It should surprise absolutely nobody to learn that 2015's Fantastic Four is garbage. The movie polluted multiplexes after months of bad press, with rumours about endless reshoots and battles between the creative team and the studio, to the point that director Josh Trank swiftly disowned the final cut. Fantastic Four attempts to spawn a new cinematic franchise for the Marvel brand after previous failures, this time shedding colour and all sense of fun for a darker, grittier incarnation, striving for a fresh take to distinguish itself in the superhero marketplace. Unfortunately, Fantastic Four was only produced because Twentieth Century Fox is engaged in a stubborn dick-measuring contest with Marvel Studios, and want to retain as many comic book characters as possible. In other words, the motivation behind this cinematic travesty is similar to the thought process that led to the horrendous, now-defunct The Amazing Spider-Man series. As an adaptation of the comics, Fantastic Four is a dismal failure, with Trank himself having discouraged the actors from picking up a comic book since he cared so little about fidelity to the source. And as a superhero blockbuster, this is still a pile of crap, lacking a clear vision and identity, let down by terrible scripting, terrible acting, terrible humour, ugly visuals and terrible pacing.
As children, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and his pal Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) begin work on a teleportation device that could revolutionise science, with the pair eventually displaying their innovation at a school science fair. Although their demonstration is far from perfect, Reed and Ben gain the attention of scientist Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), who believe that the teenagers may have cracked inter-dimensional travel. Invited to study and perfect his device with proper resources and funding, Reed jumps at the chance to help to construct inter-dimensional teleportation pods, joined by the unstable Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), while Storm also brings in his rebellious son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan). With the project about to be turned over to NASA, Reed wants his team to be the first to test the pods, convincing Ben to tag along as well. But an accident occurs in the alien realm known as "Planet Zero" during the experiment, irreversibly changing the team.
Fantastic Four actually plays out a lot like an unofficial follow-up to Trank's 2012 directorial debut Chronicle, even rehashing the same basic story of arrogant teens inadvertently gaining superhero abilities through alien technology. After the lab accident, the movie randomly jumps ahead to find Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny being held at an underground military bunker, and after one halfway interesting body horror sequence of the characters coming to grips with their powers, the movie randomly jumps ahead another full year, finding the protagonists conscripted as covert ops soldiers while they search for a cure. The transition is as baffling as it sounds, and it feels like a solid half-hour of content is missing. This bizarre structure could be forgiven to an extent if it was an excuse to jump straight into the action, but we aren't that lucky. Instead, the characters just spend their time moping, setting up crises of conscience so that they don't have to go anywhere that might be potentially too expensive for the budget.
In an attempt to distance itself from the previous incarnation of Marvel's first family, this Fantastic Four is almost a David Cronenberg-esque body horror flick, sold with the same brand of dour self-seriousness that has become prevalent since Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. It sounds interesting in theory, but the execution is downright disastrous, hampered by terrible acting and woeful scripting, while the flick also forgets to be fun. The tone is excessively grim, but there are also horrendous attempts at comedy which were presumably added during the reshoot process. Problem is, the "humorous" dialogue is so witless that the movie would be better off without it. And considering how bad the movie is as a whole, that's a huge fucking call. The script for this muck is every bit as infantile and stupid as a Transformers movie, but the gritty tone wants you to believe it's smart and thoughtful. Although it is possible to create a reflective superhero picture that's low on action, such a movie needs actual, fleshed-out thematic undercurrents and genuine smarts, two base requirements that this Fantastic Four fails to deliver.
For a movie which boasts a respectable $120 million budget, Fantastic Four is oddly lacking in scope, with the latter half of the movie mostly taking place in labs and underground sets, only leaving the dank bunker for the computer-generated Planet Zero. Reportedly, three full action sequences were excised from the movie for timing reasons, and that's a problem. Pacing is all over the shop, and though the movie is relatively short at close to 100 minutes, it feels agonisingly long, because there are no surprises as the narrative progresses and there's no sense of fun, leaving us to wait for each narrative box to be ticked. The reshoot footage is mostly obvious, with Mara sporting a blonde wig that looks seriously comical, while Teller has facial hair that appears and disappears at its own leisure. Furthermore, the quality of the special effects is curiously mixed. The digitally-created Human Torch looks decent while the Thing is convincing to an extent, but Doom looks like digital vomit, Planet Zero resembles a PS2-era game environment, and some scenes boast green screen effects that would look too phoney even in a Sharknado sequel. Visually, the film is flat, drab and far too desaturated, making it impossible to derive any enjoyment from this cinematic black hole.
No thespians on Earth could have enlivened the woeful material, but suffice it to say, the acting here is genuinely ghastly. Although Teller showed promise in The Spectacular Now and Whiplash, he's a mostly awful actor, and it's a wonder why Hollywood insists on putting this irritating ten-year-old in movies. Mara is flat and unremarkable, while Jordan is so generic that he barely registers. Bell is hopelessly wasted as the Thing, mainly because his rock monster portrayal is too dedicated to "gritty realism," denying any flashes of actual personality to come through. It's hard to like any of the central characters, to be honest; we don't buy them as family or even as friends, and it's even harder to root for them as they work to defeat the saran-wrapped abomination that's supposed to be Victor Von Doom during the climax.
Speaking of Doom, he's one of the greatest comic book villains in history, yet his depiction here is outright insulting. Randomly reappearing towards the tail end of the third act, Doom's plan is hopelessly muddled - it's unclear exactly what his endgame is beyond "destroy the Earth," and his motivation is even vaguer beyond being annoyed that he was left for dead on Planet Zero, even though he seems pretty chuffed with his new abilities. Oh, and he's lovesick for Sue and resents her interest in Reed, because the script is a cliché breeding ground. The final battle should be an epic showdown that compensates for the fucking interminable build-up, but it's hampered by lack of scope, with the destruction of Earth limited to a couple brief cutaways right as Doom begins to execute his plan. The battle is oddly unremarkable and plays out awkwardly, lacking that spark of tension to keep us on the edge of our seats. The movie should keep cutting back to Earth to show what's at stake, and perhaps even check in with established characters in peril to establish a sense of threat, but no dice. The climax is a dud.
There's no joy to Fantastic Four, which is devoid of blockbuster thrills and rich characters, with the titular team reduced to a sullen, bitter group of people lacking believable camaraderie. It doesn't even have a fucking Stan Lee cameo! And just as the film begins winding down, the team engage in a horrendously written talk about their powers and discuss what to call themselves; the film might as well have ended on a freeze frame of the cast in mid-laugh like some cheesy old television show. Fantastic Four is one of the very worst comic book movies ever produced, a travesty on the same level as Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This is the golden age of superhero blockbusters, yet we're still left waiting for, and wanting, a worthwhile Fantastic Four movie. Interestingly, Fox were so hasty to make a franchise out of this property that a release date for Fantastic Four 2 was pencilled in fifteen months before this instalment even came out. Let’s just be thankful that this movie bombed and the sequel has been removed from the release calendar. We have suffered enough.