With the knockout success Marvel's having in the last several years, many tend to forget that it was the Fantastic Four that put Marvel Comics on the map a year before Spider-Man sprang onto the scene. Unlike the Justice League or the Avengers, the Four were less an alliance of superpowered do-gooders and more of a surrogate family of flawed people who's lives are complicated by superhuman abilities. You would think that such a simple premise would be easy to translate to cinema, and yet all the Fantastic Four have under their names are two lukewarm movies and an unreleased ash-can film. It's sad then that the newest iteration of Marvel's first family is not just sub-par: it sets a new low for superhero movies as a whole.
In this version of the four directed by Josh Trank of Chronicle fame, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) are childhood friends that work together to build a teleportation machine. The device piques the interest of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), who are working on a large scale inter-dimensional teleporter designed by the seclusive Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan) is later brought onto the project and everything goes smoothly until a trip to the Negative Zone traps Doom in another dimension and the other four come back with superhuman abilities that the US government immediately takes advantage of.
It's obvious from the get go that Fox was aiming to avert the cheesiness of the first two movies by going for a darker, more realistic tone. To the film's credit it does introduce a couple of ideas that today's audiences would find interesting such as substituting the old space race for inter-dimensional travel and showing off the initial body horror reaction of having these strange new powers. There are also scant glimpses of character interaction that show a movie that "could have been" if it were executed differently. Sadly, the rest of the movie saunters on in a gloomy, joyless fashion that honestly made me feel nostalgic for the cheese of 2005.
There are a lot of nitpicks that many have already jumped upon such as miscasting, obvious reshoots, and shoddy CGI, but all of that pales in comparison to the fact that the movie is dour, poorly paced, and completely mishandles the idea of the four as the inseparable family that fans have enjoyed for decades. Remember when having awesome superpowers was supposed to be fun? Apparently Fox doesn't, since according to this movie all superpowers will do is make you a tool for the government and ruin all of your relationships. It doesn't help when a good majority of the movie is spent in a dark bunker or a washed out barren dimension, sucking whatever life this movie could've had into a dismal black hole. The fun bits you remember in the comics are given a dark context, and any moments of levity are quickly extinguished by setup that never fully pans out.
Whatever talent this cast might have had is completely wasted on forgettable characters who barely understand the idea of human interaction. Moments of "character development" and "conversation" come off as tired line readings with no emotion or energy injected in them. I would call the dialogue and acting wooden, but I've seen walking trees emote better than this. Save for one scene that had the cast drinking and laughing with each other, there's absolutely no sense of camaraderie or bonding with this team. Even interactions between Franklin Storm and his kids boil down to straight exposition that might as well been delivered by complete strangers.
Have I mentioned that for a team that's supposed to be called the Fantastic Four, they barely interact as a unit until the last 20 minutes to fight the completely rushed Doctor Doom? Or that there's no emotional stake between the group or the world that we're supposed to care about? Or that somehow after all that mess these guys are going to stick together just to set up a sequel that'll probably never come? Truly, this is shining example of Marvel's First Family.
Perhaps if this was the Fantastic Four people saw back in the early 2000s where black suits and gritty realism were the norm then maybe it would've had a better reception. But ever since Marvel has proven that you can be both fun and dramatic, there's honestly no excuse for having something this depressing smeared on a team that's supposed to be a bit ridiculous and fantastic. Nor can you excuse the lack of development between this team in one hour when so many other movies before it can establish a cast in less than 10 minutes. Want proof? There's actually a great Fantastic Four movie out there that immediately establishes fleshed out characters and captures the idea of an imperfect family with superpowers that will stick together through thick and thin; it's called The Incredibles.
The Fantastic Four were part of my childhood and I want to see them do as well as their fellow Marvel heroes on the silver screen. With a box office this abysmal, the best outcome is that the film bombs so badly that Marvel will finally buy it back from Fox and do this team justice, and that's the most tragic part of this whole mess. Until Fox and Marvel can agree to anything, it seems that both companies will be doing their best to sweep this under the rug and pretend that it never happened.
Oh well, at least Fox still has the X-Men and Deadpool.