When a Marvel property isn’t made by the Marvel movie studio does the movie actually exist? I would argue that in the case of Toby Maguire Spidey that yes, they do. The X-Men too have led a myriad of adventures outside the Marvel studio monster, travelling in and out of the human brain and traversing the planes of space time. But there are also the sad outliers – the movies we all wish were never conceived outside of the Disney-owned hive mind. The mid-00’s Fantastic Four films come to mind. 20th Century Fox trotted out up-and-comers Chris Evans and Jessica Alba to lead the lamest group of superheroes this side of Asgard. They were disasters critically but did strike at least a decent chord financially. Which must be why Fox decided to reboot their dumpster of a franchise only 8-years later. Whoever made that decision should be checking LinkedIn for new employment because the new Fantastic Four is not only the worst superhero movie I’ve ever seen but one of the most lazily constructed films I can remember seeing in the past decade.
The foursome at the core of this story are a tough superhero troop to reboot. They were conceived in 1961 by Stan Lee as American defenders of communism – using their brightly colored suits and unique powers to keep the horrors of Stalin from upending the wonders of capitalism. To bring these characters into modern times you must think of an interesting 21st century reason for them to exist. Director Josh Trank (Chronicle) attempts to devise such a reason – and fails spectacularly.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a smart kid. The kind of kid that’s bullied at school for being a nerd (he’s even bullied by his teachers who resent his aspirations and creativity) so he goes home and tinkers. What he’s tinkering with in the garage isn’t a baking soda volcano however. Instead he’s creating a device that can teleport matter…somewhere dusty…and bring it back in one piece. He and his new friend Ben (Jamie Bell) spend (what must be) the better part of the next decade perfecting the device.
At their senior science fair they are shunned by the idiot teachers at the school (seriously these teachers are the dumbest of all the shits) but are noticed by a mysterious man and his daughter. Reed is recruited by this man, a freewheeling scientist named Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey,) to attend his academy and further his study of teleportation.
At the school Reed begins work with Storm’s daughter Sue (Kate Mara,) his drag-racing son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and a former student who could never quite crack teleportation in his heyday – Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell.) Soon enough this group of whiz kids has built a teleportation device big enough to send human life to, what has been discovered as, an alternate dimension. This place is dubbed aptly, “Planet Zero” – which would’ve been a great name for this movie.
Planet Zero has a lot of energy, enough to save Earth (I guess from an energy crisis?) But everything takes a turn toward dumpster-ville when Victor falls in an energy pit and the crew must leave him behind on their first excursion. The returning explorers are all imbued with powers to stretch, light on fire, fly, be invisible and be a big rock guy.
Fantastic Four has action scenes – as a superhero movie should – but they are so dead on arrival that it’s an insult to action scenes everywhere to classify them as such. The special effects that compliment these scenes are half-assed, pulled from an assembly line in 1999. The ugly, washed out nature of the production begins to permeate every set, scene and line of dialogue.
It’s tough not to lay this shit storm at the feet of Director Josh Trank. His previous film Chronicle was a fairly interesting take on the superhero genre (complete with super-dated found footage cinematography!) It had pathos and explored the depressing nature of the high school outsider. He wants to apply the same feeling here and actually does it effectively at times early in the film. But as the plot ramps up and characters are forced to say things like, “It’s clobberin’ time!” his focus is shot. Subplots about the government weaponizing these kids and evil Dr. Doom lurking on Planet Zero are total afterthoughts. Even the young cast of fantastic actors seem to be trying desperately to liven up this bloated carcass but by the end even they are defeated.
I’m decently versed in Marvel’s larger universe at this point (if you go to the movies semi-regularly how can you not be) and it seems to me that Fox faced a unique modern problem. They had the rights to one of these properties and a guy in a suit saw that and thought it’s impossible to miss if capes and powers are involved. The inherent problem is the Fantastic Four are incredibly lame and dated superheroes. They were conceived in an era of international strife where they could fight for an ideology. Now they just fight because. They have no mission which leaves just an ugly, dull blob of a movie. Lucky for us the Fantastic Four will probably never fight again…oh who am I kidding, this is Hollywood.