How can 20th Century Fox keep screwing this franchise up? It was them, along with Bryan Singer, who gave us The X-Men movie in 2000 which really kicked off the superhero movie renaissance, but for some reason they can’t seem to figure out what to do with The Fantastic Four.
I’m going to lay some of the blame on the dark and gritty Nolanverse that some studios think is what’s needed to make a comic book movie palatable for modern audiences, but Marvel Studios have had an amazing track record doing the exact opposite so I’m not sure why Fox and director Josh Trank decided to go with grim and miserable instead of fun and exciting.
The movie starts off with brilliant teenager Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) as they try to crack the science behind teleportation. How did super genius Reed become friends with junkyard kid Ben Grimm? Well you see Reed needed some parts for his machine and Ben’s parents owned a junkyard, instant friendship. This pretty much sums up all of the characterization we get in this movie; Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) is a dickish street racer who is pissed off at his dad for reasons the film doesn’t bother to explain, Victor Von Doom (Tony Kebble) is a disillusioned jerk that may have feelings towards Sue Storm (Kate Mara) so we get a bit of unneeded jealousy plot thread that goes nowhere, and Sue herself is almost relegated to the girl who gets the coffee in those 50s sci-fi movies.
When Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and Sue discover Reed’s work at the High School Science Fair he is given a full scholarship to the Baxter Institute, and Ben goes back to working at the junkyard. Yeah screw Ben, he doesn’t actually have a character so no sense bringing him along. Victor Von Doom is cajoled into returning to the Baxter Institute because Reed has finished what Victor started and so he must..something, something ego..who cares. No Latverian ruler here, just a sour faced git who eventually becomes the worst looking Doctor Doom in film history. And I’m counting the Roger Corman one.
Once Reed finally figures out how to safely send organic matter from our world to another dimension evil government stooge Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) steps in to inform our “heroes” that their services are appreciated but no longer needed, and it’s now time for the big boys to do the actual exploring. Pissed that some government astronaut is going to take the credit for their achievements, just like that asshole Neil Armstrong stole from those NASA scientists back in the Sixtiess. So Reed, Victor, Johnny, and for some reason they call Ben, and they all decide to go ahead and make the trip to Planet Zero on their own. What about Sue you ask, well screw her, this is guy stuff were talking about here!
Who could have guessed wandering around an alien landscape could be dangerous, and I certainly would never have imagined that sticking your finger in a pool of green energy could have any dangerous consequences. So of course things go sideways and Victor is left for dead as Reed, Johnny and Ben scramble back to their transport pods, all the while being bombarded with strange cosmic radiation. When they arrive back in the lab it is with an explosive force, and thus Sue is also bathed with the cosmic rays. Yep, Sue Storm gets her powers because she was just standing around. Girl Power!
What follows is something one would expect to see in a horror film or monster movie and not in a comic book adventure movie; Ben is this tortured lump of rock begging Reed for help, Johnny is constantly bathed in flames, Sue is made even less visible than she already was, while Reed uses his stretching powers to escape the facility and abandons his friends. Yeah, he’s going to make a crackerjack team leader someday. All the scenes in Area 57 are just horrifying as Ben is blackmailed by the government into become a weapon of mass destruction, with Johnny seemingly eager to join the fight. How does any of this even remotely sound like the exciting adventures found in the pages of the Fantastic Four comic books?
The previous two Fantastic Four movies were pretty terrible, but even they had a sense of fun, not this film which isn’t just tonally grim in story but also has a colour palette so dingy that it makes the Nolan films look like the Ziegfeld Follies. Did anyone want to see a version of Doom where he has telekinetic powers that explode peoples heads like Michael Ironside did in Scanners? Who would come to a Fantastic Four movie with the expectation to see the final throw down between our heroes and Doctor Doom to be on a barren rocky planet with basically zero colour? No one, that’s who.
This was an unappealing, dark and depressing film with no sense of fun or wonderment. Worse is the fact that it even fails as an action movie as we are forced to sit through almost an hour of character drivel before they get their powers, and when they do there’s barely enough time for any action set pieces. Let’s hope the people at Fox take a page out of the Sony playbook and lets Marvel take the reins for a bit, because if fictional characters could sue Fox would be facing a major defamation of character lawsuit. I really enjoyed Josh Trank’s found footage film Chronicle, and had high hopes that he’d bring some that fun and excitement to this franchise, but sadly that was not the case. I have only this to say to him and the execs at Fox…