by Coop Cooper
The Fantastic Four comic book has a spotty history when it comes to film adaptations. The first movie was slated for 1994, but was considered so poorly done and hokey, it never screened in theaters and can only be viewed on YouTube. The second adaptation in 2005 did fairly well at the box office but did not please fans who thought it was too light and silly. Ditto for the 2007 sequel, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” which solidified the demise of that particular franchise effort. Now, in 2015, Fox Studios is taking another stab at a FF adaptation, but I believe the studio heads are about to learn they should have saved the effort and let the rights to the characters revert back to Marvel Comics.
Boy genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller) cracks the technology to teleport to another dimension and is immediately hired by physicist Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to attempt a human expedition into this newly discovered universe. With the help of Dr. Storm’s brilliant adopted daughter, Susan (Kate Mara), and his reckless-yet-brave son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), Richards tries to perfect the process, but only Dr. Storm’s former assistant, Dr. Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) can add the missing pieces. Facing yet another bureaucratic delay, the team, along with Richards’ tough childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), test the teleporter on themselves, sending them to ‘Planet Zero’ which endows them with freakish superpowers. While the others learn to use their newfound abilities, the transformation drives Dr. Doom mad, prompting him to plan the destruction of Earth so he can preserve Planet Zero as a kingdom for himself.
Cut down to a lean hour and a half, this film seems to be missing most of the second act of the story. As it stands, it’s not watchable. It’s rushed, sloppy and still manages to screw up enough of the Fantastic Four canon to cause distress to fans of the comic. It starts off strong, developing Richards’ and Grimm’s childhood friendship and establishing the genius that puts Richards directly in charge of a dangerous government project. Writer/director Josh Trank also added the very welcome addition of the weird inter-dimensional travel, making their transformation seem more horrific and painful – similar to the movie “The Fly”. As soon as they receive their powers, the story jumps ahead one year where they are already comfortable with their powers and going on missions for the government. This is a huge wasted opportunity to develop character and add some exciting action sequences. From that point on, the film rushes towards a hasty and underwhelming ending, topping it off with an unforgivably corny final scene.
I’m going to have to give up on ever seeing a faithful-to-the-comics version of Dr. Doom in a movie. In the last two FF movies, he was played by the awfully cheesy Julian McMahon and given the power over electricity. In this version, the unintimidating Toby Kebbell pops the heads of his enemies with scary telekinetic powers. In the comics, Dr. Doom is one of the most formidable villains in the Marvel Universe. While working with Richards, he was disfigured in a lab explosion and was so jealous of the powers of the Fantastic Four, he created an Iron Man-like suit of armor and mastered both weapon technology and dark sorcery in order to destroy the Four and take over the world. He is also the sovereign ruler of the fictional country of Lativeria. That is the villain the fans deserve but will probably never get to see on the silver screen.
The Thing here is more like a slightly less-powerful version of The Hulk and that is accurate to the source material, however it was disturbing to learn that his catchphrse “It’s clobberin’ time!” originated from his older brother who would yell it before physically abusing him. Filmmakers still don’t know what to do with Richard’s stretching power to keep it from looking ridiculous in combat but at least they tried something new by giving him the power to disguise his face. Susan Storm’s powers look cooler than ever and Mara looks the part but doesn’t quite have the acting range to make her likable. Jordan’s Johnny Storm was mired in minor controversy in that Jordan is black and the character has always been historically white. This is a non-issue for two reasons: 1. Jordan did a fine job 2. Nitpicking the race of the characters is small potatoes compared to the film’s larger problems.
Josh Trank knocked it out of the park with his found-footage feature film debut “Chronicle” about three teens who gain superpowers (also co-starring Michael B. Jordan), but he has disowned “Fantastic Four” in response to its critical/box office failure and blames the studio for its shortcomings. There still could be a respectable FF film here if they shot enough additional footage and cut it right, but the only good (unofficial) version anyone can claim is the Fantastic Four-inspired 2004 Pixar animated film “The Incredibles” which has no equal.
2 out of 5 stars