It seems that the Fantastic Four is really never destined to be a smash hit on the big screen. The very first film version came from Roger Corman in 1994, and was never released theatrically – it was made simply so someone could keep the movie rights, so it sat on the shelf until it was widely circulated on the internet. Then came the two fairly decent attempts from Tim Story in 2005 and 2007, but they didn't exactly set the world on fire. They were very light-hearted in tone, but most critics and audiences considered them far too silly, with not enough story or character development.
And now comes the 2015 version. Co-writer/director Trank was the clever young filmmaker behind 2012's Chronicle, a brilliantly well-thought-out and fresh spin on the superhero genre (which also brough some freshness to the found-footage format). And it seems he was that he was handed something of a poisoned chalice when chosen to reboot the Fantastic Four, because his attempt to bring somethng fresh and different to THIS story was pipped at the post. It deals with the origins of the group's superpowers, yes, but it reworks the story of the FF, which was first told in the Fantastic Four #1 comic book in 1961.
In this new film version, Reed Richards (Teller) is a brilliant young scientist who has discovered how to both transport matter to and from another dimension. Enlisted by Professor Franklin Storm (Cathey), Reed is given lab resources and a team of assistants, including Sue Storm (Mara), Victor Von Doom (Kebbell) and Johnny Storm (Jordan) to perfect his discovery. To test the new device they have built for inter-dimensional travel, Reed invites childhood friend Ben Grimm (Bell) to go with them, but an accident causes changes to their physical forms, while Doom is left behind in the other world.
I can't believe all the hatred this new version of the Fantastic Four attracted on its theatrical release – it's really NOT a terrible movie. Trank and his team tried to do something new 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, and smacks of studio interference (Trank was locked out of the editing room, and since its release he has publicly disowned the movie). 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 has been getting. One thing I really DID like was the treatment of The Thing, as a kind of rock monster. That was terrific.
THE EXTRAS: It will come as no surprise that Josh Trank has not done a director's commentary. Who knows, we might get that one of these days, along with a director's cut of the film. The bonus material does consist of... the featurette Powering Up: Superpowers of The Fantastic Four (19:36); the featurette The Quantum Gates (10:50); the featurette Planet Zero (8:19); the featurette The Score (5:03); and the picture gallery Concept Art. Trank himself does appear in some of the behind-the-scenes featurettes.