1. You know, until everybody turns into a superhero, the new Fantastic Four reboot isn’t half bad. You can see what they were trying to do. We watch four ambitious, incredibly smart young kids come together to work on a science project that has the potential to change the world; they’re played by some of our most terrific young actors, and the film is written and directed by Josh Trank (who made the sharp, underrated found-footage superhero movie Chronicle) with a big heart and an eye for detail. The first half-hour sucks you in, making you care about these people and delivering a superhero-origin story like it’s the first movie to ever conceive of such a thing. The actors click, the action hums along, and you feel like you’re going somewhere. And then everything turns to shit.
2. I always hear from comics fans that the Fantastic Four certainly should be a viable movie franchise. (“The Fantastic Four are the defining characters of Marvel’s superhero universe,” wrote Vulture’s Abraham Riesman earlier this year. “They’re its foundation stone and its guiding light.”) But this is now their third failed movie incarnation—even Roger Corman got a try — and I’ve gotta say: If this cast and this director can’t make a compelling story out of these four, maybe it can’t be done? There really isn’t a moment in this film in which any of the characters do anything particularly exciting: One guy has long arms, one guy can be on fire, one woman can be invisible, and one guy is a large pile of rocks. (Not surprisingly, it’s impossible to animate that in a way that breathes any life into it—they’re rocks.) But that’s nothing compared to the villain, who has no movable facial features—always compelling, bad guys who can’t move their faces!—no motivation, and no clear description of his powers. Maybe the Fantastic Four are secretly riveting on the page, but here, this movie slow-builds four potentially interesting people as if they’re transforming into something amazing, and then, just when we’re starting to like them, it all turns into hack-y kitsch. I would have rather seen the Arrested Development version.
3. The movie is on such sure footing at first that it’s a legitimate shock to see it fly so far off the rails. Miles Teller is perfectly cast as Reed Richards, a nerdy Oyster Bay kid who stumbles across a pathway to another dimension while working on a science project. (The movie actually succeeds in not making this sound insane.) He gets together with a benevolent scientist (Reg E. Cathey) and his two children (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan)—and a Latvian fellow named, ominously, “Von Doom” (Toby Kebbell)—to expand the portal, and when they discover it works, they, along with Reed’s school chap Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), decide to get in it themselves. Turns out this other dimension has shape-altering powers, and suddenly, they’re all superheroes. And then ... well, that’s sort of it? There’s so much buildup to this big superhero reveal that there’s nothing left to do after it happens. Dr. Doom only really shows up so our newly minted heroes have someone to fight.
4. This movie also may have the fastest nothing’s-happening-oh-shit-we-have-to-save-the-entire-planet 0-to-60 about-face in the history of the medium. We’ve just gotten Reed Richards back from a year away from the team for reasons I still don’t quite understand, and within three minutes of tapping away on his computer, Dr. Doom has shown up and is trying to create a black hole to destroy earth. There’s no reason he does this, or anyway I couldn’t find one: We meet him, he’s angry, and he’s off to do some earth-destroyin’. The movie seems to have spent no time whatsoever thinking through any of its superhero story, or any of its motivations. The whole business with the Four and Dr. Doom—which really only occupies the last 45 minutes or so—comes out of nowhere and almost feels like a desperate rush-job. Did someone realize late in the process that they almost forgot the superhero stuff? You can see what Trank was going for, making a kids-that-turn-into-superheroes movie that’s more about the kids than the superheroes. But these superheroes don’t make any sense.
5. This all climaxes in what I have to say is honestly the most incoherent, confusing, and downright inexplicable grand finale I’ve ever seen in a big-budget comic-book movie. You’ll have no idea what is going on, what the rules of this universe are, why everyone is fighting, or hey what just happened there? Seriously, this quietly intriguing movie just turns on a dime halfway through and turns into, well, a Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie. Trank uses his cast well: There’s solid chemistry between Teller, Jordan, and Mara, and they’re all charismatic enough that you want to spend more time with them. I would love to see a movie where they hang out and do science things and never develop any powers whatsoever. But this, whatever this is, is as big a mess of a comic-book movie as I can remember.
So what happened? Did Trank just not think through the superhero sections? Did the studio get in the way? There are a lot of talented people falling on their faces here, after seemingly looking so assured. In the lack of any stronger evidence, I’m afraid I must lay the blame on the Fantastic Four themselves. It might be impossible to make these dorks in the blue suits and their long-ass arms and their CGI fire and their penises made of boulders to look anything other than ridiculous. If these guys can’t do it, I’d argue now that no one can. Please: No one else try.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.
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