In Review: Fantastic Four

I didn't hate it, but I have no reason to ever see this again, want a sequel, or recommend it.

Fantastic Four

Premiered on August 7, 2015

Directed by Josh Trank

Written by Simon Kinberg & Jeremy Slater & Josh Trank

Based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The last time I read a Fantastic Four comic was when Walt Simonson was on it regularly. I have not read any Marvel Ultimates comics, though I’m told (by my brother who saw the film with me) that these are what this film is based on. Checking online, I found that Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar were the writers of the first six issues of this series, so they deserve a mention. Having not read an FF book in twenty-four years, I was pretty open to seeing this movie, even in the face of the enormous bad press following it. That said, it’s not that bad, but it’s still not good.

The first third of the film deals with preteens Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. The two are in the same science class, appearing to be seventh grade, and Reed is introduced speaking before his class on what he’d like to do when older. He states matter transference, and is scolded by his teacher (Dan Castellaneta) for not choosing something that can actually be achieved. Viewers then see Ben Grimm’s terrible life, being smacked around by his older brother after arriving home at the family auto junkyard. He’s sent outside by his mother to see what’s causing the dogs to bark, and it’s Reed looking for a power converter. Promising to let Ben see what he’s made in exchange for the device, the two return to Reed’s place, where his parents are fighting (Are there any parents in Marvel Universe who aren’t dysfunctional?). Reed powers the device up and things happen.

This was a really enjoyable opening. I enjoyed the two youngsters and their relationship. It was neat to see Ben helping out Reed beyond his using his strength, since the future genius is too scattered to think of everything. This was fun. I could believe these two becoming friends.

Time jumps forward to high school where Miles Teller takes over as Reed and Jamie Bell as Ben. There’s no way these two are under eighteen. Anyhoo, the two have a scene in a high school gym, which leads to the introduction of Sue Storm played by Kate Mara and her adoptive father Franklin Storm played by Reg E. Cathey. Why they enter the story and what comes because of their entrance is a little fast and loose (like how did they know about Reed because viewers were never told he was sharing what he was doing with the world), but I was anxious to get to the building of something big. Ben Gimm leaves the story for a while as the story moves to Reed, Sue, and Franklin working on something, which needs the assistance of Victor Von Doom played by Toby Kebbell. Why Victor enters the story is much smoother. This is when Michael B. Jordan enters as Johnny Storm, who wrecks his car in a street race. Franklin tells him no more money until he earns it back helping him and the others at the lab. Johnny agrees and he comes into contact with Victor, Reed, and Sue. He takes a quick liking to Reed.

This was fine, too. I liked how the group was shown bonding together as they constructed the object. Then four people go somewhere and things take a turn. I was told that the reason the group goes somewhere was different from the Ultimates comics. Having not read those, I didn’t know this until the movie was over, but it did seem odd that it was that individual who radically changed his character to make this suggestion. The incident at the new setting was okay as was the characters’ exit from it. They then get their abilities and the movie begins to stumble.

That was the turning point. There’s no joy or laughter from this point on. Granted, I think I laughed maybe twice at something done before this, but the rest of the movie is just emotionless. I can’t justify the tension between Johnny and Sue, I can’t justify why Reed (who’s so devoted to his BFF) would abandon them for a year, I can’t justify why Ben would tolerate what’s being done, and I can’t justify why it takes a year for Franklin to talk to Johnny about priorities. Things only get worse with the return of Doom. His mask is awful (I honestly expected to hear him say in Pee-wee Herman’s voice while on the stretcher, “I say we let him go.”) and his wide range of powers is ridiculous. The battle at the end has no tension. Everyone knows who’ll triumph.

I didn’t like the design of the Thing. I didn’t believe that he was a living being, as his voice doesn’t really match his mouth movement. Plus, I really couldn’t get past pantless Ben. I couldn’t believe the writers didn’t have Johnny make a snarky comment about commando Thing. Reed and Sue’s effects are fine. They look as they do in the comics. The Human Torch looks good. I liked his effects the best of the four; flying, throwing fireballs, flaming on and off — they’re good. Doom’s powers are just too much, and he’s more Terrax than the uber-villain of the Marvel Universe. The climax could have been filmed for the SyFy Channel given how poorly the effects looked. It was frustrating to think that with all his strength, Doom is limited to using items around him to battle the heroes.

In regards to the overall acting, Miles Teller and Toby Kebbell were miscast. The script doesn’t give either much help, but Teller has absolutely no charisma or emotion that would have anyone listen to him, let alone follow him, and Kebbell is made to look like Criss Angel and he sounds completely underwhelming as Doom when the villain has the upper hand in the final act. Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Reg E. Cathey do a good job with what they’re given, as does Jamie Bell, who is probably thankful that he’s primarily a voice over for this film, but when the protagonist and antagonist are just so wrong, the film suffers.

The Fantastic Four comics were always an adventure into the unknown where villains were battled back. Reed used his scientific knowledge and creations to help people, Sue was the soul/emotion, Johnny was the one who reveled in his powers, and Ben was the sad, trapped figure who joked with Johnny and used his strength to bring the bad guys down. Not in this film. I can’t believe any child would want to be any of these characters as they’re shown.  It’s unbelievably dark for a Marvel movie. It’s also completely unlike in tone of any FF book I’ve read. In fact, this seems more like a DC Cinematic Universe movie than a Marvel film, and that’s not a compliment.

The final line: The low point of this film is the story. Once the characters have their powers, Fantastic Four becomes a flatline of a film. The final act is just a minor scuffle. There’s no power, no emotion, and, therefore, no reason to care. The audience should have been cheering, clapping — something! All I could think of was, ‘Okay, it’s done.’ I didn’t hate it, but I have no reason to ever see this again, want a sequel, or recommend it. Overall grade: D+

 

 

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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