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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

Fantastic Four movie review: fantastic bore

Fantastic Four red light

There isn’t an authentic human motivation or emotion to be found here. The bar has been raised too high on comic-book movies for us to accept junk like this.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I knew from the opening moments of this 187,874th reboot of Fantastic Four that it would be getting everything wrong in most shiftless ways. Because that’s when it suggests that Oyster Bay, on Long Island, is across the East River from Manhattan and has a lovely view of the Empire State Building. Which it isn’t, and which it doesn’t. That may seem like a really nitpicky sort of nitpick, but this is only the first example of the appalling laziness of this all-origin, no-story superhero origin story. Director Josh Trank (Chronicle), who cowrote the script with Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past, This Means War) and Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect), could have just told us that that first scene is set in Brooklyn or Queens, which actually do have views of that iconic building. Or they could have just omitted the name of the town entirely; it would have made absolutely no difference. Instead, they decided on a detail that they probably imagined was colorful but that makes no sense and is entirely superfluous anyway.

This focus on all the wrong things turns out to be a sort of accidental blueprint for the movie on the whole.

There isn’t an authentic human motivation or emotion to be found here, in this tale of boy genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller: Insurgent, Two Night Stand), who, with the help of his pal Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell: Nymphomaniac, Snowpiercer), builds a teleporter device in his garage and gets recruited by a mysterious organization to help them finish their teleporter device. As you do. (The opening sequence of the film, with younger versions of Reed and Ben played by Owen Judge and Evan Hannemann, is like something left on the cutting-room floor of a rejected 80s kiddie adventure. Like if The Goonies were inspired by Bill Gates to launch their own tech startup.) Instead of appreciable motivation and character, we have an astute little kid calling Reed “a dick,” which is true but is meant to be cute. Or people say things like “It’s fun having you here,” when we have no idea what that could possibly refer to, having seen no fun nor even any interaction between the characters involved in this exchange. It’s as if all the human drama that creates characters we care about has been excised.

The “here” is the scientific think tank where Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey: Alex of Venice, Arbitrage) appears to be using genius slave labor to construct his teleporter. He told Reed he was getting a full scholarship to a special school, but it appears only that Reed is working for Storm, alongside all Storm’s other “students,” and that Storm is working for some rather nefarious financiers who do not have anyone’s best interests at heart. Reed is not studying at all, and this place doesn’t look like a school, and no one appears to even notice that this could be a problem. (More missing human stuff: Reed’s parents, and later Ben’s, are almost entirely absent, which gets increasingly bizarre when the plot requires them to disappear for a year. They are supposed to be around 18 years old, and no one comes looking for them? No one cares about them? Maybe Reed’s parents also think he’s a dick.) Also here, because there has to be four of them, are Storm’s kids Sue (Kate Mara: Transcendence, Iron Man 2), who is some sort of unspecified brainiac, and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan: That Awkward Moment, Chronicle), who appears to prefer that he were in Fast & Furious. Oh, and there’s the guy whom no one can see is going to be the villain, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Counsellor), who is actually called “Von Doom” and who keeps talking about how the planet and humanity don’t deserve to survive, yet, again, no one notices this. Plus, he’s jealous because Reed likes Sue — like, like likes — which is the final kicker. Of course he’s going to turn evil.

Anyway, the idea is that once the teleporter is finished, all the kids will take a trip to the other dimension on the other side. (Why does everyone keep calling it another dimension, and not simply another planet far away, or maybe even our own planet back or forward in time, both of which seem more likely? Unknown. Perhaps it’s the mysteriously geographically displaced Oyster Bay.) This is a brilliant plan: let’s put the only people who understand how this teleporter thing works, plus an untrustworthy hothead (that’s Johnny), into a machine that we’ve only barely tested, and send them off into the unknown. What a great idea! And then the movie tries to make Tim Blake Nelson (Kill the Messenger, As I Lay Dying) the bad guy for coming in and suggesting that this might not be the smartest thing to do. (To be fair, Nelson’s Dr. Allen is one of the nefarious financiers. But he’s not wrong about this.) The four guys — neglecting to invite Sue, because ick a girl, maybe? who knows — decide to go off in the thing anyway, and end up all mutated, because dumbasses. Seriously, they are all the untrustworthy hotheads that Johnny alone is supposed to be, and they even end up mutating Sue on the way home, her thanks for helping them at mission control when they get into trouble.

Complicated, messed-up antiheroes are one thing. Often a good thing. These guys are all just unlikable jerks with no discernible personalities. Even Sue. They certainly do not improve with superpowers… but that’s when the movie gets even more like a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon from the era before mutated and/or superpowered antiheroes were taken seriously by The Movies. From a muddled mess of a beginning and middle, the movie swoops into a cheap-looking finale that starts out looking like it might have been shot in an abandoned hospital on the sly and ends up in that other dimension, which hadn’t previously suffered from a case of bad CGI but does now. (Perhaps the travelers brought an infection from Earth.)

The bar has been raised far too high on comic-book movies for anyone to accept junk like this these days. It’s pretty insulting to fans and to the original material that anyone thought they could get away with this.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Fantastic Four for its representation of girls and women.


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