There has been such host of spectacular comic book adaptations/superhero films over the past few years (particularly from Marvel), that when the studio releases one that is more flop than fantastic, it’s not only a disappointment to fans of the genre, but also a bit of a puzzle.
Fantastic Four tells the story of how a group of misfits became the quartet of crime fighting heroes. When Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and his childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) manage to create a teleporting prototype, Reed is asked to join the Baxter Foundation to help create a Quantum Gate, that would send people into another, parallel universe, where resources are unlimited. Along with fellow prodigies, Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and the rebellious Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), the project is completed.
But when NASA wants to be the first to test and use it on humans, Reed, Ben, Victor, and Johnny decide to make history and become the first to set foot in the other world, called Planet Zero. It’s an eerie landscape where green lines of energy traverse the ground. When Victor tries to collect a sample, the substance explodes. Victor is caught in the blast and only the other three make it back to earth, with the help of Sue.
The force of the explosion travels through the teleportation device, changing the entire group, including Sue, at a molecular level, and bestowing upon them superhuman powers. Reed, who becomes super flexible and can stretch his limbs over large distances, blames himself for what happened and abandons the others to government experiments.
The remaining three are taught how to control and use their powers, with the U.S. military hoping to utilize these abilities in combat. Sue can become invisible and generate massive energy force fields, Johnny becomes a great big ball of fire that can fly, while Ben got a raw deal: he’s been permanently changed into a large, rock-like hulk with enormous physical strength.
The rest of the story concerns Reed’s quest to help restore the group to normality, while the American government-types just want a new machine to harness the energy of Planet Zero, where a new, but familiar enemy waits.
What should have been an intriguing back story of some of Marvel’s most famous characters is utterly dull and unexciting. The characters are like cardboard cutouts and it’s difficult to invest emotionally in any of the four heroes. Despite one or two attempts at flat jokes in the script, the story lacks the playful humour of Guardians of the Galaxy or Antman. The effects and action sequences feel more like a video game than the highly advanced spectacles we’ve seen in The Avengers or X-Men.
In Fantastic Four there’s none of the fist bump, punch-the-air-while-shouting-“yeah”-in-your-head kind of action that you’d expect. It’s a shame because the film features actors who are so supremely talented that they alone should have been able to carry the story. It’s bizarre that Miles Teller, who was Oscar-nominated for his intensely emotional performance as an aspiring young jazz drummer in Whiplash, and Kate Mara, who was so captivating as an ambitious political journalist in House of Cards, could be so uninspiring in this film. It’s probably not so much the actors though, as the bland plot and terrible direction.
Director Josh Trank posted (and then deleted) a tweet that he had a “fantastic” version of the film a year ago which critics would have loved. He seems to imply the studio messed with it. This might make more sense to those who sat up in 2012 when Trank made the excellent indie sci-if, Chronicle. It’s reported Fox studios decided to cut three major action sequences from Fantastic Four while sources say the director was erratic and aggressive on set. Trank apparently even told cast members when they should breathe and blink (maybe that’s what made them seem like stiff toys?).
Whatever the reason, Fantastic Four is a flop of gargantuan proportions, or, without using flowery language: it sucks, badly.
Rating: 1 out of 5
Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Ben Grimm, Toby Kebbell.
Fantastic Four opens in South African cinemas on Friday 14 August 2015.