Not so fantastic.
August 07, 2015
If you’ve been teetering on the brink of comic book and superhero fatigue, meet the movie that just might push you over the edge. In the case of the latest version of Fantastic Four, it’s not just the fact that every month seems to see a new film in the genre reach cinemas (or the knowledge that this particular content was translated to the screen just last decade). It's also the feature's embrace of cliché, grim tone and a complete lack of energy that causes it to grate, and then some.
Fantastic Four is yet another gritty reboot of a superhero origin story. In case you can’t remember the 2005 film of the same name and its 2007 sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (or in case you’ve willingly forgotten them), the series mythology concerns a quartet of friends who get genetically altered and gain superpowers — stretchy limbs, rock-like skin, bursting into flames and invisibility.
The characters first created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are now brought back to the big screen by Chronicle writer/director Josh Trank. Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan) travel to another dimension and come back changed, with the latter's sister Sue (Kate Mara) also caught up in the fallout. Their one-time friend Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) goes with them...but doesn’t fare quite so well.
With X-Men: Days of Future Past writer Simon Kinberg and The Lazarus Effect's Jeremy Slater helping on the script, Trank’s take is as stern and serious as his cast are young and fresh-faced — think Fantastic Four filtered through the template of a teen drama, even if the actors are slightly older than that. Outcasts come together, trouble ensues, and everyone tries to come to terms with their trauma in a manner not unlike many after-school specials. Yes, life lessons are also learned, including the all-important “never drink and teleport” and “don’t touch the green, glowing goo”.
It all makes for as low-key, downbeat affair as comic book adaptations have seen, with the cast the saving grace. The presence of the five key players — plus Reg E Cathey as Johnny and Sue's father — is a welcome one, although their performances hardly live up to the great work they've delivered in the past. Bell's version of the Thing is the feature's highlight, though we hear much more of the actor than we see. In his brooding brute of boulders, a glimpse of the emotion Trank is aiming for is apparent, albeit only briefly.
That Teller and co. hardly shine could be a reflection of the stilted dialogue they’re spouting, (including a blatant one-line rip-off of Ghostbusters) as well as the unengaging series set-up they're immersed in. When all the lab scenes, messy action and cheap-looking special effects ultimately build up to the bestowing of the group’s name (aka the movie’s title), disappointment isn’t the only emotion you'll be feeling.
As a concept, there’s plenty of interest in Fantastic Four — and yet filmmakers keep floundering in bringing it to the screen. A sequel is already slated, of course, and here's hoping that it tells a new tale with a smattering of enthusiasm, rather than blandly rehashing familiar territory.