Date: August 7, 2015
“It’s clobberin’ time.”
Co-written and directed by Josh Trank (Chronicle), Fantastic Four is a contemporary re-imagining of Marvel’s First Family, based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, and Adam Kubert.
Childhood friends Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) create a prototype teleporter, attracting the attention of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), director of the Baxter Foundation, a government-sponsored research institute for gifted youngsters. Reed is recruited to join the institute and work with Storm’s children, Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), to complete the “Quantum Gate.”
Designed by Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), the Quantum Gate is an inter-dimensional teleportation device that allows travel to a place known only as “Planet Zero.” After completing the project, Reed, Johnny, and Victor recruit Ben and commandeer the Quantum Gate for an unsanctioned expedition into the unknown.
What’s weird about this setup is how Sue is completely sidelined from the thrust of the story. She doesn’t receive her fantastic abilities in the alternate dimension; her friends sneak out without even telling her their plan. She’s spent years working on the Quantum Gate with the hopes of one day exploring the world she helped discover, and she’s relegated to spectator status because “boys will be boys” or whatever. That’s a pretty shitty approach to telling a story about family and working as a team.
On Planet Zero, Victor attempts to collect a sample of the planet’s energy source, which appears to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ooze or Ghostbusters slime. This sequence, of astronauts exploring an uncharted planet, is reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien. When Victor – a proxy for John Hurt’s Kane – comes into contact with the neon green substance, he triggers a volcanic eruption that forces the team to return to their shuttle. Sue, triggered by an alert in the lab, works frantically to bring them back to Earth, but Victor is consumed by the pixelated glow-goo and presumed dead.
Upon reentry, the Quantum Gate explodes and Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben are irrevocably changed. It’s here where Trank’s Fantastic Four shifts gears from superhero origin story to science-fiction horror. Like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, the Four lose a piece of their humanity in the teleportation process and gain super-human abilities afflictions. As Reed crawls away from the wreckage of the crash, he looks back in a panic; his legs are still trapped under the twisted metal, stretched out like taffy. It’s a moment of biological horror straight out of Cronenberg’s oeuvre that works in contrast to the film’s otherwise muted, grounded approach.
Sadly, that’s the only moment that does work. After our heroes come to understand and control their powers, they fulfill their contractional obligation as comic book superheroes and square off against Dr. Doom. Surprise: Victor survived the incident on Planet Zero, gaining god-like abilities and a megalomaniacal sensibility. I’m not entirely sure what Dr. Doom’s powers are here, but they appear to be “Magic Telekinesis Eyes” and the ability to control the elements. Fused to his spacesuit, this Doom is a ghastly site – a weird hodgepodge of Freddy Krueger, Silver Surfer, and Lucifer, Count Baltar’s assistant from the ’70s Battlestar Galactica.
Fantastic Four is only a marginal improvement over Tim Story’s abysmal 2005 film and its equally dreadful sequel, 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It squanders a great cast on a narrative that spends too much time spinning its wheels. Teller and Jordan have great chemistry but too few scenes together. Sue seems to exist solely to fly people around in her psionic hamster ball while The Thing is barely in the damn movie. What’s the point of hiring great actors when you have nothing for them to do?
The finale is a weird combination of Ghostbusters and The Avengers, with four heroes working together to close an inter-dimension portal and banish their godly foe back to whence it came. Dr. Doom even says, “There is no Victor, only DOOM!” If he had a flattop, our heroes would’ve aimed for it I’m sure.
It’s baffling to me as to how 20th Century Fox still can’t get these characters right. It seems that those involved were so busy trying to reinvent the franchise that they never stopped to understand what made it resonate with fans in the first place. There’s no excuse for screwing a comic book property up this bad, especially when the Disney-owned Marvel Studios is making beloved blockbusters about talking raccoons and tree creatures. Dr. Doom is one of Marvel’s greatest villains – a foe that is every bit as impressive as Magneto, Loki, Thanos, and Ultron – and yet every single time someone touches the armor-clad despot, they ruin him.
It’s beyond frustrating, and that’s really the best word to describe Trank’s Fantastic Four. It’s dull, humorless, and feels unfinished – a bunch of awkwardly staged scenes spliced together; bits and pieces of compelling ideas that never quite gel. I’ve seen worse films this year, like Paramount’s profoundly pitiful Terminator Genisys, but it’s hard to qualify this new Fantastic Four as anything other than a soulless, stunted disappointment.
Oh well, I’m sure 20th Century Fox is already hard at work on rebooting the reboot. Maybe this time around they’ll cast Jai Courtney as Dr. Doom? How about Josh Gad as Mole Man? Adam Sandler as Annihilus? No wait, I’ve got it – Jaden Smith as Space Cloud Galactus™! That’ll get the kids excited about Marvel’s First Family again, right?