While the bar wasn’t exactly set high by a pair of previously released films, the one truly fantastic thing about Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, is how unenthusiastically it attempts to clear the bar, and that it manages to do so only barely. While there are moments where the film gets it right, they’re too few and way too far in between to save the film from lukewarm mediocrity. Fantastic Four isn’t a horrible film. It just isn’t a good one, by any means. While there are a few moments of hope and possibility, they are soon squandered and crushed by sluggish pacing, a rushed climax, comical dialogue, a lack of constistant tone, and uneven chemistry between it’s cast.
For many viewers out there, this film will be their first introduction (cinematically at least) to the Fantastic Four. Those lucky enough to not have sat through the first two cartoonish films from a decade ago don’t have the knowledge of what came before, therefore the expectations they may have regarding this film are unbiased. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury of mind. Regardless of this fact, I still went in with an outlook that I maintain for every new film I see: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst. This way, if something blows me away, I’m happy and encouraged by what someone has been able to put up on the screen. If the film is the cinematic equivalent of reading a Kardashian autobiography, then I can allow myself to be letdown without it ruining my life. The trouble comes when a film is released and lands right in the center of those two.
For the first few minutes, the film does a decent job of setting up the characters of Reed Richards and Ben Grimm as young kids. You believe the two of them could become friends, as they do, and we soon follow them through to their teenage years, where we see them played by Miles Teller and Jamie Bell respectively. Teller and Bell work well together, and they continue the chemistry shown earlier by their younger selves. I won’t go into spoilers here, but the remaining cast are all added in one at a time, but if it feels like it takes forever to get them together, that’s because it does. If the entire film has one glaring issue, it’s the utter lack of momentum pushing the story forward. For such a short film (in terms of superhero cinema), nearly the entire film continues at a sluggish pace before diving head-first into a finale that is rushed, but even worse, unearned. After spending nearly the entire film crawling through the story, the movie picks up towards the end, but rushes so fast it misses nearly every mark.
While the cast isn’t horrible, their talents are simply wasted by horrible dialogue and lack of any chemistry as a “team.” Miles Teller (Whiplash), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Jamie Bell (Snowpiercer) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) have all shown that they can turn in phenomenal work. Here though, there’s just not enough foundation for them to work with, and they’re left to do what they can with the limited tools the script gives them. In pairs, putting Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben, and even Victor, together one-on-one, there’s chemistry and it works. For some reason however, together as a group, it manages to dissipate quickly. A lot of the dialogue is simply ridiculous and in some cases down-right laughable. And yet again, we’re forced to sit through another poorly done “It’s clobberin’ time” exclamation from Ben “The Thing,” that you have to wonder if the writers actually think it’s a joke line, or if they just don’t care enough to make it actually work.
The whole finale perplexes me even now just as much as it did immediately after the film ended. While kicked off by a truly standout scene (which I’ll talk about here in a bit), the entire thing comes together so quickly. I half thought they were setting up a mid-movie climax that we often see in the majority of superhero films, which would allow the team to band together before the inevitable “final” battle. Unfortunately, we’re left with a finale where the team bands together because the script tells them they have to, and we’re left with some cheap setups for a sequel, for the very same reason. Be on the lookout for a comically out-of-nowhere moment of forced “animosity” between Johnny and Ben at the very end, which makes absolutely no sense because there’s been absolutely no animosity between them throughout the entirety of the film.
After all of that, there are still some positive things about the film, that unfortunately fall under the film’s shadow of mediocrity. For the most part, the cast are great. While the script does a poor job at providing them any help in terms of developing chemistry, they still have moments to shine. The true standout is Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm. This version of Ben isn’t the engineering astronaut from the comics, but a rough and tumble friend of Reed’s from his childhood days. Bell plays this version of Ben very honestly, and it works really well. Ben knows that he doesn’t have the brains that Reed does by any means, but his loyalty is unwavering, and he serves as a nice conduit for the audience. This also makes his feelings of betrayal towards Reed even more human, and it allows the Thing to be more than a clump of motion-captured rocks. Speaking of which, the CGI on the Thing was also a step up in a positive way. Gone is the awful latex and foam muscle suit, along with Michael Chiklis’ version of the Batman voice. While not perfect, this version of the Thing looks and feels natural, and while Bell’s voice does undergo some digital manipulation, you can still hear his performance. The motion-capture work is well-done, no doubt helped by Andy Serkis, whom Jamie Bell worked with on bringing the Thing to life. With a character like this, the eyes are one of the most important aspects of the animation, and they nail it perfectly.
The other standout is “the scene” I mentioned earlier. While granted, this scene isn’t a landmark or ground-breaking scene, it does stand out, partly due to the rest of the films abysmal pacing, and partly because it’s just an incredibly well-shot scene. While I won’t spoil it for you here, the scene invokes a bit of a horror tone to it as we watch Doom doing his thing down a hallway. And yes, as laughably bad as the Doom design and character is done in this film (due in no way to Toby Kebbell’s performance, which is actually well-done), this one scene is the only slightly redemptive factor for what would otherwise be yet another poor representation of the character on screen. Before the accident that gives them their powers occurs, Kebbell plays Victor with a fresh look and feel that, while some comic purists may not appreciate, worked very well. After being exposed to his eventual “powers” however, every trace of Kebbell is lost on screen literally, hiding his entire body inside a poorly designed “suit.” Not even the remnants from the overly modified “Doom voice” is enough to save the character going forward. Thankfully, this standout scene prevents the character from being a complete waste on-screen.
In the end, there’s so many frustrating things about the film, but one stands out above the rest. The necessary tools for a great film are there. In the hands of a builder who knows how to use them properly, we might one day have something special. Until then, we’re left with yet another mediocre example of what could have been. And with how far we’ve come in terms of superb superhero cinema over the last decade, the filmmakers behind Fantastic Four should have learned their lesson already. At least it wasn’t PIXELS though, right?
Overall: 2 Nerdskulls
Watch the trailer here:
For more info on comics, video games, movies and anything else nerd, check out Nerdlocker.com, a place for your inner nerd.
Also check us out on:
Nerdlocker Shop: http://www.nerdlocker.com/store
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org