Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell
Running Time: 106 minutes
The Fantastic Four is notoriously one of the superhero franchises that Marvel Studios has never been able to secure the film rights over and after Twentieth Century Fox’s disappointing first run with Tim Story’s Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), many fans were just pining to see their favourite heroes in a good movie. However, very few were actually expecting great things from this 2015 reboot and some had even speculated that the only reason the film was happening in the first place was so that Marvel wouldn’t be able to acquire their ‘first family’ back. When critics’ reviews began to make their way online on Wednesday evening, it wasn’t looking promising for Josh Trank’s reimagining of the franchise, sitting at a pitiful score of just 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite this, I went into Fantastic Four with an objective outlook and found that although the strong criticisms of the film were certainly well founded, they were perhaps a little too condemning than what was deserved.
With Fantastic Four, Twentieth Century Fox have attempted to tap into an area of the world of comic books that neither Marvel Studios nor DC Entertainment have brought onto the big screen: the realm of teenage superheroes. Although not typically teenage characters, it was a wise move to age down the Fantastic Four in this film, as it not only helped differentiate it from its predecessor with the same title, but also brought something different to what many would describe as the oversaturated market of superhero movies. Reed and Ben’s relationship is a great example of how Fox got their teenage characters right. When Reed is moving into the Baxter Building to work with the Storms and effectively leaving his old friend Ben behind, it is highly evocative of the transition many of us make when we move away to university. Whether it be Victor Von Doom’s immature jealously of Reed’s brilliance or Johnny Storm’s comfortable yet rebellious lifestyle, every character has something about them that characterises them as a truly believable teenager. Fantastic Four does a really great job at setting up Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Susan Storm and Johnny Storm, but can the same be said about their superhero counterparts, Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Invisible Woman and the Human Torch?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no. It’s one thing going through the backstory, intentions and aversions of multiple human characters in just over 100 minutes and another to make those characters into fully fledged superheroes and villains. There is certainly a reason as to why Marvel Studios chose to have five standalone movies before bringing their multiple heroes together in The Avengers. What Fantastic Four lacked was the amount of available scenes for the heroes to explore their powers and to develop an understanding of what they meant for their role in society. Sure there were some moments where the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman could try their skills out on drones or containers and some off-screen for the Thing, but it didn’t exactly make for an interesting watch. A good comparison would be to what Marvel Studios did in training portions of Captain America. Steve Rodgers was thrown straight into real battle and was made to act under pressure and this made the necessary transition into his superhero role an enjoyable and exciting experience for the audience. With Fantastic Four not enough time was dedicated to the heroes’ developmental stage and what they did provide us with was flat and boring, rendering the characters highly underdeveloped.
The same can be said about the film’s antagonist, Dr. Doom. By the time that he actually appears in his frightening, metallic form, the movie is drawing to a close. It is a real shame that this was the case, since he is such an iconic Marvel villain with so much potential and he really deserved to have more screen time. A good final conflict is truly dependent on the villain and the heroes being fully at odds with one another and despite giving a few comments on how humanity doesn’t deserve Earth if they’re going to keep destroying it, not to mention obviously having some personal vendetta about being stranded alone on Zero for over a year, Doom just didn’t feel complete. This too is symptomatic of how Josh Trank and his team have allowed the final scenes of Fantastic Four to feel rushed and anticlimactic.
Some critics have described the movie as all build-up and no pay off and in this respect I can understand where they’re coming from. Fantastic Four is certainly a movie that would benefit from having a sequel in which the writers can learn from their mistakes here and jump straight into making an interesting story now that everybody knows who the characters are. A sequel is proposed for 2017, but after how poorly this film is currently being received, we shall have to see if this actually comes to fruition. I for one anticipate a second movie because after all, this film wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t ‘fantastic’.