Oh my God, why? Why, why, why did talented, professional people allow this to happen?
The thoroughly infamous 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four, one of the only Marvel movie franchises still outside of Marvel’s hands for now, has a bad reputation that already precedes it. After numerous reports of troubled production, mainly involving director, Josh Trank being very difficult to work with, and the producers having to salvage the movie after Trank more or less abandoned production to get stoned and destroy his lodgings (I really hope that’s exaggerated, but, sadly, I now believe it after seeing this final product), the new Fantastic Four movie seemed like it was doomed even before release. Making matters worse is the knowledge that the only reason this movie exists in the first place is so 20th Century Fox could keep the Fantastic Four movie rights out of Marvel’s hands before they expired, on account of inaction with the property since 2007’s profitable, but critically slammed Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
That plan clearly blew up in the studio’s face, since Fantastic Four has received scathing reviews from almost everyone, and has gone down as being one of the most panned movies of this year, being a guaranteed box office bomb on top of that, if abysmal early sales are any indication. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Fox was planning to jumpstart a big new Fantastic Four movie franchise with this disaster, stupidly reserving a date for a sequel in 2017 before this movie even entered production, and backing themselves into a very tight corner as a result, now that Fantastic Four is on track to losing them more money than any other movie this year, currently sitting at $11 million earned on a $120 million budget.
After sitting through Fantastic Four, I can tell you first-hand that it earns every shred of hatred it’s gotten. The movie is a complete mess, not quite being unwatchable, but being far too boring, thankless and blatantly compromised to be viewed as anything other than a superhero movie trainwreck of epic proportions. Compared to Marvel’s in-house live-action offerings so far this year, comprising the darkly brilliant Daredevil series, the vastly improved second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the innovative and plucky Agent Carter, the action-packed, spectacular romp of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the clever, subversive and funny Ant-Man, Fantastic Four is complete and total garbage. If this movie signals any development for the Fantastic Four movie franchise, it’s that Fox needs to cut their losses, and give the rights back to Marvel.
With the former two Fantastic Four movies being a closed book, the 2015 reboot gives us new renditions of the titular team. We now have younger, more raw versions of the characters, more closely inspired by the same change in direction from Marvel’s now-wrapped Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, comprising Miles Teller’s Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Kate Mara’s Susan Storm/Invisible Woman, Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm/Human Torch, and Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm/The Thing. The characters are said to be teenagers in the movie, though the cast portraying them would certainly betray that notion, as they’re all in their late 20’s or early 30’s.
Still, one of the small bits of praise you could give Fantastic Four is that the lead cast is actually solid. Teller’s dweeby charm does nicely echo a younger, more in-over-his-head Reed Richards, just as Kate Mara’s quiet, almost arrogant disposition does effectively capture a younger Susan Storm. Jamie Bell is also a big highlight as a very different kind of Ben Grimm from the equally appealing Michael Chiklis version from the former movies, now being tormented more by being used as brainless muscle, rather than just his appearance. Finally, Johnny’s character undergoing a race change from the source material is very much irrelevant, as Jordan easily embodies the character’s hot-headed tendencies and generally reckless outlook on life. At the very least, the new cast improves upon the old one from the 2005 and 2007 movies, which shifted heavily in favour of Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis to anchor most of the entertainment value.
Unfortunately, the great cast is completely and pathetically wasted, as the sloppy, butchered script quickly starts weighing them down. The first act of the movie is alright, generally having just enough charm to make the lethargic pacing tolerable, but the already limited horsepower that the movie sets out with only gets weaker as it goes on. The characters’ motivations quickly become lost in a mess of re-writes and contrivance after they actually get their powers, and one of the things that most sinks Fantastic Four is the blatant reality that these characters do not feel like a family. The chemistry between the actors is passable, but weak, and rending that issue is that the writing inexplicably has one member of the Four constantly sitting out key events until the climax, where they arbitrarily come together by a half-baked speech that was clearly pulled from the producers’ asses, and nothing else. When the Four aren’t all present together during the movie’s key moments, they can’t build upon the same shared experience that would make them truly come together as the family they’re supposed to be, and that’s a fatal problem for a Fantastic Four movie.
As much as the heroes don’t feel like they work though, our villain is somehow even worse off. Again, to be fair, Toby Kebbell is actually well cast as Fantastic Four arch-nemesis, Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom. Director, Josh Trank claimed that the character would be re-named “Victor Domashev” for this movie, who was a hacker that had an online handle called, “Doom”, though it seems that Trank was ultimately overruled by the producers and/or the studio, since Victor’s name was changed back to Victor Von Doom for the final movie, with no “Doom” handle mentioned. This is illustrated in the re-shot scenes that don’t seem to have had Trank’s direct involvement, with the character otherwise just being referred to as, “Victor.” Regardless, Kebbell is at his best in the part before he actually becomes the super-villain proper, much like how the Four are best before they’re mutated, effectively being an anti-social, misanthropic genius who is controversially being put on the all-important dimension-hopping teleporter project that gives the Four their powers, against the wishes of the investors.
