Sunday 23 August 2015


(Josh Trank, 2015)

Fantastic Four tries to do something different with the superhero genre, it really does. It aims for a considered, somewhat dark and gritty approach to the genre in stark contrast to the two (commercially successful) Fantastic Four films from the '00s. It tries to update the material, making it relevant for modern audiences. It also goes for a character-first angle on this super-hero origin story, largely eschewing action until the last act.
But it doesn't work.
There are too many weak spots and outright mistakes here, too many obvious compromises for it to ever feel like a film entirely confident about what it wants to be. The much-reported creative tensions on set and in post-production (which sound far more entertaining than anything in the finished film) are evident in the way the trailer is filled with shots and moments absent from the actual film and the way certain moments feel rushed and fudged.
The comic book - at its best - is as much sci-fi as super-hero, a story of science explorers, full of other dimensions and alien races, held fast by the familial bond and bickering of the four principals. The film at least retains that to some extent. Focused mostly on Reed Richards (Miles Teller, never entirely convincing as the super-genius the character is meant to be) who is attempting to create a teleporter from the moment we first see him, collaborating with local tough kid Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, so sparely used he is basically in a cameo role) as fifth graders in his garage. Seeing his genius, he is recruited by Professor Storm (Reg E Cathey), whose son Johnny (Michael B Jordan, appropriately cocky) and adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara, probably most convincing of any of the leads) are also involved in the programme to create a teleported similar to Reed's. The final scientist is Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebell, fine as the most interesting character, but still one who represents a grotesque mishandling of perhaps the greatest super-villain in the genre), an arrogant, genius with contempt for the powers that be.
Together they open a path to another dimension, but in the process all five are given powers and abilities which make them superhuman, with Victor turned into a powerful madman bent on the destruction of the world.
Yes, this is the type of super-hero film where the villain wants to destroy the world, the kind of failure of imagination that hurts a film so set on doing things differently as this one is. Another problem is how quickly all this happens. The film spends an age on exposition - who wants what and why, how they're trying to get it, etc - then rushes through the important part, where people become superhuman, and positively speeds through the final confrontation, which never in any way earns its own sense of climactic importance or apocalyptic emotional tone. We barely see these characters as super-heroes, and this is a true origin story, ending as it does at the first moment when they are together as a team. But this has its frustrations too.
In a film where action is at such a premium (in this genre, that is a bizarre decision), when it comes it better be memorable. And here it never is. The final confrontation is one of those vague face-offs with flying rocks and energy being tossed around. The inventive possibilities of some of the character's powers (Reed's stretching ability, Sue's telekinesis) are only very briefly explored, and virtually abandoned by the ending.
It looks dull too, that 'gritty' approach manifesting itself as an overly dark colour palette and the sort of burnished steel production design too common in modern blockbusters. The source material in contrast is as bright and poppy as super-hero comics get.
Perhaps most damningly, you just know that if Marvel Studios (rather than 20th Century Fox, who own the rights to these characters) had made this film, it would be much much better, and far more fun.

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