“You made it ugly.”
About two thirds of the way through Fantastic 4, Miles Teller’s Reed Richards grumbles this line in reference to a remade teleportation device. If that’s not the most representative statement on this debacle of a movie as a whole, I don’t know what is.
Since its announcement, the reboot of Fantastic 4 has faced heavy backlash, helped in no small part to reports early this year of mandatory reshoots, heavy studio interference and turmoil behind the scenes with director Josh Trank’s erratic behavior.
Ultimately, regardless of who’s to blame for the production woes, none of this changes the situation that the movie we have before us is a mess of opposing interests and surface-deep ideas that never fully delivers on a single thing it tries for.
After building a makeshift dimensional portal, young genius Reed Richards attracts the attention of the Baxter Foundation, a group meant to foster young brilliance headed by Dr. Franklin Storm. Given the chance to complete his designs, Reed is paired with Storm’s children, Sue and Johnny, as well as the arrogant Victor Von Doom, to complete the project and send living beings to the Negative Zone (here known as Planet Zero). In using the device, an accident occurs that leaves Reed, Sue, Johnny and Reed’s childhood friend Ben with life-altering abilities.
Fantastic 4 is fantastic in the sense that it never fails to find a way to disappoint you, despite containing bits and pieces that hint at a good movie underneath the weight of its colossal failure. The feeling that this was a film by committee, existing to first and foremost satisfy a legal obligation, engulfs the whole picture, which would explain the overwhelming lack of passion coming from everyone involved.
In an effort to remove themselves from the previous F4 movies, the creative team has taken the gritty approach and has gone on record as saying this new story is largely inspired by the science fiction work of David Cronenberg. On the surface, this seemed great. “What superhero franchise could benefit more from a change of pace than Fantastic 4?” Well, there are several ways this approach could have payed off: multi-dimensional characters (hah), a good script, an interesting plot, emotional investment.
Yeah, this movie has approximately none of those.
There’s just no depth in any aspect to sell such a self-serious mood. We’re made to follow a set of characters we barely know anything about, who seem to have only a passing interest in each other, in a plot that almost prides itself in not advancing. A good half hour of this film is devoted to just the building of the machine that will take the team to the other dimension and it’s here that the movie shows that it could have been something.
Despite devoting entirely too much time to a single piece of the “plot”, this section of the movie comes closest to working. We get to spend the most time with House of Cards‘ Reg E. Cathy here — whose presence as the father figure of the characters is the movie’s biggest asset — and actually are given some sense of buildup for what’s coming.
Spoiler alert: it’s nothing good.
Somehow, the Fantastic Four here are more boring after they get their powers than before. The accident that gives them their abilities is impressively horrific but it’s practically an afterthought for the rest of the movie. There’s an unnecessary excursion to Panama, but most of the middle of the movie sees our main heroes stewing about in blank, cement-basement sets (don’t be fooled by the posters, New York plays only a cameo part in the film), bargain-bin visual effects and unclear purpose. Reed’s entire anemic crux of the film is learning how to make his arms not stretchy. Seriously.
Then Doom shows up, a sore sight for eyes, and the film rushes into its one and only action set piece. The ending fight of this movie is so sudden, garish-looking, poorly conceived of, wrote and all-around lame that it’s like you can practically see the Fox execs taking the scissors to the celluloid and the budget simultaneously. If the movie up to this point was simply boring, here’s where it becomes downright laughable.
I would say that this film is like the old days when studios thought they could get away with delivering subpar superhero movies as long as the titular characters appeared and looked cool, but F4 bungles even that low bar. There’s no character to this film and thus nothing to even define it as a Fantastic 4 movie. It’s simply that hollow.
For what it’s worth, this is all coming from someone who really championed giving this movie a shot in the midst of all the bad buzz in recent months. The basic ideas were there and they had the cast to hit home on at least some of it.
Yet, here we are with a film so destroyed even one of its most accepting patrons thinks it’s garbage.
The characters deserved better. The cast deserved better. Fans deserved better. The very art of movie-making deserved better.