FANTASTIC FOUR

PrintE-mail Written by Jack Bottomley

This has been a year of surprises- from the Mad Max series ascending to awards worthy level to Paul Feig’s Spy actually being great- however not all of them have been good. Once again, the curse of troubled production reared its head and this time the victim was sadly the new Fantastic Four (or Fant4stic if you must) from 20th Century Fox. From the early days of development this reboot (the third attempt at kick-starting a Fantastic Four movie series) had a lot to prove. The seemingly unusual casting choices, cynicism behind Fox’s ability to deliver to the same level that Marvel Studios have and the pre-mature announcement of a sequel (before this was even filmed), all caused controversy. However with Josh Trank (Chronicle) behind the camera and a fresh, talented, young cast, surely the results could give us something? Sadly the results gave us something all right but it was far from fantastic.

From the twitter rampages of a dismayed director, on-set fall outs and tensions and press conference put downs, the story behind this attempt to re-light the cinematic fires of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s colourful comic book quartet, is a better story than the one that plays out onscreen. The film starts reasonably well, with a young, ambitious, Reed Richards who attempts to crack teleportation in his garage alongside pal Ben Grimm. 10 years on, Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) are still at it and their work catches the eye of government-backed scientist Franklin Storm (an almost Darth Vader sounding Reg E. Cathey). Storm recruits them to his programme and alongside Susan Storm (Kate Mara), his adrenaline junkie son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and temperamental computer scientist Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell); they attempt to crack inter-dimensional travel. However their success may not only change their lives but the lives of all around them. 

Fantastic Four starts off with genuine promise but the film suffers progressively from a clear dwindling passion and interest form all involved. The dissention that occurred behind the scenes is visible (even if you were unaware of it going in) in the final product, which feels like a badly knitted together sci-fi b-Movie. Trank’s original vision of a darker and grounded story (inspired by Cronenberg’s Scanners) seems to have been diluted by the studios less risky “aspirations” of a generic superhero actioner. The two halves do not gel and the difficulties clearly sap the passion and energy from the film. The most frustrating thing about the film is that it could have been so interesting. The idea of focusing on the clinical and immediate implications of these confused and scared super-powered youngsters, could have told a superb origin story. Alas Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank and Simon Kinberg’s increasingly drab origin story is tonally confused and unsure of what the hell it is anymore.

It takes literally 75 minutes of the 100-minute running time to have the villain appear and thus the film crowbars in a special effects laden and entirely empty final set piece. The latter half of this film is spontaneous, not built up and delivered with such lethargy that it is clear all involved lost faith in what they wanted to achieve a long time ago. Any attempt at comedic touches seem to fizzle out leaving the film feeling even more distant from the colourful source material and it makes Tim Story’s 2005 film look stellar by comparison. This is made even worse by the charmless visual designs, which clearly were delivered by a confused crew unsure of the film they were making and who can blame them? The decision to go darker would be fine were it done well and adhered to but the tone of Trank’s film cannot decide whether it wants its flame on or not. 

The only saving grace is a handful of scenes- especially the emotive first look at The Thing (that was likely more Trank than Fox)- and the talent of the cast. Teller is occasionally a warm presence and you get insights into just how great Jordan, Mara and Bell could have been. Sadly the characters are shackled with a shambolic script (“you made it ugly”) and stripped of their vibrancy which leaves the cast to struggle to get a spark going, earlier on this is less an issue but after a certain point (cough cough studio meddling and a giving up director), that initial human and playful touch is extinguished. Reed Richards becomes a supple sulk, Susan and Johnny Storm do next to nothing and The Thing hardly makes his presence felt at all- aside from the aforementioned scene and the odd forced action bit. Although the biggest crime is Kebbell’s Victor von Doom, who is hardly even relevant until 25 minutes before the credits, when he looks more like a man in a melted gimp suit than a master maniacal sorcerer genius. As re-imaginings go, this all is cluttered, problematically structured and the writing is all over the place, with so many unexplored and unexplained areas that make the initial set-up a distant memory.

While there was some absolutely stonking potential here, the interference of studio bigwigs and consequent fatigue from the crew and their issues, has sent that film to another dimension. Thus, we are left with the Fantastic Four’s duller cousins and a film that, while not meritless entirely, commits the crime of wasting a once passionate cast and crew. As a regular viewer, you can find a straightforward, albeit illogical and stupidly structured, slice of cheese (albeit grey and mostly flavour-free cheese) here that might pass the time but Fantastic Four fans will not be amused and may want to go clobberin’ the screenwriters and the deluded creativity stamping Fox executives. Not cool guys…

Special Features:  Featurettes / Concept Art

FANTASTIC FOUR / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JOSH TRANK / SCREENPLAY: JOSH TRANK, JEREMY SLATER, SIMON KINBERG/ STARRING: MILES TELLER, KATE MARA, MICHAEL B. JORDAN, JAMIE BELL, TOBY KEBBELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Actual Rating:




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