It’s not so much the Fantastic Four but more like the Average Four
With a successful hit already under his belt, Josh Trank tries his hand at another comic book reboot.Fantastic Four is Fox’s second attempt at bringing this comic book to the big screen. Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, the first big screen attempt was back in 2005 and was directed by Tim Story who despite receiving negative reviews went on to direct the sequel in 2007, Rise of the Silver Surfer - which didn’t fair much better. Fast forward to 8 years later and now the baton has been passed on to Josh Trank who found success with his 2012 feature film debut Chronicle. Trank worked with Simon Kinberg - who’s no stranger to comic book adaptations having worked on the last two X-Men movies - and Jeremy Slater on the screenplay and had Stan Lee himself on board as executive producer. Working with experienced and talented individuals, and what with having had previous success with Chronicle, one could be forgiven for having reasonably high hopes for Trank’s reboot of the franchise. Sadly those hopes are not fulfilled in a film that fails on almost every level.We are introduced to a pre-pubescent Reed Richards who's light years ahead of his classmates in terms of intellect and who struggles to get his peers and teachers to take his ideas seriously. His teacher even mocks him about a flying car he was tinkering with, which was a subtle but nice nod to the future Fantasticar. Several years later, and now slightly grown up, Reed and best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) exhibit one of Reed’s experimental attempts at conquering inter-dimensional travel at a school science fair. It’s at the science fair where Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), discover Reed and quickly give him a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation, a school for young talented and gifted science aficionados. After persuading Victor Von Doom to come back to work at the foundation, Franklin is able to get his group of young scientists, including son Johnny, to focus all their efforts into cracking inter-dimensional travel.
The first half, if not three quarters of the film is predominantly centred around Reed, Victor, Johnny and Sue working on fixing and getting the Gateway machine up and running. There really is very little going on apart from a few montages of the team getting to know each other. Interspersed with those is a vague attempt at showcasing Victor’s feelings for Sue and supposed jealousy at Reed and Sue’s budding relationship along with an effort to highlight Johnny’s irresponsible and live fast nature. The film is played out like an origins story, which it does manage to do in the sense that we learn how the future Fantastic Four come together, however without really going into any of the characters thoroughly it ends up feeling somewhat empty and with hardly any character development it becomes difficult to have any kind of emotional connection to the characters.
Once the Gateway machine is complete and after a successful test run on a monkey, Reed and his team take it upon themselves to be the first humans to cross over to another dimension, before any NASA or CIA types come and try to steal all the glory. But of course with any kind of space or inter-dimensional travel comes various hazards and dangers, which the team soon discover after their return as they now each possess super powers. After spending some time at a secret government facility the team manage to learn how control their powers and simultaneously get themselves enlisted to help the U.S army on various missions. It’s not until the last twenty or so minutes that Reed with his super stretchy-ness, Johnny as the human torch, Ben as The Thing and Sue as the Invisible Girl actually use their powers to defend the world against Victor Von Doom, or Doom as he now calls himself. As for Doom’s powers, well they never really get fully explained, but he has acquired a new get up and ends up looking like a glowing cyborg minus the metal mask that Doom is better suited to.
As far as great performances go, this reboot of Fantastic Four has very few. With a majority of the interaction between characters feeling flat, so flat in fact it almost felt as if the cast were reading directly from the script with hardly any depth or life given to the characters. Miles Teller managed to deliver a marginally decent performance as Reed Richards which can only be due to the fact he is the main character with most of the screen time. Based upon his performance as Andrew in Whiplash, Teller clearly has the acting chops and, considering the limitations of the script, he appears to give it his best.
It’s 75 minutes of waiting for the film to get going and 25 minutes wondering where the last 75 went and before you know it, the credits are rolling.
Jamie Bell takes on the role as the Ben Grimm/The Thing, and with roots stemming from a tough background he doesn’t do too badly at portraying the ever loving blue eyed thing. But rather than carry on the hard exterior and soft interior depiction, Trank’s version of The Thing turns into a rather depressive and angry monster with no qualms about killing 40 or so people during an army mission — a far cry from the kind hearted Thing from Yancy Street, New York. Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) and Kate Mara (Shooter, 127 Hours) play brother and sister Johnny and Sue Storm, Sue being the adoptive sister from Kosovo, which never really gets fully explained.
Both of their performances are minimal but they are given enough time to just about establish Johnny as a bit reckless and Sue as a hard working scientist with a socially stilted edge. Toby Kebbell (Dead Man’s Shoes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) plays Victor Von Doom, but like the rest of the cast excluding Reed, isn’t given much depth or time on screen. He apparently goes from a reasonably nice guy to hell bent on destroying the world without any real provocation. It’s unmotivated actions like this that make Fantastic Four fall apart. Throughout the film there are various pointless plot details that go nowhere and end up giving the impression the film makers and/or studios were just killing time before the big ‘finale’ at the end.
Fantastic Four has become yet another victim to the comic book adaptation graveyard. Three quarters of the film ends up feeling dragged out like a huge prologue to what can only be described as a massive anti-climax at the end, which compared to the rest of the film felt rushed and super condensed. There is an attempt to make the film accessible to its younger target audience with its hip one liners (which did garner a few laughs from the predominantly young audience), references to Instagram and changing the ethnicity of Johnny, but this seems to come at the expense of fans of the original comic book series. With a sequel planned for 2017 one can only hope that it delivers what this first instalment didn’t.
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