In a post Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro world; how is it that Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four got it so wrong? Let’s take a look at Trank’s gritty adaptation of The Incredibles.
Reed Richards, an obnoxious child prodigy, loves science and wants to teleport himself. That’s all the set-up you need. So he does a lot of science in his garage trying to transport matter from one place to another. How fun! Reed’s mother and step-father seem frazzled and tired. But so would you if your son was doing dangerous science that resulted in blacking out entire cities. Meanwhile his best friend, Ben Grimm, has an abusive elder brother (yes the rumours are true. Ben’s brother uses the phrase ‘It’s clobbering time’ right before hitting his brother) and works in a junk-yard. The junk-yard is a metaphor for the film.
Anyway, seven years later Reed (Miles Teller) is an adult competing in a children’s science competition because he’s a child prodigy. It doesn’t need to make sense, it’s science! So for some reason Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) are at a science fair for 9-year-olds, hunting for talent to help with THEIR matter transporter. Lo, they get Reed to assist. The team is ALMOST assembled, first they need help from the villain: Victor Von Doom. Here’s how they characterize Doom: He wears a Google Glass and wants to bang Sue. Anyway he’s the bad guy.
The next half an hour is entirely devoted to science montages. Occasionally they attempt to portray chemistry between Reed and Sue. Chemistry defined as ‘making eye contact’ or ‘talking to each other’. This is observed by Doom who is OVERWROUGHT WITH JEALOUSY. “You’re being unprofessional,” Doom confronts Reed. Finally! Some actual tension that doesn’t revolve around fake theoretical science! “No, we’re finished. If anyone asks, tell them I’m taking a nap” IS REED’S ACTUAL REPLY.
Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) are both chronically handsome. They provide handsomeness in between moments of the driest dialogue since someone programmed Anne Hathaway to do ‘banter’. Shenanigans occur they all get superpowers and this is where things get REALLY interesting. JK. The boys travel to an alternate dimension/planet – shit gets hectic and some kind of catalytic explosion leads to them all gaining new powers. Wow! It’s like some kind of origin story! Thank god it only took MORE THAN HALF THE FILM to get to this set-up that HAS BEEN PERVASIVE IN POPULAR CULTURE SINCE THE 60S?
From the outset, the moments when the Fearsome Foursome gain their powers (oh yeah Doom is left on another planet, presumably dead because hey! He’s only the canonical villain, no reason to assume he’ll be back) there is a brief attempt at some gritty realism. The grotesque way Reed’s body contorts as his limbs stretch like putty, Johnny’s limbs heaped in a pile of flames – looking more like a corpse than the Human Torch – even Ben, now some kind of rock beast lumbers about. But instead of pursuing this ACTUALLY INTERESTING approach to the changes the heroes undergo, we abandon that for something much more interesting: more science!
The problems with this film are as follows: it takes the over-done trope of the Superhero origin story and injects terrible dialogue, characters with such little charisma it’s almost part of their powers and there’s barely TWO (count ‘em TWO) action sequences. The rest is fake science, fake typing on keyboards and average CGI. This script is so bad I couldn’t tell if people were laughing WITH it, AT it or because there was a gas leak in the cinema. While discussing Sue’s upbringing as an adopted child, Reed tells her: “I know how you feel.”
“You’re adopted too?” she replies, “No. I wish I was.”
Fantastic Four is the kind of film that applies defining characteristics such as Sue ‘loves music’ or Reed ‘wears glasses’.
Also – at one point Michael B Jordan called Toby Kebbell ‘Borat’, and I was like okay so I’m not the only one that sees a lot of resemblance there? Is that something that was on purpose? IS Doom actually Borat?
Don’t even get me started on the fact that Michael Be Handsome and Jamie Ring My Bell are the most attractive men in the film and BOTH are covered in CGI more oft than not. That’s just disrespectful to your audience.
The ultimate climax comes in the form of everyone’s favourite ‘He’s too strong for each of us’/’But he isn’t stronger than ALL OF US’ team-building, trust-fall bullshit. All of a sudden four idiots who barely could control their powers are masters at teamwork and plan execution. Honestly by the time they actually defeat Doom, your entire body is numb with apathy. Who cares if they win or lose? Maybe the world SHOULD be vaporized by a mysterious blue beam of light? That’s the lesson this movie teaches. There are some things in this world worse than the annihilation of our planet. This film is one of them.
THAT BEING SAID: It isn’t all bad. In fact there are some really interesting moments in Fantastic Four. For instance: you see Sue’s phone case a LOT and I believe it to be the first time in mainstream cinema we’ve seen a character with a realistic phone case/cover. That’s something, I guess.
Final thought: while watching the film something struck me as curious; many of the set-ups, even some of the visuals, looked like they were a live adaptation of Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. But where The Incredibles has a really interesting look at the sociological implications of ‘supers’ co-existing in the mundane world; The Fantastic Four attempts, and succeeds, as examining mundane superheroes in a mundane world within a mundane film.
And yes. Yes it ends with the newly formed foursome considering a ‘team name’. Ben looks out over science equipment: “Fantastic” he mutters. “Say that again,” Miles Teller pours gasoline over a pile of puppies. “Fantastic?” Ben Grimly repeats, treading on the throat of a newborn. “I have a name for us” Miles Teller says, shitting into the mouths of movie lovers and comic fans everywhere. Cue title card.