'Fantastic Four': Review

By Grierson, Tim | Screen International, August 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

'Fantastic Four': Review


Grierson, Tim, Screen International


Dir: Josh Trank. US. 2015. 100mins

After battling months of bad buzz about a troubled production and the need for reshoots, Fantastic Four emerges as a wounded animal of a superhero movie, only rarely showing flashes of the darker, more emotional breed of Marvel film it's trying to be. Certainly, Fox's rebooting of the franchise blessedly lacks the dopey irreverence of the 2005 version and its sequel, both directed by Tim Story, but Chronicle filmmaker Josh Trank struggles to balance an origin story, mediocre comic-book action, and a strained metaphor about dysfunctional families. A good cast led by Miles Teller gets swallowed up in a narrative that grows progressively more muddled and tedious.

Opening across much of the globe by August 7, Fantastic Four will be socked by bad reviews and poor word-of-mouth, the film serving as a test of how much superhero-movie fatigue is out there in the marketplace. Teller, along with co-stars Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan, have a little name recognition with viewers, but after initial good grosses, Fantastic Four may prove to be a weaker performer than other recent comic-book offerings. If audiences smell a stinker, though, the commercial drop-offcould be even steeper.

Early on, the film introduces us to nerdy teen egghead Reed Richards (Teller) and his working-class best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), who must say goodbye once Reed is accepted into the Baxter Institute, which is working on a technology that can transport matter to other universes - a technique, it appears, that Reed has already come close to perfecting. Teaming up with the pretty and brilliant Sue Storm (Mara), her bad-boy brother Johnny (Jordan) and an arrogant rebel genius named Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), Reed begins work on a machine that can open a portal between our world and a mysterious alien realm.

Fantastic Four's opening sections show promise, Trank and his two fellow screenwriters Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg taking their time establishing Reed's personality, his friendship with Ben, and his sweet, tentative flirtations with Sue. But after Reed's team puts the finishing touches on their contraption, the movie's first major signs of trouble start to appear.

Mad that their corporate-minded boss (Tim Blake Nelson) wants to have the initial tests done with NASA astronauts, Reed, Johnny and Victor - giddy from a night of drinking - decide that they'll secretly strap themselves into the machine and journey to the other realm so that they can get the glory of being the first to step foot on this new world. Impulsively, Reed calls Ben in the middle of the night to join them on the impromptu expedition, figuring that his old friend should be a part of a scientific breakthrough he helped Reed begin long ago.

It's not an unusual trope in fantasy and comic-book movies for the heroes to bring about their own superpowers by accident, but the thought process displayed by Fantastic Four's supposedly brilliant characters borders on idiotic. Explaining away their actions by making them drunk and immature - "they're just kids" is a convenient excuse used a few times in the film - Trank finds a flimsy rationale for getting them into the teleportation machine, with Ben's rash choice to come along just as ludicrous. Not surprisingly, things go awry as the unlikely astronauts get dosed with a strange energy force on the alien world, Victor seemingly killed in the process and leftbehind. (Sue, who didn't know about the plan, gets zapped by this energy once they arrive back at Baxter Institute.)

From there, Fantastic Four makes less and less sense, leading one to wonder if these rumoured reshoots and script problems were chiefly in the film's second half. …

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