I have fond memories of the Fantastic Four from when I used to read the comic books as a child. A fun group of superheroes with the gruff Ben Grimm and wisecracking Johnny Storm, all led by the nerdy, egotistical Reed Richards, balanced out by Sue Storm, they did the usual superhero stuff of traveling the world, defeating bad guys and having a good time.
Sounds a lot like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ or ‘Ant-Man,’ with the sarcasm, tension between team members and half self-effacing, half egotistical nerdiness. Unfortunately this latest take on the Fantastic foursome from director Josh Trank doesn’t deliver the goods. In fact, not only does it not live up to its potential, it’s a rather boring movie that feels a lot more like the OBSE (obligatory back story episode) of a TV series.
Much of the screen time is focused on the backstory, on explaining how these four kids ended up with their weird superpowers: Grimm (Jamie Bell) turns into a hulking stone man, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) turns into the human torch, Sue (Kate Mara) becomes invisible and Reed (Miles Teller) gains stretchy rubber limbs. Turns out that Reed and Ben were downtrodden pals from middle school forward, Reed an outsider for being too nerdy and Ben because he had the cliché abusive family and sought to avoid them.
One science fair disaster later, Reed is approached by the mysterious Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and invited to join The Baxter Institute, a government-funded college and research facility for young prodigies. Ben doesn’t come along — sorry, Ben, you’re too low down on the IQ ladder for this place — but fortunately Franklin’s adopted daughter Sue is there. His son Johnny? He’s too darn reckless by half, trying to rebuild an old Nissan to make it a racer in what might just be a really pathetic nod to the ‘Fast and Furious’ storyline.
There’s another temperamental student who’s washed out of the program at The Baxter Institute, but comes back to help Reed and Sue finish up the Quantum Gate, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). What a great name, really the only comic-book-y thing in the entire script!
Together they build the gate and finally, about 2/3 of the way into this remarkably short 90-min action adventure film, the four boys hijack the Gate and transport to, um, somewhere. An alternative Earth in another dimension? A planet on the far side of the galaxy? A set built somewhere in New Orleans? Something or other.
But the planet’s not friendly and while Reed, Ben and Johnny make it back, Victor’s abandoned to the energy flux, a definite bummer for him, though he wasn’t very friendly in the first place, so maybe he wasn’t going to be missed at the Baxter Institute Christmas party anyway. How does Sue get her abilities? The Gate explodes, splattering the foursome with weird green energy fluid. Think an exploding Monster Energy six-pack.
The film continues with its increasingly banal storyline and ever-growing list of sci-fi superhero tropes, including the misunderstood youth who finds meaning in his new super powers, the evil military who only have war and killing on their minds, the bad guy who has lost all ability to use logic in his thinking (people are messing up the Earth. To stop them I shall destroy the Earth!), the daft environmental message (see previous parenthetical remark) and more.
To make things worse, the film’s saddled with poor dialog and just about zero acting by anyone in the cast. In fact, Fantastic Four not only seems like a TV show episode but it also has far too much in common with so-called young adult sci-fi films like ‘Divergent,’ ‘The Maze Runner‘ and even ‘The Giver.’ And that doesn’t make for a watchable movie.
Then there are some of the fundamental comic book elements that were tossed out the proverbial window too, the most obvious of which is that Reed, Sue and Johnny don’t actually want to be “cured” of their superpowers; they’re pretty cool, actually. It’s only Ben Grimm who’s way too (cough) stoned to be happy. In the film, however, they’re all eager to find a cure, which is actually a pretty big and inconsistent leap from writers Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater.
Still, it’s not the little things that make Fantastic Four a poor movie ticket investment. It’s not that it’s too short or that the performances are so flat, saddled with such terrible dialog. The problem with the film is that it’s just not very interesting. Skip it.