Amazingly though, Doctor Doom is somehow botched even more here than he was in the previous movies, which is some kind of twisted feat, considering that he’s one of the most beloved Marvel villains in history! Without giving away too much, Kebbell’s Doctor Doom is essentially an omnipotent god-demon that can literally kill someone by blinking! Seriously? Well, what’s the point of making Doctor Doom smart at all if his powers are that unstoppable?! He might as well be a chimp! Not only are Doom’s motivations and murderous nature incredibly poorly explained, but when the character is made that absurdly powerful, his intelligence is moot, and more importantly, it makes it blatantly contrived that he doesn’t just immediately kill the Four all at once by snapping a finger!
In Marvel lore, Doctor Doom is not some invincible arch-fiend! He’s a brilliant schemer, and one of the most intelligent and devious men in the Marvel Universe, alongside Reed Richards. He doesn’t have any natural superpowers outside of the Ultimate Universe (and even then, that was mainly just his metal skin), but he doesn’t need them. What makes Doom one of the most dangerous villains in the Marvel Universe is the fact that his vast political and psychological influence makes him impossible for just about anyone to out-think or out-last, and this also makes him pretty well impossible to capture, especially since he has diplomatic immunity, so he can’t be arrested, even when the world knows he’s a very bad man. Sure, it’s not easy to make Doctor Doom believable as a dictator or a sorcerer in a self-contained Fantastic Four movie, but he should at least maintain his intelligence and vast resources, and use that to make him a threat, not some overdone god powers that he got for no discernable reason. Because of that, Doom isn’t so much an antagonist as he is an idiotic plot device that’s just crowbarred into the third act to force a climax that doesn’t feel at all organic.
This movie was also supposed to sequel bait by having Tim Blake Nelson portray Harvey Elder, a military correspondent who eventually becomes Fantastic Four villain, Mole Man. Since the producers clearly felt that this turkey would kill the franchise before it even started however, Nelson’s character’s surname has been awkwardly changed in post-production to, “Harvey Allen”, which makes sense, given that Nelson constantly looks bored, and has nothing to do with his Marvel Comics counterpart.
The only other noteworthy member of the cast is Reg E. Cathey, who plays Susan and Johnny’s father, Dr. Franklin Storm, the head researcher of the teleporter project. Cathey does what he can as the father figure to the group, but even he reaches a point about midway through the movie where he clearly stops trying. Everyone else completely fails to engage, with the movie not even bothering to name the majority of its characters, who are all just talking heads with no distinction.
The real shame though is that Fantastic Four assembled a truly fantastic cast, ahem, but then completely failed to do anything worthwhile with them. Rather than coming together as a team, there’s too many instances where the leads just look like they want to get through this debacle as much as the audience will. I can’t say I blame them.
Like I said, Fantastic Four’s first act is largely fine. The setup for the movie is excessively drawn-out however, and it takes the characters around forty minutes to get their powers, which is a sign that the movie is too slow. Even then though, the second act feels scattered and messy, and the third act is blatantly rushed, with a forced climax against a terribly realized villain that’s awkwardly tossed in, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the story that’s been established.
The movie is supposed to be about its title characters, now redesigned to be rougher-around-the-edges teenagers, participating in an experiment to make a teleporter that travels to another dimension, which may or may not be frequent Fantastic Four pit stop, the Negative Zone. The movie doesn’t specify. When the teleporter inevitably goes awry by enormously contrived circumstance, the dimensional warping mutates the four protagonists, giving them their famous powers. They then proceed to do nothing with them beyond letting the military prod at them, until the obligatory Doctor Doom fight at the end. Yes, seriously.
In fact, if you’re among the many people that disliked Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk movie, Fantastic Four has a lot of the same issues as Hulk in those respects. It’s a self-important, plodding and poorly-constructed bore that is bereft of excitement or intrigue, just like much of Hulk is, right down to the non-sensical, forced final battle with a contrived super-villain that is entirely done through muddled green screen. At the very least though, Hulk could be excused as a noble failed experiment, because it was 2003, and the superhero movie boom was still in its infancy. It’s now 2015 though. Superhero movies are well-established, and visionaries like Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, Brad Bird, Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, and the good folks both at and working with Marvel Studios in general, have all perfected the craft from virtually every conceivable angle, and that’s especially true for superhero origin stories, which Hollywood has done to death now! There’s no excuse for Fantastic Four to tell an origin story that’s this boring and sloppy, when it has a gold mine’s worth of great superhero origin movies to take inspiration from!
