Movie review: Fantastic Four
The ‘reboot’ of the superhero story has cheesy special effects, bland characters and a lot of murky motivations. The result is an adventure that’s far from fantastic.
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara
Directed by: Josh Trank
Running time: 106 minutes
By Jay Stone
There are so many things wrong with Fantastic Four — the amusingly misnamed new Marvel superhero movie, although I guess Prosaic Four would have sold even fewer tickets — that you could never squeeze them all into a conventional film review. That’s the problem with this job: sometimes there’s nothing to recommend except for movie-goers to pony up 12 bucks and throw away 106 minutes of their own lives on incomprehensible science fiction, just so they can see what I’m talking about.
That seems like a lot to ask, however. So if you’re willing to settle for an incomplete (although passionately felt) precis, here are some highlights.
Fantastic Four is about four teenagers who get superpowers which are: lighting yourself on fire, being invisible, being a huge granite guy called The Thing who can throw around army tanks, and having elastic limbs that can stretch, which, by the way, is an incredibly lame superpower. What’s it good for? Getting a secret key from a high ledge? Just let the granite guy smash down the door.
But we push on. The new version of this story (a “reboot” of a 2005 origin film that gussied up Chris Evans as a superhero, kicked his tires, and found him wanting) is about 80 minutes of how the Fantastic Four began, and then about 20 minutes of cheesy special effects as they use those powers in the most pedestrian battle in superhero history.
It presents Reed Richards (Miles Teller, the Whiplash drummer and probably wishing he was back being abused by JK Simmons), a young science nerd who wants to build a machine that transports matter from here to here and back again. He and his buddy Ben (Jamie Bell) present it at a science fair and are recruited by inventor Franklin Storm (Reg G. Cathey) to work at his private institute.
They eventually build the thing, under government supervision and with the help of Dr. Storm’s adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), her stepbrother Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and darkly brooding outsider Victor von Doom (Tony Kebbell), whose family really should have changed their name if they hoped to make it in America.
One of the twists here is that Johnny Storm — a wild rebel, although he settles down as soon as the plot requires it — and his dad are black while Sue is their adopted white daughter. This has nothing at all to do with the movie; it’s just part of a randomly assembled collection of oddities that will eventually (eventually!) fall together with all the grace one might expect from a von Doom project.
One drunken night, Reed and Johnny call up Ben, who’s been abandoned at the beginning of the picture, forgotten but not (alas) gone, to try out the machine without government approval. It’s a boozy joy ride to another dimension that looks a lot like an inactive but unhappy volcano. When they explore its oddly glowing surface, Victor von Doom falls in and everyone else jumps back into the transporter and skedaddles home.
They arrive with strange powers. Ben has turned into the giant granite guy, albeit without his sexual organs: The Thing with no thing. Sue has become the invisible woman, which is cool although since she’s a girl, she won’t be using her power the way a male superhero might, i.e. sneaking into the women’s change room. Johnny becomes the human torch, throwing fireballs around. And Reed is the elastic man, so he can stretch, although not in the way the Actor’s Studio might mean it.
The government is delighted, especially with The Thing who becomes a secret weapon in several foreign policy adventures. But Reed runs away — not a bad idea, given what’s going on in the picture — only to be retrieved in time for the climactic battle with Victor, who has also vanished from the movie. In the interim he has become Dr. Doom, all metallic skin and glowing eyes and with a big grudge against the world, although the allure of the alternative volcanic time-space place remains elusive.
The motivations are kind of murky and there are many unanswered questions: Why did Reed run away? Why do they need him anyway? What happened to the great version of this movie that director Josh Trank says he once had? Isn’t X-Men enough already with the metaphorical superpowers? In addition, the special effects are awful (Sue travels in a translucent blue ball that looks like it was left over from Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain) and the characters are bland.
Plus, the ending promises a sequel. Talk about a stretch.
THE EX-PRESS, August 10, 2015
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