Chronicle director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four should have been better than the superhero’s first outing in 2005. Unfortunately, as Ryan Pollard finds out, it’s one of the worst comic book film adaptations of the last 15 years.
A contemporary re-imagining of Marvel’s original and longest-running superhero team, Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four centres on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, which alters their physical form in shocking ways, granting them superhuman powers and abilities. With their lives turned in on themselves, the team must learn to harness their daunting new abilities and work together to save Earth from former friend turned enemy, Victor von Doom a.k.a. Doctor Doom. From the trailers to the talented people involved, this has been one of the most hyped superhero films of this year, and surely the payoff must be spectacular? Well, be careful what you wish for…
Now, this production has been plagued with problems behind the scenes, including disputes between Trank and 20th Century Fox, and since it’s release, the film has been universally panned by both critics and fans alike with the box office results looking pretty dismal. Weirdly enough, I actually started to like it at first; it spends a lot of time focusing on the characters before they become the heroes. It starts off with Reed Richards as a young boy, who, somewhat unbelievably, builds interdimensional travel, and the bond between him and his classmate Ben Grimm. This was really refreshing as usually this part of origin stories gets rushed in order to move along to the big superhero action set-pieces. But it was then when I started to realise two major things; firstly, there are far too many scenes just focusing on the characters alone and how they came together to build and test a device that allows them to travel to another dimension. So, as a result there’s no action and little humour, but just sciencey-gobbledegook that got old REALLY fast.
However, the big kicker was the fact that for all these scenes spent on focusing on the main key characters, there was very little to no character development! By the time this movie ends, you’re left not knowing a single thing about ANY of these people, which made it very hard to care about them and what’s happening to them. Worse still was that they never felt like a family unit, and there was zero chemistry between all of them. For example, Sue Storm is adopted in this incarnation and it’s never properly explored, so there was no conflict or emotion between her, Johnny and their father. Of the four heroes, it’s only Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) that gets anything to do as he sneaks off to find a cure while the other three dick around in a military bunker with Ben Grimm (The Thing) out doing missions for the government. All four have no personalities and don’t seem to enjoy their newfound powers.
Unlike their comic incarnations, these heroes have terrible teamwork, are total emo-arrogant brats who never think properly and make ill-judged decisions. Also, and most importantly, they are bad role models, which is just a major contrast from their comic-book counterparts and also merely proves a point about how much this movie sucks! We are meant to be invested in them and ponder what will happen to them, but in fact, you’re just left wondering how it is that Kate Mara’s hair keeps changing colour in every scene, and when a movie makes you focus more on the hair than anything else, that’s not a good sign. We do get one scene that does threaten to become emotional where Reed is trying to apologise to Ben for what’s happened to him, but the pacing is so poor that it’s over before it starts and has no resonance.
In fact, the editing and pacing overall is a total mess; it’s particularly noticeable from the second act onwards… well, if it does have a second act! That’s right, it has one long first act, very little to no second act whatsoever, and a total trainwreck of a third. The film just cuts ahead to a year later where the team have already mastered their powers. Now, the really fun parts of an origin story is seeing how the heroes get their powers and how they eventually learn to control and get to grips with them, and it’s not even in the film! They lose Victor von Doom during their ill-fated trip to the alternate dimension (Planet Zero, really?), and when they return there are no consequences. No rescue expedition, and no formal investigations; von Doom’s just gone, and nobody cares.
In fact, Victor von Doom himself is just thrown into the mix with no real introduction or presence; he’s just sort of there. This is supposed to be, not just the biggest bad guy the Fantastic Four has ever faced, but also one of the most iconic villains in the Marvel Universe alongside Magneto and Loki, and here he’s given absolutely no grandeur! When Victor does eventually return from the alternate dimension, he’s definitely NOT the iconic Doctor Doom by any stretch of the imagination. His goal and motives are so generically bland and ill conceived, he makes nearly all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s villains look three-dimensional in comparison. His entire design overall makes him look like a weird bizarre amalgamation of Amazing Spider-Man 2’s Electro and the original 1960s Cybermen (minus ear-handles) from Doctor Who.
The effects tend to vary and are a mixed bag; the realization of both the Human Torch and the Thing are amazing and it’s just like they have both stepped out straight from the comics. In fact, all of the team’s powers are realised in a visually exciting way… well, during the few times they actually use their powers. However, when the effects are bad, they SUCK so hard! Planet Zero itself suffers from that Star Wars prequel trilogy problem of everything being shot on green screen, and it just makes everything look so obviously fake and synthetic. There’s even a CGI monkey used as a test subject at one point, which just looks disturbingly bad and just pure nightmarish.
Ultimately, this was everything a movie shouldn’t be: BORING! I’m sure everyone has heard of the serious issues this film has suffered from behind the scenes, but in the end, it doesn’t matter whose side of the story you believe: Whether Josh Trank made a subpar movie or if studio executives got their hands on it afterward and made a total pig’s ear of it. Everyone should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for thinking this was a good thing for the franchise, and the deleted scenes are notable by their absence. Whoever made the call to cut out all of the scenes seen in the trailers and some of the B-Roll footage was a total idiot as doing so removes all the exciting action from the film. Did they just not put in the work? Were they rushed or had major budget cuts? We never see the four use their powers until the end, save for some quick shots seen on a monitor. Show all that in full and actually entertain the audience! There was so much wasted potential here, and here’s hoping we see a recut of the film one day, much like Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II, so we can actually see what the original version of this film was, for better or worse. But with Trank releasing that comment on Twitter recently and deleting it afterwards (Honestly, did he really underestimate the power of the Internet?), don’t hold your breath.
Fantastic Four is a colossal disappointment. It makes the two awful Fantastic Four movies directed by Tim Story look like comic book cinematic art in comparison. At least they tried to be entertaining. I think the main issue with Fantastic Four films in general is that they shouldn’t begin as origin stories. They should’ve had the characters fully formed already and just go from there, as with four heroes to set up the backstory requires a lot of Basil-exposition, which is just mind-numbing. I know there are a few people out there that won’t actually consider this movie terrible, but the thing is, we were told this would be an invigorating reboot of Marvel’s First Family, whereas actually, this was just a cash-in film in order for Fox to retain the rights to the series. Overall, this Fantastic Four film is just a complete waste of the talent involved, a waste of the characters, a waste of the franchise, and most importantly, a huge waste of everyone’s time.