Editor’s Notes: Fantastic Four opens in wide theatrical release today, August 7th.
There’s something vaguely disconcerting about attempting to review Fantastic Four, the latest reboot of Marvel Comics’ classic comic book characters, because it barely feels like a movie. It’s a feature-length PowerPoint for 20th Century Fox’s investors to rub their artless hands over and consider the millions they will make from this abysmal mess and its planned sequels/spin-offs/torture devices. One can only hope that the inevitably scathing word of mouth will lead to the box office failure it deserves. Until the figures come in, though, promises of further instalments to this already-unwelcome franchise feel more like a threat.
It’s a feature-length PowerPoint for 20th Century Fox’s investors to rub their artless hands over and consider the millions they will make from this abysmal mess.
The fourth filmic attempt to do this series proud (or keep the studio’s rights reverting back to Marvel/Disney, take your pick) manages to be the least successful yet, bearing in mind the first was never actually released. It truly is a shame that this abomination didn’t meet the same fate. Josh Trank, who helmed the brilliant found footage superhero movie Chronicle and has since distanced himself from this ghastly piece of product management, details the origins of Stan Lee’s beloved creation (just in case you missed it the other two times). In the latest version, based on Mark Millar’s Ultimate run, five (technically four because the female, Sue Storm (Kate Mara), only catches the after-effects) scientists teleport to another dimension, where they gain “aggressively abnormal physical conditions”, or superpowers if you’re not in a joyless cash-grab without a morsel of reverence for its source material. Reed Richards (Miles Teller) can stretch his limbs, Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan) can fly/create flames, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) becomes a rock monster and Victor Von Doom is covered in what appears to be molten Easter Egg wrapping and turns evil because his name is Victor Von Doom.
This writer can’t comment on rumours of Trank’s alleged drunkenness on set, but it wouldn’t be shocking if it was made by a group of barely functioning alcoholics working on a budget they collated from selling their own faecal matter as food. For one, that would explain the film’s unmistakable stench: a revolting concoction of corporate greed and beyond-amateurish filmmaking. The screenplay, subjected on us by Trank, Simon Kingberg and Jeremy Slater, is almost comically mishandled. The pre-transformation scenes show some genuine promise; there are seeds of interesting character dynamics as Reed gradually distances himself from his friends and Sue (who can now turn invisible and generate force-fields, which are applied as human-sized master balls) and Johnny deal with a hint of adopted sibling rivalry. For a team known as “Marvel’s first family”, the audience never get the sense that these people are even friends, let alone kin.
The screenplay, subjected on us by Trank, Simon Kingberg and Jeremy Slater, is almost comically mishandled.
In a competently written film, the characters would solve these quarrels at the end of the second act, ready to become a team and take on Doom in the finale. There’s only one issue with that: Fantastic Four has no second act, it just jumps to a year after the incident, where Doom reveals his pitiful self and the heroes battle him for five minutes before the movie abruptly ends. To say the pacing was terrible would imply there was any pacing in the first place. This movie’s so horribly written, the finale features Grimm (or: The Thing) shouts “It’s clobbering time”, which in this film was inspired by his abusive brother’s catchphrase before beating him. Do most superheroes draw from traumatic experiences for their signature lines?
The action is atrociously lifeless, exacerbated by CGI on the level of The Rock’s scorpion monster in The Mummy Returns, which was deemed unacceptable 14 years ago. The green screen and compositing looks like something a 5 year-old would produce on Microsoft Paint, not a $122-million dollar studio production! You can sense Trank’s natural talent presenting itself in the rather excellent Cronenbergian body horror-inspired scenes of the four discovering their abilities, but any flashes of inspiration are quickly squandered by Fox’s apparent inability to make anything other than as bland, unimaginative and, frankly, boring as possible.
None of the spirit of the Fantastic Four remains in this colossal misfire. The family dynamic, the sense of wonder, the adventurous optimism, all replaced for hollow self-reflection and “realism”. It may as well consist of nothing but Fox executives burning the comics they’re relying on to sell movie tickets. Your main villain is called victor Von Doom, stop pretending to cool, edgy or whatever the douchebags this was made for want and have some fun! Virtually nothing about this movie works. The dialogue is ludicrous (“His biochemistry is off charts”), the action is limp and everyone involved seem embarrassed to be there. Worst of all, it has no reason to exist other than the financial. The characters don’t get complete arcs and there’s no theme beyond “punching someone is easier when there are more of you”. It feels like the first episode of a Saturday morning cartoon show that would wholeheartedly convince you to never watch the second.
Remember that scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker is filming himself torture a Batman imitator? Fantastic Four feels like that scene on repeat for 100-minute, with the cast taking the victim’s role and corporate interest standing in for the Joker, except it’s actually intended to be pleasurable to watch. Which it isn’t. At all. A nakedly commercial exercise in cultural vandalism, it not only manages to be the most insultingly unfaithful Fantastic Four movie yet, but has swiftly entered the pantheon of the worst superhero films ever made. Call it “Four”.
A nakedly commercial exercise in cultural vandalism, it not only manages to be the most insultingly unfaithful Fantastic Four movie yet, but has swiftly entered the pantheon of the worst superhero films ever made.