“Fantastic Four” was supposed to be the last blockbuster of the summer, one more chance for audiences to plunk their money down for a superhero movie from Marvel Studios (though not part of the intricate Marvel Cinematic Universe). Instead, the movie got torn apart by critics and was labeled a bomb before it even opened. It couldn’t even take the top spot at the box office in its opening weekend, allowing “Mission: Impossible” to retain. There are plenty of reasons to dislike this movie, but I’m satisfied narrowing it down to three: the first act is boring, the second act is nonexistent, and the third act is garbage.
In the boring first act, we meet scientific whiz kid Reed Richards (Miles Teller), who isn’t recognized as a genius by his family or teachers. He has to settle for the admiration of his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) until one fateful day when prolific scientist Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) takes a good long look at his homemade teleporter and offers him a job on the spot. Reed goes to work building a much more powerful teleporter, joined by Dr. Storm’s adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) and delinquent son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan). Also on the team is troublemaker Victor Von Doom (Tony Kebbell), who has a tendency to ruin everyone’s good mood. I guess the general joylessness of this movie is some sort of victory for him. This part of the film isn’t terrible necessarily, as Teller and the other actors are at least trying to get you to like them, but it is dull and standard of the superhero genre.
Von Doom convinces Reed and Johnny that they need to joyride the teleporter before NASA can get their hands on it and hog all the glory. They grab Ben and journey to another planet. There they have an unfortunate run-in with unexplainable alien energy. They quickly try to retreat back to Earth, but Von Doom doesn’t make it. Once back on Earth, Reed discovers that his body can stretch freakishly, Johnny can burst into flames, Ben is some sort of rock monster, and Sue (who was in the control booth on Earth and apparently zapped by some residual energy upon re-entry) can fade in and out of the visible plane. Reed immediately runs off for a year, and when he comes back, the superhero adventure begins.
Yes, the film skips over a whole year with these characters, and it’s an important year. This is the time when they learn to use and control their new powers, which is an intrinsic part of any superhero origin movie. What makes the decision to cut this part out even more baffling is that director Josh Trank also made 2012’s “Chronicle,” which has arguably some of the best messing-around-with-superpowers scenes ever. We learn that the characters have been working some minor missions for the government, but we barely get a hint of those even though they would have lent some sorely needed action to the proceedings.
We instead dive headfirst into the third act, where Reed returns and the Fantastic Four have to work together for the first time. The whole sequence takes about twenty minutes, is the only major action in the film, and is, at best, uninteresting. Lousy CGI, scant bloodshed, and impactless blows abound. Reportedly even Josh Trank was unhappy with this sequence, making him the first of millions.
There’s basically nothing to like about “Fantastic Four” and yet I can’t bring myself to truly hate it. Is it because it’s too unambitious to do anything truly idiotic (outside of that big gap in the middle)? Or because the actors are putting on passably affable performances in the first act? No, it’s because it’s short. The film is 100 minutes of breezily following a routine, including a single action sequence. It’s over before you know it, which in this case almost feels considerate.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
“Fantastic Four” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and language. Its running time is 100 minutes.
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