MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Fantastic Four’ is a Different Kind of Superhero Movie – But Still Not a Very Good One
Fantastic Four. I wanted to like it. I really did.
I actually found all the pre-release roller-coaster drama of the production’s ups and downs really intriguing. The idea for the creation of this movie was heavily maligned from the start; according to 20th Century Fox’s deal with Marvel, if they wanted to keep the rights to the FF franchise, then the company has to make a new film featuring the characters every decade or so, or else the rights will revert back to Marvel. Since it’s been eight painful years since the Galactus-bastardizing head-scratcher Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Fox felt obligated to pump another one out. Trust me, however, when I tell you: don’t feel obligated to go see this film.
A mash-up of the original 1960s origin story and the more recent Ultimate Fantastic Four comic series (leaning more towards the latter), here’s how the plot goes: boy genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is less into Pokémon and more into inventing a trans-dimensional gateway, and with the help of aimless teen compatriot Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), he actually succeeds – to a degree. Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) visit Reed at his high school science fair (a science fair? This is where the top minds of the world are recruiting from these days?) and bring him on board their trans-dimensional gateway project, which their team (including Toby Kebbell’s Victor Von Doom and Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm) is already close to completing. With Reed’s help, the gateway is opened and successful in transporting organic matter – but wouldn’t you know it, something goes wrong. The kids take an unauthorized trip to the other side, trans-spatial hijinx ensue, Victor becomes a bad guy, and things get angtsy. That’s about it, really.
This is actually a fairly tough critique for me, because if this wasn’t a Fantastic Four movie, it would actually be a pretty decent standalone sci-fi experience. In fact, the film feels like two different movies spliced together; the first half, where the exposition lies and we get a sense of the actual story behind the characters, is a little slow (for a superhero movie, anyhow) and a little too “teenybopper,” but it’s an engaging, fairly fresh story – similar to what made the Ultimate storylines at Marvel work so well. Once the group gains their powers, however, the movie feels rushed and pressured to fit into that preconceived “super-team against the ultimate villain” mold, and it has neither the time nor the talent to succeed.
And then there’s Doctor Doom. I’m not sure a Marvel villain has ever felt like more of an afterthought than Latveria’s Finest surely does after this film. Without spoiling too much here, I’ll just tell you that the inclusion of Doom as the “threat” is thinly-justified at best and is “well, we needed someone to be sorta-evil-for-no-real-reason and drive the third act” at worst. In regards to the character of Victor Von Doom in the first half of the movie – again, not a terrible first half – I thought everything was okay, and Kebbell certainly does a serviceable job of being more antisocial than outright-evil… but once he fully Dooms up, things get confusing, frustrating, and dumb, and not necessarily in that order. And his look is just… weird. Like a T-1000 from Terminator with some green glow paint streaked here and there. For someone who seemed perfectly content – happy, even – to be a part of the research team early on, Doom goes bonkers antisocial-to-the-extreme fairly quickly. But hey, at least he wasn’t a blogger, am I right?
There are some positives to be had in Fantastic Four, but sadly, you have to work really hard to find them. The humor is subtle and sparse, which could be something that movie-goers might be looking for after being inundated with a slew of recent “first we laugh, then things go boom” style of superhero movie. There’s not a spandex suit with the number “4″ on it in sight, and that’s definitely a good thing within the context of this plot; forcing the “super team” aspect would have been a mistake in an origin story like this and – what’s that, you say? Reed does give a big “together we’re powerful” teambuilding speech toward the end of the film? And they do end up in a crazy-fancy research facility with all four of them excited to work together despite all the angst and on-again, off-again love-hate feelings they’ve shown for each other throughout most of the film? Well, I guess that leaves us with only one positive point so far. That’s about all I’ve got, really – cinematography, acting, and score are all serviceable but nothing to write home about. The Thing does look good, though, I’ll give them that – but his positive is quickly negated by the generic-combustion, little-balls-of-flame-always-on-target, Super-Nintendo-graphics-style presentation of The Human Torch. With the exception of the very-cool-looking rock guy, this group ain’t got nothing visually on Evans, Alba, and Gruffudd from the first two cinematic releases.
Usually, I encourage readers to make their own decisions on whether to check out a film, but for Fantastic Four, I’ll be rather emphatic: don’t bother. There’s really nothing here you haven’t seen before, and there’s certainly nothing that’s truly worth throwing your hard-earned money at in a theater. Maybe if this film does as financially poorly as most people expect it will, we can help send a clear message to the powers-that-be in Hollywood: make movies with a purpose focused on the entertainment aspect, not the just-because business side of things. I think we’ll all find ourselves feeling much more fantastic that way.