Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg. E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Plot: A group of young scientists create a transport device to another dimension, where their bodies react in strange and dangerous ways.
How to make a Superhero Movie in the 21st Century: Lesson 101. Step One: take a well-loved, yet fairly nonsensical comic book series. And what more nonsensical than the Fantastic Four. A group of four scientists, one of them the most hilariously womanised figure in comic book history (a girl whose power is sitting invisible in the corner and keeping her mouth shut!), with a wild array of powers. A man made from stone. A guy who stretches. Only the Human Torch, a man who can turn into a flaming bullet at will, really seems to fit the category of hero material. And as the two comic book movies Marvel already came up with proved, it is really hard to make a Fantastic Four movie without becoming too reliant on CGI. Step Two: with this fun, colourful team create a gritty, realistic world for them to dwell in. Make your heroes real. It has worked for Batman, Superman… even Captain America and the X-Men are taking on real world issues like politics and racism in their movies. It is a tactic that works.
And for a long while, it really did look like Josh Trank was onto something with this film. For one, it wasn’t too far from his last movie, Chronicle, a tale about three unwitting teenagers who gain super-powers and learn how to use them responsibly. This is pretty much the same movie but with a bigger budget and a household name for the characters. Sprinkle in the freshness of a few ideas. Casting Michael B. Jordan, a black actor into a white role, is a brilliant move. While it caused a few grumbles in the ranks of the purists, it is a wonderful message to send the movie industry, expanding the potential of these well-worn characters. Even without the confident director and the fresh casting, a gritty Fantastic Four seemed a perfect remedy for the fun, yet average 2005 effort from Tim Story. Sadly, the finished result is just as clunky and frustrating as the reviews have been suggesting. The new Fantastic Four makes the camp fun of 2005 seem OSCAR-worthy, as Trank makes these exciting superheroes dull and lifeless. The movie slows right down to a crawl, dissecting what makes them tick and grounding the supernatural side of the story in scientific mumbo-jumbo. We can see Trank’s vision, the humanity of the story matching that of most biopics, but a slow pacing ruins any hope of a winning franchise. The problem is that in making these characters more relatable and human, Trank accidentally trims the interest we have in them. Say what you will about the cartoonish 2005 heroes, they were new and exciting. Miles Teller is given your everyday young brainac, out of his depth. Victor Von Doom, Marvel’s most iconic and pantomime villain, is reduced to a mildly pissed off scientist. Therefore, we have a bloated running time focused on discussing the characters, but with half of the actual characters missing. The first half hour of this movie is an annoying waste of time.
It’s not really the cast’s fault either. The strange thing is that no one is miscast. There are flashes of brilliance in the roles. Michael B. Jordan emerges the star, because he is the only actor who is allowed to have fun with his part. Miles Teller can do the quiet, yet heroic figure – it helps we have seen him deliver OSCAR-worthy performances before. Jamie Bell, before he is trapped in a CGI body, is a wonderfully restrained Ben Grimm, a hulking thug with a soft, quiet way of speaking. Moments of action also impress, especially Reed Richards using his flexible body to punch soldiers a few feet away and the Human Torch gliding through the sky. However, by the time, the heroes have their powers, there is no longer enough time to devote any of the movie to the action side of things. A villain comes out of the blue (no surprises where from), and the climax is reduced to twenty minutes, nowhere near enough time to a) make the bad guy feel like the all-powerful being he is meant to be and b) convey the message that teamwork can take down the strongest foes, a moral that this comic should really be all about. The fight is a quick tussle, where there are first, hilariously beaten, only to come back five moves later, after a mandatory pep talk from Reed Richards and kick ass in the space of five seconds. The cumbersome build-up feels criminal. I haven’t even got around to condemning the poor dialogue or the wasted sub-plots. These heroes are actually some of my favourites the comics produced, yet I have not yet seen them done justice. It doesn’t look like I will anytime soon either.
Final Verdict: A few bright notes are weighed down by a painfully slow pace and dull re-imaginings of the characters.