Take a fantastic voyage into a world of misery, boredom and sleepy superhero schlock.
Josh Trank‘s Fantastic Four is a diabolical assault on everything great about one of Marvel’s most popular and beloved superteams. It takes itself too seriously, it’s colorless visually and emotionally, and it dupes us by promising something “Fantastic” and instead delivering a lifeless black hole of an experience that’ll ruin your day. There’s no fun to be had here.
Strangely enough, the absence of fun was sort of an artistic choice by Trank, who landed the Marvel gig off of the success of his 2012 superpower drama Chronicle. That movie focused on the real-world implications of superpowers, showing one troubled teen’s pent-up rage manifesting itself as a city-leveling act of revenge against the world. Trank’s approach with Fantastic Four is to similarly ground the source material in the real world, pondering what would actually come of Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch and The Thing if they existed on earth today.
In trying to strip away the comic book cheese in favor of a science/body-horror take on the characters, Trank actually saps every drop of life out of the source material in an act of selfish franchise perversion and disfiguration that’s actually somehow worse than the Adam Sandler monstrosity that is Pixels, which is still terrorizing audiences across the country with its blatant prostitution of retro gaming. At least Pixels tried to entertain you; Fantastic Four makes you feel like crying in a corner.
The movie’s story is based on an arc from the Ultimate Fantastic Four series of comics. It’s a revised origin story that sees Reed Richards (Miles Teller), a brilliant inventor, scientist, and engineer, team with siblings Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan, who acted for Trank in Chronicle), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), Reed’s anti-establishment intellectual rival, to build an inter-dimensional teleporter. The first two-thirds of the movie creep along as we watch them build the damn thing, going through the motions of clichéd team dynamics (love triangle, sibling rivalry) as we wait for something, anything, to excite us.
Be forewarned: this is a crappy body horror movie, not a superhero movie. Following a rogue mission to “Planet Zero” by the boys and Reed’s old friend, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), the kids do acquire powers: Reed gets stretchy; Johnny turns into a fireball; Sue turns invisible; Ben turns into an ugly rock Thing. Victor gets left behind on Planet Zero, and he turns into Doctor Doom.
You’d think the movie would finally, mercifully kick into high gear at this point and at least give us some action, but no. Instead, we watch the kids blow up rocks and storage crates at an industrial (bland-looking) secret base so that the government can observe their freakish abilities. They’re miserable lab rats running in circles, and watching them agonize and writhe in pain as their bodies betray them is a pointless play for existential drama that falls flat on its face. Hellbent on revenge, Victor plans to sap the earth’s resources and shape Planet Zero to his liking as its all-powerful dictator (and sole inhabitant). Yadda yadda.
The plot isn’t worth talking about any further. It stinks, and most of the storylines vanish into thin air inexplicably. What’s worthy of note is that Trank’s intentions were good. He was trying to make the anti-superhero movie by sprinting to the opposite side of the spectrum of Fox’s failed 2005 Fantastic Four movie adaptation, which was goofy as all hell. He ran too far, however, and the risk, unfortunately, didn’t pay off. In fact, it blew up in his face, and in turn, all of our faces as well.
Maybe the most intolerable thing about this movie is its look. It’s like watching someone smear gray and blue paint over a black canvas for 100 minutes. This movie feels like that time of year when fall fades into winter and all the rain and overcast mush just makes you feel like frowning and napping all day. The visual effects are ugly, the cinematography is pedestrian, and the movie’s two (yes, two) action scenes are so poorly staged and nonsensical and unsatisfying it’ll give you blue balls.
The obvious beacon of hope for this dreary piece of work is the young cast, most of whom have proven they have enough charisma to carry a movie on their own. The material proves to be unsalvageable, however, as proven leading-men Teller and Jordan are forced to navigate their way through dialog that’s so unconvincing and artificial it hurts. The worst scene comes last, as the four friends stands around their new government-funded research facility, trying to figure out what to name the team. Admiring the new digs, Ben says with a smile, “It’s fantastic.” Reed’s eyes widen. “Say that again…” Ben obliges: “It’s fantastic.” Seriously, guys? Seriously?