“Fantastic Four” has only been out for one weekend, but it has already been deemed a failure.
Some of the criticism will be well-deserved — there are very obvious problems with the movie, problems that are easily identified and very clearly hamstring all the good things the film has going for it. Problems like erratic, strange pacing, a terrible climax, and a total lack of a compelling antagonist. It’s a terrible shame, really.
If you’ve read any of the comics coverage I’ve written here, you might have figured out that I absolutely love the Fantastic Four. They’re great characters unlike any others in comics, and all the things that make them unique in the comics — the fact that they are a family with a married couple at its core, that they are explorers and scientists first and foremost, that they are all about the joy and wonder of the unknown forever exploring the farthest reaches of imagination — these are all things that make them something superhero blockbusters desperately need right now.
But we’re here to talk about a movie, not a comic book, and while it’s easy to point out the various ways “Fantastic Four” fails its source material, it’s probably far more egregious a sin that the movie doesn’t do justice to the immense talent of everyone working on it.
Director Josh Trank has only made one feature film before this — the excellent found footage superhero horror story “Chronicle” — but it established him as a promising, interesting storyteller who might do something special with an honest-to-God comic book franchise. He’s also assembled a cast of some terrific young actors at the top of their game, particularly Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) and Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”).
It’s an utter shame to see all that talent go to waste here.
Make no mistake, though — the movie isn’t all bad. Not in the least! The first half is really compelling stuff, introducing us to seven-year-old genius Reed Richards and his best friend Ben Grimm, before jumping to his teen years where he’s talent scouted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to join the Baxter program, a sort of government think tank currently devoted to cracking interdimensional travel — a problem Reed has inadvertently solved.
This first half of the film makes “Fantastic Four” more science fiction than traditional superhero story, and if you don’t mind the lack of action or spectacle it’s really quite good. Even after the teleportation accident that transforms Reed, along with three of his associates and his best friend Ben, there are flashes of a fascinating film unlike anything we’ve really seen before in superhero cinema: a sci-fi horror story.
Then it faceplants. Hard.
Not long after Reed and his friends transform — Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) into a human torch, Sue Storm (Kate Mara) can turn invisible and project force fields, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) changes into a massive, rock monster, and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel) goes missing — the film starts to quickly fall to pieces. Characters start doing things for reasons that make little sense, one time jump too many gives the film a choppy, stitched-together feel, and it leaps — it certainly doesn’t build — to the messiest climax I’ve seen in a blockbuster movie in a long time.
That climax is where all the film’s problems come to a head — Doom returns, similarly changed (good luck trying to figure out how, though — outside of his disfigurement, the film doesn’t even bother trying to explain his powers) and after a genuinely brilliant and scary scene where he kills his way through the lab, he’s pursued by the as-yet-unnamed Fantastic Four back to Planet Zero, the other dimension from which the Four’s powers originate.
What follows is a mess of a final fight scene, one that seems to come completely out of nowhere while also managing to be the least exciting thing ever. That it takes place in a barren CGI landscape certainly does not help.
And just like that, the movie’s over.
Yet calling “Fantastic Four” bad doesn’t seem to feel right. Make no mistake — it certainly isn’t good — but what it feels, more than anything, is incomplete. Already, much has been made of the ugly behind-the-scenes battle that has unfolded across numerous articles across various publications, but many people who will see this movie will also never read them. They will never wonder if they could’ve gotten something different; they will just know that what they got is a mess.
Worst of all, it’s a mess that will likely scare many people away from some of the finest superhero comics ever made.
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