Fantastic 4 (2015) review

T'was but a decade ago when Fox graced our screens with Tim Story's Fantastic Four, a fun origin film about those intrepid scientists (and friends/siblings of scientists) who investigate weird space science stuff and return injured, hurt, stretchy, firey, invisibly, rocky, ramboey, dopey and Mitch. While the first big-budget screen outing, and subsequent sequel, were light-hearted and emphasised the "comic" in comic-book movies, reception was always cold on them. Too silly, not enough story, not enough character. Fox 180ed in their attempt to keep the movie rights to the characters, and decided to make the Fantastic Four a po-faced, dark and dimmed cinematography ripped right out of The Amazing Spider-Man's book of "How To Fincherise A Franchise", but through a series of reshoots and director-going-on-reddit-while-high-spitting-venom-at-movie-studio-that-takes-control it seems that Fox may have mixed Social Network Fincher with its very own Alien 3 Fincher.

Reed Richards is a child genius when we meet him in 2007, drawing designs and writing equations that would make a teleportation device for various matter to work, which catches the eye of classmate Ben Grimm (Bell), through their... mutual existence(?) they become chums and, seven years later, unveil a working machine that ships matter to and from an unspecified place. Catching the eye of scientist and sub-woofer-speaking Franklin Storm, and his daughter Sue (Mara), and thus Adult Reed (aged about 18 and played by Teller) goes to New York city to science some things with them and 'the only other super smart guy who can do things even though he's a rebel and last time he was there he set fire to things because he hates everything or something we'll figure out a character trait as we go along' Victor Von Doom (Kebbel, who hopefully had a fun time on set because he's given shorter shrift than anyone else). Oh, and why not have the reckless wayward Johnny Storm (Jordan) come in to help weld the science together?

The film spends about 45-50 minutes 'science'-ing things, such as people staring at computers, people talking and writing down equations, people looking at printouts then pointing to a giant machine, people typing on computers, people talking on headsets as they look at computers. Computers! And then they teleport... something about green energy, everyone changes, and then the briefest glimmer of hope shows up in the film. During Trank's Reddit conversation he brought up the salient concept of Fantastic Four this time being in the vein of body horror movies. It makes total sense, a man discovers his arm is stretching for miles without feeling it until he sees every inch. Gross, weird, freaky, trippy. And to the film's limited credit there is an element here, involving being trapped/strapped down, or being burnt to a charred skeleton, that is freaky and has potential to discover the agony of the characters who harness power they can't even control. This, however, flounders when the first 50 minutes of set-up haven't equated into a single character being more than lines of script being read out loud. There's no arc or coherent hero's journey, there's no hero, there's not even journey actually. The entire film, you see, plays out in two practical locations and one CGI nightmare.

The only other moment of potential that the film offers involves Von Doom's violent use of his power, it's Scanners at a PG-13 level, but with more blood-spurting-on-a-wall than one would expect from modern, family-friendly action films. Balls, perhaps, were being swung on set, and then someone snuck a quick snippet into the finished film like an in-house Tyler Durden.

Fantastic Four has a great core cast who have nothing to grip onto, a script that doesn't give the audience any emotion or empathy, character, humour, drama or inventiveness in the world. The seriousness is destroyed by the inept dialogue and leaps in logic, and the sudden influx of humour at parts to not alienate the four quadrants is hammered in like a square peg in a triangular hole. The visual effects are on par with 2005's feature, which is not in any way a compliment. Fantastic Four is a mess, not in an exciting "How did this get made?" way, but more of a "Why are you releasing THIS film?" way. A tedious experience that lacks any charm or interest, or creativity, or excitement, or drama, or fun, or... well, anything. Well done Fox, you get to keep the rights to Fantastic Four for a little bit longer. Good luck building a franchise off this mess, sit in your filth and stew for a bit. You made it, you clean it up.
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SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor ★★★
I can't believe all the hatred this film is attracting – it's NOT a terrible movie. Trank and his team have tried to do something fresh and interesting and different with the characters, and for me, it mostly works. It's an interesting teen drama, with a great cast of amazing young talent, and lot to say about the current state of the planet we live on. Where the film loses its way is with the lack of a solid, coherent second act and the (what feels like tacked on) "superhero" stuff, especially the battle with Doom, at the end – it really doesn't gel with everything that has gone before. There are other issues too – especially the bad wig on Kate Mara in a couple of scenes, which clearly was used for reshoots – but overall, I don't think it deserves the absolute kicking that it is getting. One thing I really DID like was the treatment of The Thing, as a kind of rock monster. That was terrific.

Fantastic 4 at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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