Fantastic Four (Film Review)

1.5 / 5

I haven’t been this let down by a movie ever since The Counselor slapped me right across the face in a dark, empty theater back in 2013. The Counselor was directed by the then-critically-acclaimed Ridley Scott, written by the more-than-capable novelist Cormac McCarthy and included a hell of a cast: Michael FassbenderCameron DiazBrad Pitt and Javier Bardem

Fantastic Four — not to be confused with the 2005 disaster — was directed by Josh Trank, the same director behind the stylishly sleek and solidly executed found-footage surprise, Chronicle. It’s penned by Simon Kinberg, who also wrote last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and features a group of talented up-and-coming stars.

Yet, they’re both terrible movies.

I really wanted this reboot of Marvel’s oldest team of superheroes to prove me right. I’m behind the idea of adopting this dark, body-horror approach and all the talent behind the project, but, instead, I walked out the theater frustrated and confused.

It was a wonderful vision that got lost within obvious reshoots, excessive editing and a half-assed attempt at trying to clean something that might have been fine to begin with. The result is a mediocre-at-best superhero flick, acting as a thin, bland shell of its former self.

What in the world happened? You have a director who is, skillfully, more than capable of providing the tentpole blockbuster this was supposed to be, a great writer and four of the industry’s best stars under 35. And it’s not the plot either. It’s fairly simple. A band of four teens crack the science behind interdimensional travel, shit hits the fan, they gain powers they initially can’t control and then they team up to save the world from impending doom.

The four teens and their accompanying superhuman powers consist of Reed Richards (Miles Teller), who can now stretch like rubber; Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), he can project and engulf his entire body in flames; his adopted sister Sue Storm (Kate Mara), she can turn herself and other objects, even people, invisible and generate force fields; and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), who becomes more durable and stronger in exchange of permanently transforming his entire human body into a walking rock. Reed, Johnny and Ben travel to the parallel dimension via a Quantum Gate that was designed by Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell).

Like I said earlier, it’s a modest cast. But what’s the point when they’re put into half-heartedly written characters with no depth? Teller and Mara in their roles as Reed and Sue, respectively, share almost no chemistry onscreen as two teens — yes these near thirty-year-olds are supposed to be playing kids fresh out of high school.

The same goes for Mara and Jordan— adopted sibling or not, it gives no justification for the lack of progression in development. I would have loved to see a captivating subplot in play, but the fact that Sue is adopted adds no contribution to character dynamics or development — it’s just there. The only real chemistry actually seen onscreen is between Teller and Bell’s characters — Reed and his childhood friend, Ben.

Kebbell, for the few scenes he’s in, is awkwardly morbid, and the writing for each supporting character, maybe even the main characters, was given the same amount of effort that’s put into flicking a booger — you’d actually try, but you really just want the damn thing off your finger.

On top of having no substance, I was amazed of how Fantastic Four was able to make Oscar-caliber actors like Teller and Jordan look like bad actors (the same can be said for the child actors portraying young Reed and Ben — it’s cringeworthy.) There’s a certain scene when something happens to a certain someone, and the acting we get in reply from Jordan is the kind of stuff you see your mom watching in her novellas. It wasn’t even a problem in their portrayal as the characters but in effort and how they were directed.

Speaking of direction, the first two acts of Fantastic Four feel like a mediocre origin story rustled up by Trank. But what stuck out the most was the editing. Usually, editing serves the film in a way that morphs its flow appropriately, but each scene is edited so that they look like the brief movie clips you see on YouTube weeks before a film’s release — they’re all cut too early. The first half of the film is quite the slow burner, the acting is a bit dodgy, the CGI’s mildly unconvincing and the tone’s inconsistent, but it’s still tolerable.

But the third act? At some point during production, Fox decided to stuff Trank in a suitcase and ship him to Timbuktu, because the third act, especially its climactic sequence — I think it was supposed to be climactic — is its own hot mess, separate from the hot mess in the first two-thirds of the film.

As for the action in Fantastic Four, what action? There’s only one real action sequence left from the originally-planned three set pieces, so there’s not much to keep you excited throughout the 90-minute-long runtime. And when the ball does start to roll, it only does so in a way that prepares for a sequel that might not even come.

Fantastic Four has seen its fair share of rumors, the most recent suggesting that Trank’s full version of the movie remains to be unseen, and it’ll probably stay that way. And I believe that. Similar, kind of similar to David Fincher’s directorial debut Alien 3, Trank was slowly pushed out of creative influence on Fantastic Four as a (steep but somewhat well-deserved) result of his own actions.

Maybe there’s a hidden director’s cut we’ve yet to see but, based on what I saw in theaters, Trank’s Fantastic Four adds no redemption to the brand name. Earlier I said that this was not to be mistaken with the disaster of 2005. There’s no need to — this is a disaster all on its own.

Jerome Casio, LACinephiles.com

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