A Fantastic Cast Can’t Save Fantastic Four from Total Doom
In 2007, a brilliant fifth grader named Reed Richards declares his desire to become the first boy in human history to teleport. He spends every day of the next seven years tirelessly working towards this goal, alongside his bruiser of a best friend, Ben Grimm.
One day, the universe answers his dreams, in the form of paternal scientist Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue. They know about Reed’s ambitions, they know about his genius, and they recruit him to their fold. Under their guidance, and along with the assistance of the dubiously named Victor von Doom and Sue’s brother Johnny, Reed makes the impossible possible, creating a teleportation device that can bring him to a parallel dimension… and that’s right around the point the government swoops in to take the project away.
Even if no one was boozing Reed Richards style at the wheel of Fantastic Four, the results are still about as misguided as a drunken journey to an unknown alien world.
Needless to say, Reed responds poorly to this development, spending the next several hours getting drunk with Johnny and Victor. Then he drunk dials his buddy Ben and tells him about their next big, bright idea: They’re going to hijack the teleportation device and hop on over to the so-called Planet Zero without any supervision, and without sobering up.
The rest, as they say, is drunk history.
Even if no one was boozing Reed Richards style at the wheel of Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot, the results are still about as misguided as a drunken journey to an unknown alien world. The movie is directed by Chronicle‘s Josh Trank, written and produced by Simon Kinberg of recent X-Men movie glory, and armed with top-flight actors like Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell, based on some of the most beloved characters in the Marvel pantheon. What went wrong?
There are no easy answers to the question, even if it’s one that’ll be asked a whole lot in the weeks (or maybe just days) ahead. It’s not that Fantastic Four is awful. It’s not an out and out disaster. The first two thirds of the movie are interesting in their hard sci-fi leanings, if not tonally consistent with some of the more whimsical adventures the Richards/Storm/Grimm gang are best loved for. It’s a bit bizarre, grim if not quite Grimm, but not outright displeasing.
The four heroes are solid across the board, especially Jordan as figurative-turned-literal hothead Johnny Storm, having a blast and looking amazing as the Human Torch. Mara’s Invisible Woman is calm and whip-smart, if underutilized — and, really, there’s no if about it. Bell is fine as Ben, though there’s nothing revolutionary about his work as the Thing (or the effects team’s work for that matter), except for his exceptional lack of pants. Teller takes turns being charming, dopey, and arrogant as Reed, if never fully convincing in his “team leader” role.
Maybe the movie looks better through Reed Richards’ beer goggles.
The three other most important characters in the movie are all performed without any issues — from veteran character actor Reg E. Cathey as Sue and Johnny’s father, and Reed’s father figure, to Tim Blake Nelson as a grinning government goon, and rounded out by Toby Kebbell as Doom, beyond solid in almost every role he takes on.
Solid or not, Kebbell’s Doom is probably the best place to start talking about Fantastic Four‘s doom. It’s nothing to do with his performance. It’s the character himself — and the other characters, really — who was thinly drawn, either early on in the writing process or at some point later down the line in the edit; the final version of Fantastic Four feels like a movie with 30 crucial minutes cut out of it, and Doom suffers worse than any other character.
At the risk of spoiling more than I already have (what’s outlined above is at least a third of the movie; it takes a good long while to heat up, if it ever does at all), Doom’s big return to the movie marks the start of one of the clumsiest third acts in recent blockbuster history, and superhero movie history at large. The movie shifts from cold science fiction to outright superheroics, and the transition arrives as naturally as the F4’s powers themselves — which is to say, not naturally at all. It feels like someone decided far too late that Fantastic Four should be about costumed heroes battling a costumed villain, instead of the Species and The Sphere analogue it embodied for the first 70 minutes. The results, and sorry for plucking the low-hanging fruit, are not fantastic.
It’s not the first time a Fox-owned Marvel movie has suffered this type of problem, either. We can even look beyond the widely panned X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and focus in on The Wolverine, an incredibly strong and unique comic book movie… for the most part, anyway. James Mangold and Hugh Jackman’s 2013 effort works best when focusing on Logan’s journey to Japan and his tired quest for inner peace, reeling from his role in the death of Jean Grey. It’s an unexpectedly soulful take on the character that totally works, until the final act turns it into an X-Men movie, with all the Silver Samurai super-villainy that come with such a thing.
The same story applies here: Fantastic Four attempts something unique for most of its runtime, before going fully off the rails with an unbelievably awkward final act, featuring the four versus a Doom you can’t love or loathe, because he comes right out of nowhere. While The Wolverine gets a pass because its good aspects are great, the same can’t be said for Fantastic Four. The first two-thirds are interesting, but buckle under the weight of some dubious decisions along the way (why Sue isn’t part of the Planet Zero mission is well beyond me). The biggest dubious decision is the entire final third of the film.
Perhaps the movie looks better through Reed Richards’ beer goggles? But just as the Fantastic Four should learn to never drink and teleport between dimensions, so too should Fox learn the lesson to put an ironclad game plan in place before they act. Through no fault of its cast, Fantastic Four is a fantastic whatever.