Fantastic Four is a glorious mess

I feel part of the job of any film critic is to encourage good filmmakers to continue on the path of righteousness and demean those who divert, in hopes they’ll find their way. Everyone involved in the “Fantastic Four” reboot has done extraordinary work in the past, and now, it’s time to hit them over the head with a two-by-four so they can get back into the mindset they were when they created that work. Because this, this is garbage.

Step one in their healing process should be to befittingly send the person who read this script and said, “Yes, I will pay you millions of dollars to make this. Start now, please” into another dimension where they will live out their days in solitude to reflect on their sins.

“Four” is instantly bad from minute one, wherein a young Reed Richards (who will become Mr. Fantastic) talks about how he wants to be the first person to teleport, as a young Ben Grimm (soon to be The Thing) stares at him with a look of constipation—all while their teacher basically calls Richard a dumb little turd (teacher of the year over here). All I could think about while watching these young actors was; a.) I hope to good they stick with acting class and; b.) Their inspiration from director Josh Trank was “be exactly like the creepy, soulless kids from ‘The Polar Express’!”

Flash forward seven years and the two young whipper-snaps have aged from 12 to 28 where we are supposed to buy the adult actors (Miles Teller and Jamie Bell) as high-school students competing at a science fair. Here they demonstrate a perfectly functioning teleportation device that, after an attempt to bring a model airplane back from wherever it went, they are met with “this is magic higerdy-doo!” from paid educators (because David Copperfield often shoots teleportation lasers out of his eyes).

In that same instance, Richards (Teller) is recruited by Franklin Storm, with his daughter Susan (Reg E. Cathey and Kate Mara) to join his super expensive science school where they only make teleportation devices and where there are only two students. Yes, the man behind the most innovative experiment in modern science is finding his protégés at high school science fairs. Has MIT lost all their credibility or are those guys simply not handsome enough?

Now I think before I describe the rest of the film, it’s important to note a basic tenant of good screenwriting: You must, as hard as you can, ensure your plot points are filled with “buts” and “therefores” as in “this was happening, but this happened, therefore, this happened”. This how you create conflict, and conflict is drama. In reverse, you should avoid “ands” and “thens” as in “and this happened, then this happened, and this happened, etc.” This avoids your movie being simply a random mess of scenes that carry no weight or purpose. Trank, and whoever else had their paws in this script, did not follow these guidelines.

After Richards is recruited to Secret Science Land it’s nothing but a series of boring, monotonous and-then scenarios. Richards gets recruited, and then he chats with Susan, and then they build science stuff; and then we meet Victor Von Doom (played by Toby Kebbell as a bland computer nerd and not, as I imagined, a German baron who shares a castle with Dr. Frankenstein), and who then joins the team; and then we meet Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) who crashes his car, and then he joins the team so he can get his car back.

This is basically the style of the entire film, which would be less awful if at least the people who we are watching had any resemblance to real characters and instead were not simply shapeless masses of clay. Nothing anyone says or does around each other is backed by any complexity, personality, thought or passion. Most responses are taken from the Generic Hero Response handbook and all robotic interactions (most depressingly remembered in a roundtable meeting scene between the great Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson) seem to be taken from the first take. It reminds of that scene in “Ed Wood” where Wood (Johnny Depp) would cut after the first take, no matter how bad it was, citing “But that’s real!”

Richards is nerdy because he wears glasses he occasionally he has to push up; Susan is vacant as she stares at computer screens, proving some men can’t write female characters; Johnny is rebellious because he drives a fast car and doesn’t wear a lab coat; Ben is a tough because he chews gum and; Doom is evil because he whines a lot and only wears black. These characters are either overlooked or simply have nothing going on, and I have no idea why so much young talent decided to play people with so little to explore after roles like “Whiplash”, “Fruitvale Station” and “House of Cards”.

They don’t even have any room to at least have fun playing such dullards. The fun of watching origin stories like “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man” is seeing them get to play with their powers, like any sane human bestowed with powers would. But after the gang gets their powers, after a trip to the other dimension went a little sour (Grimm gets pelted with rocks to become a rock monster; Johnny gets set on fire to become a fire-man; Sue gets smacked by some apparently invisible cloud thing and; we don’t see what gives Reed his powers because they’re too lame to have a realistic cause), the plot immediately advances one year forward to see Richards hiding in a barn and the other three doing whatever for the government tells them to, settled into their powers. All the fun and importance of forming an origin story was literally zapped out by a black screen with the words “one year later” on it. To add insult to injury, Reed with an on-the-run stubble looks like a tween trying to avoid shaving to show girls he can grow a “beard”.

And then Reed returns to the gang after being taken from the barn in the movies first real action scene (lasts 15 seconds and is about 60 minutes into a 90 minute movie). And then we are in the movies last 20 minutes where we finally meet the transformed Dr. Doom, chaos ensues and the Four—still having no illuminated conflict other than pouting to get over—decide they have to team up to defeat an evil they’ve known about for five minutes. Then a climax erupts into the most benign finale ever where Doom (having just mentally exploded a bunch of scientists heads off) proceeds to throw a lot of rocks at them, to wit they throw them right back. Evil is destroyed! Why was he evil again? Who cares! Good guys win!

As I mentioned earlier, everyone involved has done tremendous work in past films and television. I mean, know it seems cool for everyone to try and do the opposite of what Disney/Marvel are doing (confident, fun adventures) and go for brooding in a post-Nolan atmosphere but, my God, has that not been proven more misguided then with “Fantastic Four”. Never has there been a worse “serious” superhero movie on this Earth. “Four” is gloomy, dry, boring, rushed, undeveloped and completely unaware of the depth of the iconic characters at its core. Aside from a moment or two of playful banter among the cast this movie has nothing to offer and therefore has no purpose for being. Everyone from the cast the director can and have done better, and I suggest they jump onto the nearest life boat and head back to greener shores before they go down with this sinking ship of a franchise. But hey, I’m sure the cast had fun getting to half-assedly say “Flame on” and “Its clobbering time” in a feature film.

GRADE: D-

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