So the question remains: does Marvel Comics continue its movie-making tradition of escapist excess on the big screen with the latest superhero entry in the rebooting of the ‘Fantastic Four’ being brought into the cinematic forefront in the summertime of 2015? The easy reply is YES! Now for the important question at hand: does co-writer/director Josh (‘Chronicle’)Trank’s ‘Fantastic Four’ hold up well in the impressive sea of Marvel Comics’ successful string of super-hero fantasies that for the most part has captured the fancy imagination of avid comicbook movie fanatics globally? Well, let’s just say that Trank’s middling super-power comic caper of this Fearsome Foursome is not exactly what one would call fantastic. In actuality, ‘Fantastic Four’ is a sluggish serving of hyperactive hokum that barely registers with the stable of well-made and intriguing Marvel Comics mighty hero flicks that made considerable impact over the years.
It does not help the matter that the ‘Fantastic Four’ film franchise was an uneventful afterthought a decade ago when filmmaker Tim Story’s stab at presenting the crime-fighting quartet was a complete bust resulting in these whimsical powerhouse players being labeled as one of the major weak links in the marvelous Marvel universe of action-packed, souped-up super’hero spectacles. The aimless attempt to repackage the explosive exploits of Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, Invisible Girl/Woman and the massive Thing is something of a desperate gamble for the Hollywood honchos to naturally capitalise on the momentum of a thriving super-hero genre in film that has proven to be a suitable goldmine at the worldwide box office.
Sure, the mediocre offering of Trank’s perfunctory pulsating –Fantastic Four- (just like Story’s two movie installments before) will undoubtedly make its generous share of profits because it will be an enticing popcorn pleaser armed with glorious CGI special effects imagery and the grand impishness that was legendary in the reputation of the ‘Fantastic Four’ folklore in the Marvel Comics printed pages. Still, Trank’s colorless actioner will be a reminder that even the excitable and eye-popping shenanigans of the flimsy ‘Four’ can have telling traces of emptiness, rudimentary randomness and boisterous blandness too noticeable to overcome.
It is astounding how generic ‘Fantastic Four’ is in its thin-laced skin. Trank and fellow screenwriters Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg construct a by-the-numbers story that hardly bites down tightly in suspense and creates casual characterisations that do not seem to generate into the larger-than-life spark-lit personalities that is suppose to be the tantalizing team known as the Fantastic Four. The build-up feels prolonged and problematic as the theme of the storyline stretches on and on until the climatic transformations take place in the mundane lives of the principals. Surprisingly, the so-called countdown to the big showdown is curiously flat and short on its bouncy foundation. This, of course, leaves a sketchy payoff that does not…er, pay off so soundly. This does not gel well for a super-hero flick to have such unevenness and choppy construction because the action-oriented giddiness needs to continuously resonate with the audience. This observation alone leaves the incomplete ‘Fantastic Four’ as bumpy and hardened as the Thing’s rugged and rocky backside.
As a talented tyke, science nerd Reed Richards (Miles Teller) would be ambitious enough to build a matter teleporter in his garage with the help of his childhood toughie sidekick Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) whose family business would provide the precocious wonderkid with the essential materials to build his wondrous scientific masterpiece machine. Skipping years ahead, we find that the high schoolers Richards and Grimm are the talk of the town at the science fair where they impress on-lookers with their head-scratching device that still needs some improvements. In particular, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his computer-savvy adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) are captivated by Reed and Ben’s innovative but flawed contraption. So Storm gives the tandem an opportunity to join his research project team along with his daughter Sue. Also added to the mix of the newly formed unit is Storm’s daredevil racer son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and quick-tempered but brainy Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).
Enter Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), an opportunist that wants to take the project’s directive on another path. His meddlesome nature envisions Allen wanting to expose the technological tactics of the project team to NASA in a twisted effort to boost his own notoriety. Plus, it will be inevitable when the gifted yet temperamental Doom turns to the dark side. We are introduced to a couple of villainous figureheads in Allen and Doom yet they are not roguish enough to instill any robust mischievousness in this toothless tale of this synthetic superteam.
The experimentation concerning the teleprompter is too great to pass up as Reed, Victor, Ben and Johnny venture into the unpredictable gadget not expecting a malfunctioning wave of energy that physically effects the vulnerable travelers. Victor is separated from the others as the remaining trio is sent back to Earth with the freakish of transforming powers. Reed Richards develops elastic body parts. Ben Grimm is saddled with a rocky epidermis within a bulk-sized body. Johnny Storm bursts into flames at a moment’s notice. Even Sue suffers from an accidental occurrence that renders her with invisibility in the lab. So there you have it…the birth of the not so Fantastic Four!
The deficiencies that plague the ‘Fantastic Four’ are too overwhelming to track. First, we are never really convinced of the familial closeness that is suppose to exist among this amazing group of super-powered oddballs. The flashy four have their moments of clashing and conflict but this feels artificially forced in an attempt to ignite what little interest in them that would be perceived as slightly intriguing. No one really seems to be relating to one another on a convincing, simple basis. The adopted brother-sister Storm siblings in Johnny and Sue might as well find common ground in dating as opposed to being in the same darn family. The teasing attraction between Reed and Sue is utterly monotonous. The Thing (aka Ben Grimm) might as well be on an island of his own an does not act like the treasured breakout character he should be within the circle of these weird-minded warriors.
The effects thrive to be showy but the visual exuberance cannot compensate for the lop-sided storytelling. The transparent characters do not seem to muster any considerable heat. Perhaps they should huddle with Johnny Storm’s Human Torch and catch some flammable substance of worthiness. The two-cent dialogue is laughable and the intermittent humor has all the effectiveness of a squeaky joy buzzer. The battle scenes are manufactured without much distinction or punchy conviction.
In short, ‘Fantastic Four’ certainly is a letdown for those Marvel Comics super-hero enthusiasts out there that cherished (and were consistently spoiled by) the dynamic freshness of the crusading crime-busters we all come to adore in the fictional and feisty realm of summer blockbuster action cinema. There is no need to lose any sleep ‘The Avengers’ because your anemic competition in the fellow Marvel faction of ‘Fantastic Four ‘will produce its ready-made reason to render its fans, friends and foes equally drowsy.
Fantastic Four (2015)
20th Century Fox
1 hr. 40 mins.
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Owen Judge and Evan Hannemann
Directed and Co-Written by: Josh Trank
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comic Book Fantasy/Action and Adventure/Superhero Saga
Critic’s Rating: * 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2015