I feel that I should preface this review by stating that I am not the biggest fan of Fantastic 4 from any iterations of the comic book, so my expectations have been not at all high that someone someday will make a live-action Fantastic 4 movie that works. Fox’s latest attempt, directed by Josh Trank of Chronicle fame, doesn’t necessarily get things wrong as much as it doesn’t get the things it needs to right, which is a shame because there are a lot of interesting ideas that probably would have worked well in comic form. But what it amounts to here is essentially a 100-minute long trailer to a movie we never end up seeing, or better yet, wouldn’t want to see.
That said, it starts in the laziest and least creative way possible showing Reed and Ben as kids, which is something that’s been used by Fox for many of their superhero movies already. It’s a scene used to establish Reed Richards as a super-genius who as a teenager impresses Reg E. Cathey’s Dr. Franklin Storm, who recruits him to work on a project along with his adopted daughter Sue and a Latverian hotshot named Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell). The idea is to teleport to another dimension that can be explored in hopes of fixing some of the problems on Earth, but the government wants to get NASA involved - so Reed recruits Ben, Johnny and Victor to take a test run to the dimension that goes horribly wrong.
By the time the Fantastic 4 finally get their powers, it’s about 45 minutes into the movie - almost halfway done - and that’s where the story falls apart as we jump forward a year and watch the evil government restraining the group and using their powers to do their dirty work while they “look for a cure.” Reed’s only concern is finding Doom, whom everyone else presumes is dead, and when they do find him, he’s gone quite mad from the power he’s gained and he wants vengeance for being left behind.
Setting aside the fact that the four main actors range in age from 28 to 32 and are supposed to be 17-19 years old... Maybe this should’ve been titled 24 Jump Street: The Fantastic Edition. The cast itself to me isn’t the problem as Miles Teller works well as Reed Richards and actually all the actors have decent chemistry in the earlier part of the movie. Reg E. Cathy is particularly good as the glue holding things together, and Kebbell does a solid job instilling arrogance into Doom that’s sorely missed from the dynamics when he disappears after the accident, and is turned into the emotionless one-note, monotone, mask-wearing sociopath he is destined to be. Only with none of the showmanship and character they give him in the comics. While also wearing probably the most half-assed lazy looking CGI mask I’ve ever seen. I mean, I’m serious - I can’t even really describe it. Just know it’s even worse when you’re watching the movie.
I should point out that Doom’s powers are all over the place in this. Everything from telekinesis, to flying, to being able to do that cool head-exploding trick from the amazing David Cronenberg movie Scanners. Put it simply, he’s basically just making these powers up as the script does. In fact, before the one year time jump, the whole first 45 minutes seriously felt like a David Cronenberg flick so much so when the Fantastic 4 and Doom gain their powers. Rather than have it play out like any normal super hero movie would, it’s basically played out like some kind of body horror scene where they look to be in the most agonizing pain imaginable. It goes so against the grain that I actually consider it the best scene in this whole movie. Essentially, Josh Trank is trying so hard to make a Marvel movie not like a Marvel that I seriously wish he were allowed to fully see his vision to completion. Because sadly, what happens after the time jump stinks to high heaven of studio interference. Any shred of originality this movie had is tossed aside for god awful CG, terrible one-liners, and a Final Boss fight that is so poorly shot, and sooo fucking short, you wonder why the studio even bothered to go in and tinker with it to the point of shooting it in the face like a rabid dog.
The second half of the movie is where we start seeing the FF’s powers come to play, and you might think that with the progress made on special FX in terms of creating superpowers (even on television!) Fantastic Four would benefit, but the FX look so fucking dated and (worst of all) cheap - the biggest of the problems being Ben Grimm in his Thing form.
Trying to integrate Bell’s performance with the character just doesn’t work well, because The Thing is completely lacking in any sort of emotion. When you realize there are animation and FX houses that can create much more realistic CG characters than these—the apes in the Planet of the Apes movies, for instance, or Rocket and Groot in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy—there’s no excuse to have such an awful effort. At times, the Thing looks as bad as the Ang Lee Hulk, and that’s a comparison that’s hard to get out of your mind, especially as things build to a bonkers CG battle between the FF and Doom where the dialogue gets so bad, you wonder if the writers have read anything other than comic books. Not to mention you can blatantly tell this whole final scene was filmed on one big green screen stage, so much so that I feel bad for the actors. But it should be noted that this production has had more than its share of problems from behind the scenes: everything to the delayed marketing campaign, the ill-received first trailer of them making it to dark, the firing of director Josh Trank, and the extensive last minute reshoots which has led the original director to disowning the film. And that’s just barely scratching the surface of the troubles this movie has had getting made.
While there’s plenty of opportunities for this to be better than the Tim Story FF movies (which wouldn’t be too hard), it ends up feeling drab and fairly standard. That may have been fine if this were released ten years ago, but coming on the heels of much more successful attempts at bringing superheroes from the page to the screen, Fantastic 4 reminds me of the problems I had with Bryan Singer’s original X-Men where it had so many issues but did a good job setting things up for the far superior X2. In this case, the problems clearly lie in a director being completely out of his league, and a studio which seemingly gave up on trying to make a better movie. (The whole thing stinks of the contractual obligation Fox had to make another movie if they wanted to retain the rights to the characters.)
Basically, it ends up being another origin story with a couple of twists from what’s been done before, but when the FF finally come together, the movie just ends - and not in a place where you’re left thinking, “Boy, I really want to see another movie with these Fantastic Four.” That’s a pretty bad thing for a movie that’s hoping to relaunch another franchise.
I should point out that I’ll probably get some flack from people telling me "what did you expect, this isn’t a “MARVEL” movie". Well, Stan Lee is listed as executive producer, and the Marvel logo appears at the front. Fox does a lot of business with Marvel because of X-Men and Wolverine. They are in business together. Marvel wouldn’t let this movie out without its own approval. Long story short, Fox is making more than enough with X-Men that they should’ve just given the rights back to Marvel. This movie is pretty much destined to be a bomb.
One more thing. Yes, The Thing does say his favorite line, and trust me when you hear the explanation this movie gives for why he says it, you're going to wish he just didn’t say it period.