Four is not the magic number when it comes to Marvel movies
Director: Josh Trank • 12A • Starring: Michael B Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell
After Roger Corman’s infamous tax-dodging cheapie version of the Fantastic Four and Tim Story’s brace of cheery but hollow Fantastic Four sit-coms surely it was going to be fourth time lucky for Marvel’s first family? Sadly any hopes that this time round things would improve seep away like soup in sieve as director Josh (Chronicle) Trank’s effort grinds wearyingly and listlessly onwards.
Advance word was that this Fantastic Four was a prize turkey, but unfortunately it doesn’t even have the good grace to be so bad it’s funny. It’s worse than that; for a while it looks like it might actually be good before descending into the unholy trio of cinematic crimes; it’s clichéd, silly and dull. For giving you hope then snatching it away the film leaves you feeling even more cheated.
It’s a radical reinvention of the Fantastic Four mythos featuring youthful versions of the Four (with the future Doctor Doom along for the ride) gaining their powers from interdimensional travel rather than cosmic rays in space and then being used by the government as “super agents” of varying reluctance. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with making changes to the canon – Michael B Jordan is fine as the first black Human Torch – but the film is so different in tone and detail to its source material it seems pointless making it a Fantastic Four film in the first place.
The early scenes show promise as the film attempts a Stand By Me meets The Right Stuff vibe. It begins with a really young Reed Richards and Ben Grimm in a past that feels kinda ’60s and kinda ’80s at the same time and there’s some real charm here. The charm is already ebbing away in the next act of the film as the teenage Reed is enlisted by Sue Storm’s dad, Franklin, to help out with a top secret project to teleport to another dimension. There’s some low-key and unconvincing love triangle bumpf going on with Sue, Reed and Victor Von (son to be Dr) Doom and some half-hearted attempts to make the future Four come across like regular guys just hanging’ and bonding. Occasionally the dialogue comes alive or there’s a good quirky character beat, but the only real spark comes when Johnny flames on after the fateful mission.
Once the Four gain their superpowers the film loses all credibility. The action is perfunctory, the effects look circa 1995, dialogue turns to pure cheese and the Thing keeps changing size. The po-faced tone is totally wrong for a film that features a stretchy man, making any scene with Mr Fantastic in a fight look ludicrous. Dr Doom is appallingly designed (regardless whether you know the original for the comics or not) and his evil scheme and motivations are paper thin.
Plus, there are moments when it’s all too obvious that a studio suit has ripped pages from the script and told Trank, “Do something cheaper!” Especially when a fight between Mr Fantastic and the Thing is over in a headbutt. The end result is a movie that feels trite, rushed and underdeveloped.
The Incredibles remains the best Fantastic Four film yet made. By far.
• The very young Reed announces to his classmates that he’s abandoned the flying car he was making – clearly a reference to the Fantasticar in the comics.
• Sue designs the costumes for the interdimensional mission – so much for female emancipation when the woman still ends up having to make the clothes.
• Because the Thing here is naked at all times you’re just waiting for the line that never comes: “What… happened… to… my… GENITALS!?”
• We love the fact that Johnny refers to Victor Von Doom as Borat.