Directed by: Josh Trank
Premise: An adaptation of the Marvel comic book. A group of young scientists teleport to another dimension and are imbued with superpowers.
What Works: The 2015 edition of the Fantastic Four gets off to a decent start. The opening portion of the film focuses on the relationship between the young Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, starting in their elementary school days and skipping ahead to their senior year of high school. In another movie, the story of these childhood friends whose paths are about to diverge might have formed the basis of an interesting story. There are two notable performances in Fantastic Four. Kate Mara is cast as Susan Storm and Mara breaks from the usual comic book heroine. Female superheroes usually have the look of Cat Woman or Black Widow, assassins who kick ass in formfitting outfits. Mara’s version of Susan Storm is quite different and she plays the part with an Asperger-like remoteness. Jamie Bell plays Ben Grimm, who later becomes The Thing, at which point the character is rendered digitally. The Thing is the most interesting member of the Fantastic Four since he is the outsider of the group and he has flashes of empathy that are the sole emotional moments of this film.
What Doesn’t: There is an inherent problem facing any adaptation of the Fantastic Four: these characters are lame. The Human Torch and The Thing come across as less interesting X-Men while Susan Storm turns invisible and Reed Richards has the same superpower as Stretch Armstrong. These powers may have worked in a comic book but they frequently look stupid in a live action movie. Instead of embracing the silliness of this property the filmmakers of the new Fantastic Four try to overcome it by adopting a dark and gritty visual style. This only magnifies the problem and it is indicative of the barrage of creative misjudgments that turn Fantastic Four into a disaster. Miles Teller is miscast as Reed Richards. The role calls for a leading man, someone who can hold this group together and give them focus and purpose. Teller doesn’t have those qualities and the script does him no favors because it does not even try to develop him into a leader. For that matter the entire team is strangely isolated from each other. The story doesn’t give the characters opportunities to work together and they never merge into a cooperative group. All of the characters of Fantastic Four are barely one dimensional. Reed Richards and Susan Storm are both smart but aloof while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan) is mad at his father for no apparent reason and Ben Grimm is a wordless side kick until he transforms into The Thing, at which point he is a wordless sidekick made out of rock. Fantastic Four has virtually no story and it is really boring. Following the accident that grants these young people superpowers they are held by the government and coerced into becoming military assets while Richards flees the base and abandons his friends. The movie glosses over or entirely skips all of the most interesting portions of its story. The entire middle act of the movie is a disconnected series of scenes with no tension that gives way to a finale that makes no sense. The climax falls back on comic book movie clichés as the heroes must save the world from a giant beam of energy but it’s never clear what’s happening or what the heroes are trying to do about it. Among the most surprising disappointments of Fantastic Four is the shoddiness of its filmmaking. Kate Mara is saddled with a distractingly bad hairpiece, the blocking and editing of the of the action is amateur, and Dr. Doom looks like he walked off the set of the infamously scuttled 1994 Fantastic Four movie.
Bottom Line: Fantastic Four is one of those rare films that is stupefyingly bad. How a major studio property with this cast and the director of Chronicle ended up with this disaster is a story that is probably far more interesting than anything in the movie.
Episode: #555 (August 16, 2015)