Fantastic Four (2015)

Posted: 27th December 2015 | Written by: Ben Browne

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Even as a superhero fan, I will admit it's getting difficult to keep track of all the super-powered films fighting for elbow space in a crowded market. As a reviewer, I feel my job is to sort the wheat from the chaff and tell you which ones might be worth the trek to your local cinema.

Fantastic Four is the latter. It's 100% binnable chaff and I had the misfortune of seeing it before it limped out of cinemas.

Fantastic Four tells the story of a gang of young scientists who crack the secret of interdimensional travel. Genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend/muscle Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), weirdo loner Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and tearaway Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) end up teleporting across dimensions to a new and dangerous planet. Bad science stuff happens and Victor doesn’t make it back. The accident gives Richards, Grimm and both Storms (Kate Mara’s Susan Storm is caught in the explosion when our heroes return) superhuman abilities.

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Whilst an origin story, especially one that takes as long as this one does, is definitely not needed, I can appreciate it on some level. I had a problem with the Muppet Babies version of the team, but the cast did enough to convince me it wasn’t the worst idea. I liked Miles Teller as Reed Richards. He’s not the old-school father figure that he is in the comics, but he’s affable enough.

The narrative concentrates on him and he’s actually fleshed out rather well. I was sceptical about Jamie Bell’s apparent miscasting as The Thing, but he does decent work as Ben Grimm. Again, he’s not the comic book version, but I could get on board with him as Reed’s designated protector.

Less of a success is the rest of the cast. As you may have gleaned from the plot summary, Sue Storm is largely pushed to the side. She’s not even part of the expedition, which is baffling to me. I think Kate Mara did alright with what little we saw of her, but the film isn’t interested in her, so her impact on the film is minimal. Even the widely-panned Jessica Alba version of Sue Storm was better sketched than this AND had a more convincing wig.

I really expected Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm to be the breakout character. Disappointingly, he was weirdly subdued. Jordan is a great actor but it feels like the film hasn’t got time for much fun with him and his powers. He doesn’t strike me as the impulsive hothead he should be. Doom is another story. I could dig where they went with him. I rolled my eyes just as hard as everyone else did when leaked info pointed to Von Doom being an angry bedroom hacker. In practice, I could appreciate the idea of taking an angry computer nerd with strong opinions on the government and corporations and giving him a scary amount of power. Kebbell even manages to be fairly effective in the face of slapdash writing and leaden dialogue.

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My problems with the characters sum up my opinion on the film as a whole. I can see what they’re doing and can appreciate it to a point but the whole thing is schizophrenic. It’s like a PG-13 edgy science-fiction film that has to be a superhero film under duress. Up until the gang get their powers, there is some solid characterisation on display.

After the incident, it just becomes a jumble of hackneyed story elements and rudderless CGI. There were bits past this point I enjoyed, but I liked them in a vacuum, free from the incoherent mess around them. For instance, I liked the weird body horror elements when the four wake up and find themselves in terrifying personal predicaments. There are a few scenes like this scattered around and they feel like glimmers of better and rougher drafts that somehow made it into the finished film.

I don’t have a problem with origin stories. Some of the greatest and most enduring stories in human history are about the birth of heroes, so it seems weird to me that they’re usually the least compelling in a film series. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, there are ways to ensure your precious franchise starter doesn’t suck straight out of the gate. Fantastic Four unfortunately ignores all of them and as such has to be chucked on the ever-growing pile of rubbish reboots with overambitious sequel plans. The film is a stapled-together mess. There are some genuinely inventive and decent ideas in the script, but it’s all neutralised thanks to having to conform to the superhero norms.

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I really wish I could punch this film’s third act in the face. It’s honestly like the film has stopped trying. It’s all just colours and noise. For valiantly hanging on in there, all the remaining audience are treated to is cringeworthy dialogue and a computer-generated assault on the eyes. To cap it all off, it has a conclusion that threatens more terrible films. By the end I was genuinely annoyed. It’s not because I saw a bad film, I've seen enough of those to build up a tolerance. What angered me was the fact that this version of Fantastic Four could have conceivably worked. It wasn’t a great adaptation, but it had a fresh angle of attack. it just failed at knowing what to do when it got there. To go back to the wheat/chaff analogy, it's a husk of what it could have been.

Fantastic Four is pretty terrible. However, it's more of an interesting failure rather than a full-on trainwreck. I'd like to do more than completely slate it, but I'm not in the business of what could have been, so I have to face facts. It’s a banal retread of the same old and tired stuff we’ve seen before and we should and do expect more from blockbuster entertainment. So, do what about 90% of the potential audience did in cinemas and skip it.

★★★

Ben Browne, The Popcorn Bucket

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