So, is Fantastic Four like this generation’s Heaven’s Gate? Maybe Alien3 might be the more appropriate comparison. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much anti-hype for a film pre-release followed by negative reception almost completely across the board. People weren’t even this repulsed by John Carter before its release, and even that movie has its defenders. To a degree I understand, we’re at a point in superhero movies where we’re being spoiled by Marvel Studios’ ripped-from-the-pages style of adaptation that seeing something that is not only a completely different take on the characters, but is another in the “dark and brooding” spectrum of this particular genre, and the fact that this is the Fantastic Four we’re dealing with, it’s almost surprising that there would have been any anticipation for this in the first place back in its developmental stages. I’ll admit that for a while, I was among those waiting to rip this a new one, mocking the trailers and various promotional material, hoping that the project wouldn’t hold up and eventually have the rights given back to Marvel Studios for a more “proper” adaptation. Now, after a year of waiting, I’m in no mood for mocking. I was even going to do a whole “Fant-Four-Stick” gag with this review, but frankly, it’s unnecessary and mean-spirited and it would feel like kicking someone who’s already down. Let’s just get this over with.
Ever since he was a young kid, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has always wanted to go further into developing his teleporter with the help of his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) so he can see his work make a difference in the world. An opportunity arises when he meets Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue Storm (Kate Mara), he’s given the resources to finish his project, along with the assistance of Dr. Franklin’s son, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). When Reed, Ben, Johnny and Victor test out the teleporter, something goes wrong that leaves them and Sue in a strange state that gives them unusual powers.
Look, is this the Fantastic Four film I would’ve liked? Hell no. Does it feel like a film that feels more at home with the early 2000s with superhero films like the first two X-Men that try to distance themselves from the weird and colorfulness of the comics? Boy howdy. Is it one of the worst comic book films ever made deserving of all the venom that is being thrown in its direction to the point where even the director himself has practically given up trying to defend the film? I honestly don’t think so. I don’t hate this film at all. Is it good? Nope. The first two-thirds of the film are about 50/50, there are things about it that I liked – little flashes of brilliance, moments that build character and show incredible promise. The last third, however, is really when the movie becomes the disaster that everyone describes it as.
So, I’ll start off with the first two-thirds of the film, and the things that I liked and didn’t like about it. I think the approach in terms of tone, while bizarre at first, considering the source material, is fairly well executed. It’s an almost Spielbergian science fiction film that looks at the power and ingenuity of science with wonder and awe. The same goes to when we first see the alternate dimension, referred to as “Planet Zero.” It captures that sense of discovering something new very well and despite some questionable choices from the characters, you get why they make those choices in favor of further exploring new territory. The turn into Cronenberg-esque body-horror was also well done. With the restrained camera work and eerie music, it gives the powers a feeling of horror and disgust. It lends to a more meaningful way of having the characters deal with the situation that is forced upon them.
I also like these takes on the characters. There’s not a ton to dig deep into, but for what little there is, it’s mostly solid. I like the friendship between Reed and Ben. Both grew up as outsiders, misunderstood and always having each other’s back no matter what. The relationship between the Storms has shades of complexity. Sue being the adopted one has taken a liking to Franklin’s work while Johnny is out doing his own thing, but not realizing his full potential. Everyone in the group is an outcast to some degree and the way they grow their relationship, while admittedly sloppy, does set up the personal stakes just effectively enough.
In terms of the things that I didn’t like during the first hour or so, the one thing that bothered me the most was how sidelined Sue Storm was. She has enough moments, but her overall role with the group and how they come to be is downplayed to a frustrating degree. She doesn’t even join in on the mission that ends up giving everyone their powers; it’s only from a cosmic blast with the transporter’s return that she gets her powers. Aside from that there are a crazy amount of inconsistencies, rushed plot developments and questionable dialogue here and there. There are also plenty of signs of deleted material, evident to footage from the trailer not even appearing in the film.
Despite the problems, I enjoyed most of what the first hour had to offer, it felt sincere, it set some interesting things up and I was somewhat invested in the characters, and I would have forgiven a lot had the final act built up to something meaningful and intimate, which was clearly the direction they were going for. Unfortunately the last 30 minutes is where everything falls apart, and not only does it fall apart, but there is no redeeming value to be found whatsoever. The acting sucks, the action sucks, the VFX sucks, the dialogue sucks, the direction sucks, Dr. Doom sucks (and yeah, he only shows up in true form within these last 20-30 minutes) and nothing about it works on a storytelling level. It takes all the interesting genre-mashing and big-business-abusing-new-generation critique and throws it out the window in favor for a generic save-the-world-from-the-generic-bad-guy that could be found in any hacky superhero movie. It doesn’t share the same voice, style, themes, tone and character work that the previous hour had been trying to build on. It reeks of Fox trying to meddle and change whatever their original vision with Josh Trank was. It simply doesn’t work and it results with the film ending on such a cringe-worthy note that it almost destroys whatever positive feelings one could’ve had with the beginning and middle.
I’m not going to defend Fantastic Four as a good movie because it’s not, but I will defend the fact that it is a film that was made with a specific, if unconventional, vision behind it that was not given the support it needed. Not from the studio, who clearly never cared about the production, not from the fanboys, who could not get past some changes of aesthetics (something that shouldn’t have surprised them in the first place), nor from the media/film community who continuously spread rumors regarding Josh Trank’s behavior on set, as if that should have any place in critical discussion on his work regardless of whether or not it’s true. If you really think stuff like that matters, boy will you not like what I can tell you about Hitchcock, Kubrick, Malick, Russell or Cameron. I honestly wouldn’t mind a sequel with these characters, I just want some commitment to the vision that they set up and I want Fox to allow whatever filmmaker they hire (since I’m sure Trank is done with Fox by this point) to follow through with that vision to the best of their ability without any unnecessary interference. There are good things to be found in Fantastic Four and I would gladly watch it again over cynical, bland drivel like Jurassic World or Terminator Genisys.