Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four

Rating

Director

Josh Trank

Screenplay

Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank

Length

100 min.

Starring

Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Castellaneta, Owen Judge, Evan Hannermann

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and language

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Soundtrack

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Review

One of the first superhero teams, the one that put Marvel Comics on the map, has struggled for years to come up with a film version that doesn’t leave audiences frustrated, exasperated or confused. Fantastic Four not only doesn’t help the problem, it creates even more.

The original quartet was exposed to cosmic rays on a space mission. In this 2015 update, they are attacked by a semi-organic planet and infused with their impressive powers. The story centers mostly on Reed Richards (Miles Teller), a gawky teen whose forward-thinking scientific approach gets him discovered by a leading researcher, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), whose son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) is a street rod mechanic and racer constantly in trouble with the law instead of applying his vast mechanical ability to furthering his father’s missions. His adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) is a pattern recognition expert and glorified costume designer who constructs the space suits the team will use on their field mission.

The film’s other primary characters include an underutilized Jamie Bell as Reed’s childhood friend Ben Grimm, who’s a tough-talking working class kid whose attachment to the project is superficial at best; Toby Kebbell as Victor Von Doom, an anti-government genius whose programming capabilities began the project and whose assistance is needed to further the project, or so we’re told; and Tim Blake Nelson as an egotistical scientist eager to exploit the group for his own personal and military gain.

Finding a plot in this mess isn’t difficult, but what’s there is overly simplistic, painfully unoriginal and lacking any competent direction. Josh Trank helmed the project and you wouldn’t know from looking at it that just three years ago, he helmed the well received realistic teen superhero drama Chronicle. The tone is uneven and the performances aren’t much better. The film plays like a concept that should have been rejected at the studio end.

The secret to its failure on so many levels may lie in the statements that Trank made prior to the film’s release that the studio had butchered the finished film and he had no control over it. To an extent, I could buy that as anyone familiar with Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein knows; however, to have this level of incompetence applied would require a lot more than re-editing a finished work. The studio would have had to go to great lengths to re-write dialogue, re-shoot scenes and overwrite dialogue just to get something this incompetent out the door. For 20th Century Fox to do that after all they’ve accomplished with the sublime X-Men franchise means that there’s plenty of blame to go around for everyone.

We haven’t heard of any reshoots so far, which would mean that all the finished content was already there. An edit could have altered much of the trajectory, but it won’t deform an actor’s performance nearly as much as a bad director would. Although I’m not a fan of Teller, I know that he, Mara and Bell have longstanding reputations as strong actors. Mara’s work alone on House of Cards is frequently cited as a fine piece of work. Trank is as responsible for not drawing more out of his actors than the studio is for badly editing them together.

Yet, there are entire swaths of scenes missing from the trailers, scenes that might have made the film more engaging; that alone suggests that Trank may have had a different film in mind. It’s entirely possible that what Trank created was a darker, more full-bodied film, much like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but this seems entirely ill-fitting in a franchise like this one with characters like Reed Richards who can stretch his body like elastic; Sue Storm who has the power of kinetic force and the ability to turn herself invisible; Johnny Storm who’s just a giant fire ball that hurtles through space; and Ben Grimm who’s a giant humanoid rock monster. These aren’t the kinds of traits associated with adult films. These are characters more at home in teen-targeted fair, or at least more fitting to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than to the one being created for the X-Men, which is heavily rooted in realism.

Fantastic Four has many problems. A director’s cut might alleviate our concerns, but for this franchise to get out of its two-decade position as a laughing-stock of the superhero world, it needs to find someone who’s more attuned to his fanciful elements and can strike a balance between cheese-ball energy and team-based antics. The final scene in the film says it all. After 100 minutes of slow-moving plotting, limited action, but heavy visceral death counts, the team jokingly attempts to decide on its new name. This jovial tone is missing from large swaths of the film and is emblematic of how inconsistent tone along with many other issues can create a problematic, frustrating and jumbled mess of a film.

Oscar Prospects

Unlikelies: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

August 12, 2015

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