It’s pretty much impossible to comment on Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” without reflecting on and acknowledging the behind the scenes troubles which plagued the movie, as they directly impact the finished product. It’s riddled with problems in the story, structure and pacing while the characterisation is all over the place, squandering some of Marvel’s finest characters and yet…I didn’t flat out hate it.
When Dr Franklin Storm recruits Reed Richards, a scientific prodigy to work alongside his other students, the team manages to perfect an interdimensional doorway to another world. When the Government threatens to take over the project, Reed and his friends decide to take the first trip themselves but it goes disastrously wrong. Each of them is afflicted with strange abilities which they must learn to control if they are to save the world.
My love of the Fantastic Four is firmly rooted in the Silver Age, so I was never going to be a huge advocate for an adaptation which focussed more on the modern, edgier ‘Ultimates’ version of Marvel’s first family. However, the casting is unexpectedly successful and I managed to find the characters I recognised in the film.
Michael B Jordan shrugs off any misguided casting controversy to deliver a pretty good Johnny Storm and Kate Mara is certainly the most convincing on-screen Sue Storm to date. Letting the Storm family down slightly however is Reg E Cathey who needs to tone down the over-earnest melodrama as their father.
Jamie Bell actually makes a surprisingly good Ben Grimm and it has to be said The Thing has never looked better on screen (although they still don’t have his brow ridge right). I suppose his lack of pants is okay given the rest of the four never wear official Fantastic Four costumes either but there’s something profoundly depressing about the decision to make ‘It’s clobbering time’ a call-back to Ben’s abusive older brother rather than an exuberant battle cry.
As for Mr Fantastic, as fine an actor as Miles Teller is, he simply lacks the gravitas to play Reed Richards (at any age). He’s fine when playing the over-enthusiastic super genius geek but when it comes time for him to deliver the rousing, inspirational speech before the final showdown he just doesn’t have it in him to be the charismatic leader of the team.
Character-wise, nothing in the film is as bad as its interpretation of Doctor Doom. Toby Kebbell’s arrogant, rebellious take on Victor Von Doom pre-accident is solid enough but his transformation and subsequent actions feel arbitrary and forced. His power to pop heads “Scanners”-style brings an unwelcome and unnecessary level of gore to proceedings, and the overall design work on Doom’s appearance is just awful. How can it be, in this day and age, that after three big budget movies, the best live action screen version of Doctor Doom is still from Roger Corman’s unreleased (but easily obtainable) 1994 never-intended-to-be-released version of “The Fantastic Four”?
The action scenes with the four using their powers in battle are actually pretty impressively staged but there are nowhere near enough of them and when they do happen, they’re over very quickly. We don’t even get to see the action beats from the trailers, which I guess were from Trank’s original cut of the film. In the end, though, the gritty and realistic approach just doesn’t do this property justice. Like Superman, a film about The Fantastic Four is something I should be able to take my children to without a second thought. Is it so wrong to want my “Fantastic Four” to be…well…fantastic? And fun? If you don’t believe it’s possible to make an exciting, humorous, upbeat and dramatically satisfying “Fantastic Four” movie then I have two words for you: “The Incredibles”.
Maybe it was because my expectations were so abysmally low that I actually found myself kind of liking the film during the parts when it wasn’t intent on imploding under its own creative conflict. While it’s still nowhere near the “Fantastic Four” film I desperately wanted, I can respect Josh Trank was going for a bold interpretation before the studio panicked and cobbled together this messy and incoherent licence saver. The studio mandated reshoots are painfully obvious, and not just because of Kate Mara’s terrible blonde wig (which ironically makes her look more like the traditional comic book Sue Storm) or the egregious ‘One Year Later’ time jump right in the middle of the film, after which it never recovers its narrative flow. There are signs of another, longer film – not necessarily better but maybe less bad? – buried underneath the reshoots, overdubbing and truncated storytelling, especially the final act which, borrows heavily from “Big Hero 6” and is simply too brief; you can see the joins and feel the absence of maybe thirty to forty minutes worth of film.
It doesn’t deserve quite the level of scorn being poured on it but in butchering whatever it was that Trank was trying to create, Fox has created its very own ‘Ecce Homo’, obscuring the original work with a clumsy and crudely fabricated façade.