Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Josh Trank (“Chronicle”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), Jeremy Slater (“The Lazarus Effect”) and Josh Trank (debut)
During various stages of production, there were whispers that the reboot of “Fantastic Four” was turning into a bit of a mess. Though there were reshoots and rumors that director Josh Trank was causing all sorts of on set issues, it was hard to tell if this was true or just Hollywood hearsay. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Trank left his job as director of one of the upcoming “Star Wars” spinoffs. Again, reports cited his erratic behavior and directorial performance on the set of “Fantastic Four” as one of the catalysts for the decision. Fox entered damage control mode, but the chatter hasn’t subsided as Trank’s “Fantastic Four” finally arrives in theaters, mired in all sorts of controversy.
After finding a way to send objects through other dimensions and return them back, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is given a scholarship to a research institute. Once there, he along with scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) finalize a full size model of the project. Under the threat of losing the project, the team sneaks out to claim their stake of the newly developed alternate universe. Disaster strikes, however, and the team find themselves altered, with unexplainable new powers.
It may seem like with Teller, Jordan, Mara and Jamie Bell, “Fantastic Four,” Trank put together a great cast of likeable actors who can each shine in their own way and as an ensemble. Unfortunately, that isn’t even close to being the case. Bell is barely in the movie and adds nothing, Jordan has almost no character arc, and Mara just kind of exists in the background. Teller is the only one that gets any semblance of character development, and even he is a blank slate compared to charismatic roles in many of his other films.
In fact, almost anything character related in “Fantastic Four” goes absolutely nowhere. There’s an attempt to find connection through friendships, family strains and relationships, but nothing ever develops in any meaningful way. It’s the fault of a pretty mediocre script that is somehow both slow developing and way too accelerated. “Fantastic Four” spends most of its 100 minute run time in exposition mode, giving the full origin story treatment. It then hits the gas and clumsily stumbles into the climax, which takes place over a span of merely minutes, wraps up neatly, and ends with one of the worst scenes in a comic book movie in recent memory.
The strange thing about “Fantastic Four” is that there are a few glimmers of hope. There is something oddly refreshing about its early scenes, where we see members of the team as somewhat normal people, working research jobs. There are no suits, no super powers, and most importantly, no super vague world ending threat. It’s a situation that is ripe for creating a character driven, intimate superhero movie that we haven’t seen much of. It isn’t great by any stretch, but there are moments where Trank creates almost an anti-comic book movie atmosphere. Of course, this is something that is short lived and once it takes off into generic comic-book movie territory, complete with obligatory gaining of powers, lame villain turns (minus the head-exploding powers of Dr. Doom which was, admittedly, awesome), super lame one-liners, and shoddy CGI, anything unique about the film vanishes into a puff of smoke.
“Fantastic Four” is perhaps best described as an incredibly frustrating experience. There are moments throughout the film where the viewer can actually see what Trank was trying to do. The problem is that they are fleeting, and have no lasting impact. The actual experience of watching “Fantastic Four” is not agonizing, but under scrutiny, and as soon as the credits role it becomes abundantly apparent that literally nothing about the film works. It’s a waste of talented actors, a well-known property, and perhaps most valuable, our precious time.