When it comes down to it though, the movie’s oblivious, devil-may-care storyline feels like it doesn’t care, and is way too wrapped up in its own imagined glory. As audiences can clearly see however, this movie’s plot is both incompetent, and stuck up its own rear end, barely bothering to try and be entertaining past the first act, and even then, the entertainment value is passable at best.
It’s also extremely evident that the producers and studio knew that the movie’s final cut was awful to boot. The second act is so messy, and the third act is so rushed, that it’s painfully obvious that most of the movie’s content was hacked out in the editing room, in a desperate bid to make it watchable, especially since quite a few scenes from the trailers aren’t present in the final product. Any efforts to salvage the project are clearly in vain though, since it doesn’t prevent the plot of Fantastic Four from being horrendously dull, and completely lacking real thrills or suspense. Hell, the movie even more or less completely lacks action, with the climax being so stilted, floaty and poorly-choreographed that it would almost be hilarious, if it wasn’t so sad that this was all unfolding in an adaptation of a Marvel property.
Instead, Fantastic Four flops onto the big screen with all of the enthusiasm of an apathetic stoner presenting his college thesis. The author may believe he’s created something wonderful, but everyone else can see this effortless, thankless and lifeless dreck for what it is.
Before I talk about this movie’s direction, I must stress that I can’t directly corroborate the reports of director, Josh Trank’s bad behaviour on set. Multiple sources claimed that Trank repeatedly didn’t show up for work, often on account of being stoned, and even ended up causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to his studio-arranged lodgings. Trank also apparently clashed heavily with the movie’s producers and studio reps, who eventually had to step in and try to finish the movie themselves, after Trank delayed production so extensively with his absences. In fact, after Trank appeared to voluntarily step down from directing an in-development Star Wars movie for Disney and LucasFilm, reports surfaced that Trank was actually prematurely fired from the directing job by Disney, after they caught wind of his extreme unprofessionalism on the Fantastic Four set. I wasn’t there, so I can’t confirm how much of these are reports are true.
That said however, I have to say again that I believe them, after seeing the disastrous final product of Fantastic Four. Trank clearly either wasn’t present, or didn’t bother actually directing the actors, who sleepwalk through their performances with an egregious lack of enthusiasm or engagement. Even Michael B. Jordan, who plays the infamously hot-headed Human Torch, sounds like he’s just trying to get to the paycheque at the end. Everyone in this movie sounds half-asleep, and it seems evident that nobody cared about the final product.
The testament to Trank’s horrible ‘direction’, if you can call it that, is best exemplified by the awful climax, which I already stated is one of the worst climactic battles in a superhero movie since Hulk in 2003. Trank feels like he’s just being difficult the entire time, refusing to listen to the studio or producers, simply because they told him that his vision for an adaptation of a beloved Marvel franchise needed changes. The result is Trank almost going out of his way to spite Fox, sabotaging the movie by blatantly ignoring their advice and doing whatever the opposite of what they told him was, or so it appears. This results in a confused, apathetic movie with no thematic value, no sense of direction, and nothing separating it from its competitors beyond a whole lot of boring, half-baked changes to the source material that never go anywhere.
Considering that Trank made a very good indie superhero flick with Chronicle, the issue isn’t that he’s not talented as a director. The issue is that Trank is clearly too young to helm a project on this scale, and is clearly in way over his head, with his ego clearly spiraling out of control all the while. I hope Fantastic Four doesn’t kill his career before it properly starts, because he could be a great director with more experience and maturity, but, sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. This is one of the worst directing jobs I’ve ever seen in any major superhero movie.
Even the score to Fantastic Four feels sleepy and barely present. Even when there’s crescendos and composition spikes, they feel like they somehow completely lack fanfare, even when they’re literally a fanfare! That’s a bizarre accomplishment by co-composers, Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass, who initially set out to make a score that attempts to be something like a foreboding superhero horror movie (which fits, given Beltrami’s heavy background of scoring horror movie soundtracks), but this composition style clearly doesn’t mesh well with Fantastic Four, resulting in music that feels like it doesn’t care any more than anyone else does.
Even the very audio in Fantastic Four feels sleepy. The former two Fantastic Four movies directed by Tim Story had at least a decent amount of punch behind them. The Four felt appropriately powerful, and the action scenes in those movies did feel at least a bit exciting. In this reboot however, there’s almost no action, to start, and when the inevitable climactic battle against Doctor Doom finally begins, he doesn’t really feel like he’s actually there, because his abilities don’t sound lifelike or believable. This makes Fantastic Four somehow feel both suffocating, and yet wholly un-immersive. Again, that takes a special kind of incompetence!
