Film Review – Fantastic Four (2015)

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It wouldn’t be unfair to say that 20th Century Fox has made something of a hash of the Fantastic Four films. They way in which they have taken one of Marvel’s oldest properties and chucked it onto the silver screen could be generously described as lacklustre. A couple of underwhelming Tim Story-directed movies that summarily failed to set the screen on fire saw a promising franchise canned with one of the leads, Chris Evans, jumping ship to Disney’s superior and infinitely more successful rival Marvel stable. Fox has gone back to the drawing board with this, their third meaningful attempt at a big Fantastic Four film, with a post-Dark Knight sombre approach to the material. There’s little doubt that this is make or break time for the Fantastic Four as a movie franchise with absolutely no room for error. Amazingly, Josh Trank’s reboot falls short of even the woefully low standards set by the previous Fantastic Four movies. A crushingly boring, lifeless, humourless and lazily scripted effort, 2015’s Fantastic Four movie is hopelessly, achingly dull.

Seemingly cobbled together from a sack of second-hand cliché’s, the script focuses on the superhero’s team’s genesis, along with that of their perennial arch-nuisance, Dr Doom. Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is of course the high school genius whose teleportation device catches the eye of scientist Franklin Storm (Reg E. Carthey) and wins him a job at the Baxter Institute working on a larger-scale version of the device. There he’s paired with the similarly sharp Sue Storm (Kate Mara), a woman with an innate interest in patterns and, get this, music. They’re aided by her unbearably smug brother, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and psychopath-in-waiting Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a loose cannon with romantic feelings for Sue. Their goal is to further the human race’s quest for knowledge by successfully transporting themselves to another dimension and back. A goal which they achieve but only with the unintended side-effect that they, along with Reed’s mate Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) are exposed to some inhuman substance that generously gifts them their incoherently differing superhuman powers. With any other movie this would be the cue for them to begin engaging in some superhero-style antics, but the narrative effectively ends at this point, save for some slight dithering during which the team debates the merits of their new abilities.

Almost any and all spectacle is pushed to the margins (and the final fifteen minutes) in favour of a generous layer of exposition; in order for us to really get to know the team we’ll presumably be spending four or five films with. That’s all well and good, and certainly quite laudable, but Fantastic Four drags its feet interminably and reduces its characters to gibbering, dreary shadows of their comic-book selves. Richards is nothing more than a gawky egg-head, while Sue Storm’s personality has been traded for a single Portishead album. Screenwriters Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Trank recognise that a somewhat cocky Johnny Storm is the way to go, but have mistaken unbearable smugness and a penchant for racist jokes for something like edginess. Ben Grimm has absolutely no personality whatsoever. He has approximately eight minutes of screen-time before his transformation into rock-monster, The Thing, at which point the film makes the baffling decision to turn him into a coward. Toby Kebbell comes out of the whole fiasco relatively unscathed and turns in the best of the performances with his desperate, fanatical single-mindedness; but it’s still easy to see his Doom as little more than a navel-gazing emo whiner.

Most of all, it’s Fantastic Four’s complete lack of wit or energy that’s its ultimate undoing. Stewart Lee once interviewed Alan Moore during which the comic book writer explained the futility of retroactively adding darkness and inner-turmoil to characters that were invented decades ago for the amusement of eight-year-old boys. Watching this monotonous farce, you realise he’s never spoken a truer word.

[rating=2]
Chris Banks

sci-fi, Adventure | USA, 2015 | 12A |20th Century Fox Pictures | 6th August 2015 (UK) | Dir.Josh Trank | Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson