Superhero movies seem to have a relatively small lifespan; once a film is released it’s only a matter of years before the same heroic figure(s) is once again saving the day in a (probably very expensive) remake. Exploiting well known storylines from various comics is obviously becoming a ploy to rake in the big bucks. Fantastic Four is no exception and after its disappointing introduction to the big screen a few years ago, Josh Trank was given a 100m dollar budget to provide a fresh take on the team’s heroics. Unfortunately, some things are better off dead and buried, and it seems that digging up this old ghost has come back to haunt him.
Fantastic Four is one of the oldest Marvel superhero plots out there and therefore it is relatively underdeveloped and less entertaining than some of the later comics. However, Marvel Studios had no involvement in this remake (maybe they knew best) and it definitely shows. The promotional activity surrounding its release was huge and I couldn’t help but feel excited. This didn’t last long though as upon its release the press immediately dug its claws in, ripping the film to shreds as it unpicked every negative aspect.
Fantastic Four begins well and there’s initial promise as a friendship between Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) is cemented. However, the extended prelude lasts the entirety of the film as it never picks up pace. The wit and humour that is so evident in the majority of recent Marvel films is absent and so it’s difficult for the viewer to connect with either the characters or the plot itself.
Reed (Mr Fantastic, although he’s never referred to as this) is a science whizz kid who has dedicated his life to perfecting a transportation device with his pal, Ben (The Thing – again never referred to as this). When his talents are discovered at a school science fair, he is enlisted to attend the Baxter Foundation where he can finally finish the device with the help of other super intelligent (and super boring) kids.
Half of the film has dragged by before the young team decide to take matters into their own hands and test out the machine, resulting in them all turning into mutants. The powers they possess are pretty ridiculous in comparison to later superhero characters and the second half of the film is them winging it through life. Trank has wasted an opportunity here to have some fun and engage with the viewer. As the powers are so unusual (a guy who has a skin problem worse than any teenager could imagine, a guy who basically turns into a big rock, another guy who can set himself on fire – shame he can’t add a spark to this film though – and a girl who can become invisible), you would have thought that Trank would have played around a bit and would have shot some scenes of the characters struggling to interact with the real world, or at least having fun with their new powers. Unfortunately, the majority of the film is set in a lab though and the disjointed plot skips in and out of time so frequently that a chronological plot, let alone an entertaining one, is never really created. Unlike Marvel’s new Avenger’s film, the viewer never gets to witness how each character personally deals with the freak accident and for me, this absence of personality is the main reason this film has flopped.
The characters themselves are a bunch of geeks and this pretty much doesn’t change throughout the film. Trank has done a good job of playing up to stereotypes; Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) for example, rebels against his rich dad which is shown through his love of drag racing. Although, the casting of a black guy to play a character who is white in the comics is a small step forward for Hollywood, despite some negative remarks from racist fans. Just like most superhero plots, the characters ironically discover their powers in a ‘unheroic’ fashion, but this plot definitely tops it; again with the stereotypes, the young lads have a little too much to drink and decide to take matters into their own hands, obviously with disastrous consequences. As for the ‘baddy’, he’s pretty much handed to us on a plate. We are introduced to Victor Von Doom as he sits shrouded in a room of darkness; I don’t care if Trank is following the comic storyline, he had to do something to make ‘Doom’ less predictable and to treat the viewer with a little more respect. The storyline is so obvious that Doom might as well have ‘baddy’ written across his forehead.
Fantastic Four has no clever moments. From start to finish it commits the sin of ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’. Cliched dialogue such as ‘I saw a better future for us, Sue’ and ‘There is no Victor anymore, only Doom’ is actually uttered which to me is a crime itself. The viewer is more intelligent than Trank anticipated and it’s insulting to be handed the plot on a plate, not to mention incredibly boring. There’s nothing admirable about Fantastic Four and there’s no connection to the ‘real world’ meaning it’s totally unrelatable. Most superhero films at least try and find a tangible link to engage with the audience. The entire film is a neverending backstory with a quick burst of adventure near the end. I can imagine that Trank – despite controversial reports suggesting he didn’t have access to the final cut of the film – intended to lay the plot out in this way in order to build a secure storyline for a sequel. However, it’ll be extremely difficult to persuade the public to watch this bunch of unheroic misfits wing it through another film now. Spending so much money setting the scene for future films has been ultimately futile as once again the Fantastic Four franchise fails another mission.