Fantastic Four managed whatever studio polish that it could, and to be fair, the Four’s powers are realized well. The Human Torch and The Thing both look sharp, even though The Thing joins the Human Torch as a fully CGI creation now, rather than actually being a costume that the actor wears, as with the former movies. The effect of Miles Teller’s Reed Richards stretching out looks convincing as well, even if it comes with that unnecessary modification to his powers, where he, “Bends space”, and doesn’t, “Stretch” like in the comics and former movies, among any other bit of Fantastic Four media. Lastly, Sue’s force fields look less convincing, and Jessica Alba’s force fields definitely looked better in the Tim Story duology, though her invisibility effects are still good.
Considering how little action Fantastic Four has in it though, there aren’t really a lot of places where the effects are noteworthy. There isn’t much care given to effects of note until Doctor Doom shows up for the climax, with Doom’s ghastly appearance also being a good CG effect, even if the character is awfully written. Doom’s abilities have no effects behind them though, with environments and exploded heads (yes, really) simply responding to simple blinking and finger-waving. It feels very lazy, and it contributes to the overall laziness of realizing Doom as a climactic villain in general.
Fantastic Four was supposed to be released in 3D, with most of the marketing also making sure to emphasize a 3D release, but the 3D cut ended up being cancelled just a few weeks before the movie hit theatres, no doubt because of the extensively delayed production period not leaving any time for a good post-conversion. Thus, Fantastic Four is only viewable in 2D worldwide, but that won’t make a difference, considering that, yet again, the movie has no real action or spectacle in it. Thus, it seems like even Fox knew that a 3D presentation would be completely unnecessary, since even the final fight wouldn’t really make use of it very much. Well, at least they didn’t try to rip off audiences who like 3D movies anyway, so good on Fox for that.
This doesn’t change the fact that so much of Fantastic Four looks dreary and lifeless though. Even the alternate dimension, whether or not it’s supposed to be the Negative Zone from Marvel lore, looks very boring, and doesn’t seem to operate on any plane of logic. Considering how much various Fantastic Four media is known for its large-scale spectacle, a Fantastic Four movie that looks this drab is absolutely criminal!
Say what you will about the Tim Story-directed movies, but at least they had good effects, and were easy to watch. The reboot somehow makes the visuals worse compared to movies that came out during the previous decade!
It’s very well-established now that Fantastic Four is a bad movie, and yes, I must state bluntly that it is a bad movie that is absolutely not worth your box office dollars, especially when so many better movies are in theatres right now! It’s clearly a compromised, poorly-constructed mess of a product that nobody cared about, least of all the director that originally pitched this ‘vision’, and that makes this disaster dead-on-arrival. How bad is it truly though? Is it Catwoman bad? Elektra bad? Or, maybe just Hulk bad, where its intentions were noble, but its experimental ideas just didn’t work?
I won’t quite go as far as to state that Fantastic Four is the next Batman & Robin, and as much as I cringe to think about it, there are superhero movies that are worse than this one, like, say, Steel for example. That doesn’t change the fact that Fantastic Four will still go down in infamy as one of the worst superhero movies ever made though, even if not the worst overall. It’s definitely far less entertaining and far less spectacular than the already shaky Tim Story-directed Fantastic Four movies, and like I said, compared to Marvel Studios’ universally awesome offerings this year, this movie is a complete embarrassment for Fox, and for Marvel, even though Marvel wasn’t at all involved in this movie’s production.
Like I said, if this movie means anything for Fantastic Four as a big screen franchise, it’s that it’s time for Fox to return the rights to Marvel. They clearly don’t know what to do with them, and at this point, the brand is pretty much poison for the studio, so they’d be foolish to insist on keeping it to themselves. If for whatever reason Fox doesn’t want to completely give up creative control over Fantastic Four, Sony proved that studios can negotiate deals with Marvel to share movie rights, in that case for Spider-Man, so Fox should do that, at minimum. Clearly, nobody is going to want to see the planned 2017 sequel, which is just another costly box office bomb waiting to happen. Fox holding the Fantastic Four rights hostage doesn’t help anyone, not Fox, not Marvel, not moviegoers, and especially not fans of Marvel’s First Family, who were no doubt subjected to this garbage on opening night, if not in pre-screenings like me.
Bottom line, don’t waste your time, don’t waste your money, and let this awful reboot fade into obscurity, where it belongs. Needless to say, this is not what one should expect when a movie’s title includes the word, ‘Fantastic’.
- The cast is at least well-chosen
- Cast is wasted on lack of action, logic and chemistry
- Horrendous storyline with awful pacing and structuring
- Doctor Doom is a butchered, abysmal villain here