Right, where do we start? The reboot of Fantastic Four has already secured its place in comic-book movie history for all the wrong reasons. Going back as far as a year ago, rumblings arose from the set that all was not well, and that second time feature director Josh Trank was not cooperating well on a big 20th Century Fox studio production. While no one has given a clear account as to what occurred, it is obvious that major re-shoots occurred which have resulted in this film, a film which has suffered under the weight of its own negative buzz. It stands as the worst reviewed Marvel film of all-time and Fox looks set to lose $60 million from the project. But, is it really the worst film of every Marvel movie ever produced? Does it deserve 9% on the old RT metre? Well, my answer is no. In fact, believe me or not, there is actually a fair few things to enjoy about this new interpretation of Marvel’s first superhero family.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a young man with bright ideas, ideas which people in his life have never taken seriously, aside from his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). That all changes however when he exhibits his teleportation device at a Science Fair and is scouted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara). They believe Reed has found the means to make a return trip to a new dimension, opening the door to a world of limitless possibilities. Reed, along with Sue, her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) develops a machine to transport a team to this new world. However, when a trip to the new dimension goes horribly wrong, Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are transformed, with Victor presumed dead. While they attempt to cope with their new super-human abilities and face government interest, they must learn to stand together when a threat rises from the other dimension.
A great deal of the first act of Fantastic Four is perfectly fine and actually pretty darn entertaining. If you are one of the few who makes the trip to the cinema to see this flick (I do urge you to, if only to have an opinion on the thing), I guarantee you will find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about. Sure, there is nothing within the first act to particularly suggest you’re watching a great piece of work, but it is involving, establishes character well, and gains a steady sense of momentum. There’s a nice Amblin-esque tone to the opening which sees a much younger Reed and Ben forging a friendship over a shared fascination in discovering something beyond the norm. The script is clunky in places but Reed and Ben’s relationship is convincing, particularly when Teller and Bell enter the frame. Teller portrays Reed with a young energy, a nerd who gets excited about the tiniest thing, while Bell works as a strong emotional core for the film.
Cracks do begin to show once the machine is developed. Ben disappears from the film for a strange amount of time, but there is still some nice work in regards to the dynamic between Reed, Sue, Johnny and Victor. This cast all seem to get along rather well and you enjoy their company. When Reed, Johnny, Victor and Ben make the decision to enter the new dimension (named Planet Zero) we begin to see where elements of this flick have been rushed. A great deal of the detail of the landscape of Planet Zero looks cheap, particularly its energy source, which seems to resemble a gloopy type of kryptonite. However, entering Planet Zero does lead to the most interesting, and most successful element of the film, an element which one feels definitely should have taken up more of a focus, though the studio seems to have gotten cold feet about it.
Once the quartet are changed, the film takes an interesting turn as Trank evokes David Cronenberg body horror by exploring the distressing nature of what it would be like to wake up to find yourself as a rock creature, in flames, invisible, or stretching beyond control. These moments particularly focus on Teller and Bell, which allows for the horror to be that much more effective, as these close friends find themselves in scary unexplored territory. But these moments are frustratingly very brief and it is not long until the momentum of this effective build up and well crafted sense of unnerving horror are undermined by one damned title card: ‘One Year Later.’ This is where things take a turn.
The film rather inexplicably jumps one year ahead, robbing us of moments in which these characters have to grapple with their powers (imagine there would have been more body horror elements at play). It is from this point that the film truly does feel as though someone else entirely different is calling the shots. Despite being the best effect in the film, Bell’s performance is lost under the mo-cap rendering of ‘The Thing’, while the film suddenly seems in a hurry to end after a well crafted build up.
It is not that these moments are un-watchable, it is still sometimes adequately enjoyable, with the odd moment evoking the interesting tone established by the first third. When Victor eventually reappears in his villainous form, the film takes a wild and incredibly dark turn, as Doom unleashes his power on an army base. It is an effective moment which truly shocks, with the level of violence truly astounding for a 12A flick. Unfortunately it all leads to a very rushed climatic battle which feels as though a 10 year-old wrote it, delivering lazy fan service, un-imaginative action, and some incredibly clunky dialogue (even clunkier than what has come before). Again, it isn’t un-watchable, but the final act is over pretty much over as soon as it has began, with it only acting as a massive flashing light stating ‘THIS FILM HAD PRODUCTION PROBLEMS.’
The final third of this movie is unequivocally a mess which nearly undermines everything that this film had going for it. It is hard to say who is to blame. but due to the obvious re-shoot nature of it, it is hard not to blame the studio for taking it in a different direction. Yet, it is still hard not to be somewhat fascinated by what you’re watching. It is unclear whether we’ll ever know what truly happened or if we’ll ever see the version Trank prefers, but as it stands I do think this is fascinating to watch. The below rating has been given a extra point for this fact entirely; yes, it does descend into a mess, but it is not entirely a mess and there is still plenty to recommend it. I like most of the performances. I admire some of the attempts to ‘Nolan-ise’ this property. I adore the body horror elements. I like that it plucks from the Ultimate comic series. I like the way Doom looks and the moments in which he unleashes his violent fury. I dig the eerie and fantastical score from Marco Beltrami & Philip Glass. I like how earthy the whole thing looks. I understand why it has come under attack, much of it brought on by those involved, but don’t be so quick as to write off this Fantastic Four just yet, you may just find something to enjoy.