Or, as the poster would cringily have you think the title was: Fant4stic. Though Marvel’s First Family have reached the big screen before in two middling-at-best 00s efforts, they’ve never had an adaptation that truly does the source material justice. Though the Tim Story-directed 2005 and 2007 movies had their hearts in the right place and generally nailed the fun tone of the comics, they fell short in much of the execution (most notably in the handling of the villains).
Unfortunately, Josh Trank’s 2015 Fantastic Four – following on from his excellent found footage superpowers movie Chronicle – heads in completely the opposite direction in terms of tone, adding a dark, gritty tone and slower pace to proceedings. It doesn’t work.
Reed Richards – who successfully creates a teleporter at the tender age of 10 – is befriended and assisted by another kid in the neighbourhood, the troubled Ben Grimm. When they showcase the improved teleporter at a science fair several years later, they’re recruited by Professor Franklin Storm to work at his government-funded research institute, the Baxter Foundation, to create the technology on a larger scale. Aiding them are Professor Storm’s kids: Johnny – who takes part in illegal street racing in his spare time – and adopted daughter Sue. They work on perfecting a ‘Quantum Gate’ teleportation device, which was designed by Storm’s previous protégé: the arrogant Victor Von Doom – who rejoins them to work with the young team. With the technology soon functioning, the team are soon forced into testing it themselves, rather than allow the government to take the glory of discovering the new world it’ll allow them to travel to. Things, naturally, don’t go to plan – and our protagonists develop strange, somewhat horrific new powers when their trip goes wrong…
The build up is pretty well done and engaging at first, with the straight-faced tone playing well with the subject matter despite its inherent daftness. The initial scenes during which the team’s powers manifest are played almost like Cronenbergian body horror-lite, which again works well in context. Yet it takes so long to get there and so little actually happens – even when their powers are in play – that it can’t help but feel unsatisfying. All of the characters are quite thinly sketched too, with Toby Kebbell’s Victor Von Doom doing little more than jealously skulking about and glowering at Reed talking to Sue. When he returns for the climax, his motivation is so poorly explained that it’s just a bit baffling that he turns so nasty, so quickly – his powers leading him to be able to engage in another classically Cronenberg-esque pastime: head bursting (though 12-certificate friendly, it’s still a little grim and gloopy at least).
The climactic battle is so brief and undercooked that the sustained build up to it – which takes the entire film – just feels like a waste. The entire fight takes place in near total darkness too, making the film literally too dark, as well as tonally.
Barely a smile is cracked in the whole film and everyone takes everything far too seriously; so much so that, when the team naming scene happens in the epilogue it just feels completely out of place. There’s none of the wacky, out-there ideas of Lee and Kirby’s original comic and even the family bickering isn’t there for the most part. I think that’s a key misstep: even Sue and Johnny don’t feel like part of a family, let alone the other two members of the team. The family aspect is a big part of what makes the Fantastic Four unique – without it, they’re little more than another super team.
Considering they’re geniuses, they sure do some pretty stupid things too – over and over again.
So many major changes are made to the lore and origin story in an attempt at modernisation that it ceases to feel like a Fantastic Four tale at all – it mostly comes across like a lost episode of The X-Files, minus Mulder and Scully of course (though their presence may have livened things up a bit!).
The shining light of the production is the effects work, which is pretty impressive all round. Ben Grimm’s rocky alter ego The Thing looks particularly excellent, though even with the generally impressive effects, Johnny Storm’s Human Torch still can’t quite look convincing in live action.
With the entire film feeling like setup for a sequel that we’ll never see, the whole endeavour is a wasted opportunity. It falls to Marvel, who now have the rights to the Fantastic Four back in-house, to finally give us the FF film us comic book fans deserve. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath though.
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