“You’ve opened a door you don’t know how to close. You don’t know anything about what’s coming.”
Was that a sigh of relief or a sigh of disbelief I let out as I stomped down the half lit and narrow theater corridor? I still don’t know. As it currently stands on Rotten Tomatoes, a site that grades movies based on critics’ reviews, Fantastic Four is being beat down, berated as one of 2015’s absolute worst movies (graded more harshly than the compete catastrophes Get Hard, Mortdecai, Aloha, The Boy Next Door, and most recently Pixels.) It’s unfair, unruly, unkind and unjust. Does that mean I’m saying it’s good? No, absolutely not. Fantastic Four starts as a decent enough superhero origin story rooted in Amblin entertainment that awkwardly shifts towards a type of science fiction horror. It’s too dark and dour, but still consumable. And then comes the third act, a disastrous failure in every degree. There were rumors of reshoots, and the capitulation of an ending proves them to be true. I’ve seen my fair share of movies. This last third ranks up there with the worst of them.
Directed by Josh Trank (who has recently denounced the project altogether), Fantastic Four is a jokey premise taken far too seriously. These characters and their transformations, save for Reed Richards, who stretches without much explanation, are literal metaphors for who they are as people. A rock, a torch, an invisible woman, and a…I’ll say human Stretch Armstrong. They are all exaggerations. And still, for whatever reason, Trank tries to make them grounded. Written by Simon Kinberg, the brains behind the X-Men series, these characters and this world never get to be their own. You couldn’t imagine kids with these powers having any less fun. Well, maybe with the exception of The Thing. Being a boulder would kinda’ blow.
Reed (Miles Teller) is an Einstein type genius, scribbling in his notepad and cracking inter-dimensional travel in the fifth grade. Flash forward seven years, along with his best bud Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and he’s approached by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara). They get to work on the real thing, bringing in the help of the reclusive Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), the man who originally designed the machine. Dr. Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) is forced to join the crew by his dad after a street racing accident. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Johnny “can build anything.” Long story very, very short; they crossover, shit hits the fan, and they come back physically and emotionally changed.
Movies need to be the sum of their parts. Fantastic Four can only divide, because by the script’s nature, this is about 5 different movies. The building of the biomatter shuttle. The characters exploring the other dimension. Figuring out their powers. The government’s attempt to use them as weapons. A relationship drama about family and friendship. It’s as tedious as I’m sure reading that was, and it’s just as separated. What’s strange is the tone of the movie. We get dark and droll, especially from Dr. Storm, played by Cathey with such a bass-heavy voice that it could shatter glass. I want to see these kids be kids. To interact with each other. In fact, I don’t think Ben and Sue ever speak. They’re not a team; they’re a rare collection. And for once Marvel had a decent villain played by a strong actor with at least a little motive. So what do they do? Remove him from the film until the climatic act, which of course, involves a city being sucked up into the sky. This ain’t happy-go-lucky Disney Marvel, but it’s Marvel nonetheless.
Fantastic Four’s problem is one that films almost never have. It severely needed more time. Looking back on the final act, I can’t help but laugh. Godawful, atrocious, pathetic. Any synonym for bad works here. We’re rushed through inter-dimensional warfare that kills off the villain with a punch and a tagline, and then we’re back to Earth. The cast does their part and plays their role. And although I’m an unapologetic supporter of the great Miles Teller, his acting in the last third is bush-league, saying lines like, “You don’t have to do this!” with such indifference that we can feel how disengaged he is. He broods like a John Travolta greaser, and you feel that at any moment the ruse will be up, that it will all finally burst into song. Sadly, its creative voice has been locked up, the key thrown away. Not only does this film refuse to work, it sits back on welfare, all too happy to beg, borrow, and steal from better, more enjoyable movies (i.e. The Fly, which Trank admitted served as its “inspiration.”) If that’s true, don’t bother bringing out the swatter or the bug zapper, because Fantastic Four kills itself before it ever takes flight.
“Am I that predictable?”
Rating: 2 out of 5