The Fantastic Four have been anything but fantastic, when it comes to live action movies. Out of the three films distributed by 20th Century Fox the feature released in 2015 is arguably the weakest. That’s a surprise, given that the movie was directed by Josh Trank, who has previously worked on Chronicle (one of the few found footage films that I have managed to enjoy.) Perhaps studio interference is to blame for the debacle, as Trank’s vision for the project was a sci-fi body horror story. Fox were initially onboard with the idea, eager to distance themselves from past FF films, which have been heavy on camp. Midway through filming however they got cold feet and demanded that changes be made. After seeing light-hearted Marvel dominate the more serious DC, I can only speculate that they changed their mind on the script’s dark tone.
Reed Richards is a young genius who, with the aid of pal Ben Grimm, has managed to design an interdimensional teleporter. During his school’s science fair he reveals a prototype constructed out of materials salvaged from the scrapyard Ben’s family owns. At the event he showcases how the device can send toy models to an unexplored alien land. Reed’s teachers dismiss the invention, as a cheap magic trick. Dr Franklin Storm, who is in attendance, however recognises Richard’s talent. He immediately recruits the teen and has him put to work at the world renowned Baxter Institute. Storm hopes that with greater resources Reed will be able to construct a larger machine, capable of sending humans to the aforementioned extraterrestrial planet. Like the Ninja Turtles character Baxter Stockman, the Baxter Institute soon learns that travelling to another dimension carries risks.
Assisting Reed in his scientific venture are Franklin’s son Johnny and his adoptive daughter Sue. I have to stress that blonde haired Sue is adopted because, unlike his comic book counterpart, this version of Johnny is black. Although his race has changed, this iteration of Johnny remains a hot-head (rather ironic given that he later acquires flame based powers). He is portrayed as a capable engineer who has no respect for authority. Rather than build advanced tech he prefers to assemble cars, for the purposes of street racing. Supervising the group is fellow intellectual Victor Von Doom. With a name like that it should come as no surprise that Victor is the movie’s antagonist. Some people are just fated to become their surnames. Did you know that my country’s former minister for tourism is called Joe Holliday?
My rating for Fantastic Four is a two out of five. I imagine many viewers despised the movie because they have been conditioned to expect non stop action and humour from superhero films. Fantastic Four on the other hand is slow paced and sterile. I didn’t actually mind the more realistic approach taken in retelling the Fantastic Four’s origins. The movie starts well enough and did some interesting things later on, when the above mentioned characters are mutated during their maiden voyage across dimensions. Rather than willingly become warriors of justice they are strong armed into serving the military. Unlike other superheroes, who consider their newly acquired superhuman abilities to be a boon, the titular four are traumatized by the changes their bodies undergo. Their distressed reactions mirror the time I realized that my scalp is beginning to bald.
Sadly any nuggets of creativity that Fantastic Four tries to inject into the superhero genre cannot overcome a weak script. The dialogue is so stale that it robs the characters of any personalty and makes a cast of otherwise accomplished actors look very ordinary. What really brought the thing down, in my eyes, was the final act. The studio interference, which amounted to reshoots filmed without the director’s approval, is there for all to see. In the blink of an eye we witness a sombre science fiction tale morph into a below par superhero flick. The closing scene makes a half hearted attempt to introduce humour via a cheesy skit revolving around the team’s name. Preceding that is a showdown with Doom that is marred by awful CGI and uninspired fight choreography. The end result is a box office flop, which played a factor in Trank losing the opportunity to direct Star Wars. Fair enough, although I doubt he would have done a worse job than Rian Johnson.