Marvel has created a superhero boom in mainstream American entertainment, demolishing the box offices with every release from their Avengers team. Largely beginning with the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel began to prove that you could make quality films based on comic books. Suddenly, superhero movies weren’t just something to occupy your kids with for 80 minutes, but something that the entire family could enjoy. Now, heroes that would likely have never crossed into the main stream (Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man) are getting star treatment. But, outside of Marvel’s diverse sphere of non-stop money making, studios like Fox and Sony are left to continuously retread the few characters that they have the rights to. With Sony on their third reboot of Spiderman and Fox putting out X-Men movies like Guitar Hero games, we know that they can keep cranking out these movies, but should they? Fantastic Four is a reboot of the film series after Fox gave up on the heroes in 2007. With a new and upcoming director taking the reins, a younger set of heroes, and a sequel already planned to release in June 2017, is this what Fox needs to finally get a classic comic book to adapt well onto the big screen?
Fantastic Four is adapted from the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic series, where Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is discovered at his high school science fair by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter, Sue (Kate Mara). Reed’s project, which he has worked on as a child, is to transport matter from one place to another. Despite not knowing where the matter goes, Reed is successful where Dr. Storm and the Baxter Foundation have failed. So, Reed is recruited to attend the Baxter Foundation school/think tank and is funded to work on creating a full scale model of the teleporter. Bringing in Sue’s brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and the controversial wunderkind Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to help complete the project, they successfully build a machine that they believe can travel to another dimension. Unfortunately, the government swoops in after the machine’s completion to take over the project. So, full of liquid courage, Victor, Johnny, Reed, and Reed’s childhood friend, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) all decide to use the machine and travel to the other dimension. The team warps through to the other dimension and begin exploring, when they find a mysterious glowing substance. As they begin to poke and prod, the planet seems to wake up and begins violently erupting with the green substance. Tragedy strikes and part of the team is able to make it back to their own dimension, but the process leaves the kids mutated. Reed’s body is able to stretch, Johnny is perpetually on fire, Sue (who was caught in the return’s blast) keeps fading in and out of visibility, and Ben’s skin has been replaced with a rocky hide. The four remaining members of the project have to learn to adapt to their abilities and discover the fate of Victor Von Doom.
Fantastic Four‘s plot and pacing are the biggest obstacle audiences will face when watching the film. Somehow, during 100 minutes of runtime, Fantastic Four was able to have absolutely nothing happen. The slow pace worked well in the beginning, as we learn about each character and see how they interact, but the pace never picks up and begins to drag. The major plot points of the film can be counted on a single hand and the scenes where something significant happens could probably be cut together into about 15 minutes. The heroes get their powers about three quarters into the film and then proceed to do absolutely nothing with them. The movie jumps to a year after the incident and then talks about how they have used their powers, but you only see the action on a TV in the background or a monitor in a control room. The villain of the film isn’t introduced until the last twenty minutes, which then cranks the pacing up to breakneck speed, and clunkily throws the heroes into a very short fight. There’s no payoff in seeing the team working together, utilizing their powers, or even talking about their new lives. I don’t understand how such an iconic comic book team could inspire such an uneventful film. This is the first time I’ve seen an origin story that’s all origin, but no story.
The way that the characters were shown after gaining their powers briefly gave me hope for an exciting, realistic version of the Fantastic Four. Their powers aren’t romanticized or brushed off, but more shown as horrifying mutations. Unfortunately, these interesting concepts are betrayed by the generally painful visual effects. Sue Storm floating through the air in her force field ends up just looking like Kate Mara bobbing around on a wire…which it was. They played it smart keeping The Thing hidden by shadow through most of the movie, because the CGI model of his character didn’t hold up in the light. Every sequence that was heavy on visual effects looked rough, but when you consider that Fox made this movie for $10 million less than Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the lacking effects shouldn’t be a surprise.
I’m not sure where in its development Fantastic Four went wrong, but they forgot to put in the plot. It’s not that the characters or scenes weren’t interesting, but nothing of consequence ever happened. Once the film made it to the last fifteen minutes, they realized they still had to cram a story in and threw it all at once. They had wonderfully interesting concepts when it came to the super team, but nothing came out right. Combine the dreadful pacing and absent plot with the clumsy execution of their main characters and you have another grave to put the Fantastic Four in. Either Fox simply can’t figure out how to translate these heroes onto the silver screen or maybe the Fantastic Four are just a cursed franchise. I think it may be time to stop attempting to force them into a movie series and let them die in peace.