“Fantastic Four” Movie Review

     In today’s world in which a film can become the victim of bad buzz months in advance of its release, it’s no wonder filmmakers do their best to shroud the films they are working on in as much secrecy as possible.  This obviously becomes more difficult with a Summer tentpole and franchise wannabe like Fox’s unnecessary reboot of the age old Marvel comic, “Fantastic Four”.  A well publicized feud between producer Simon Kinberg and director Josh Trank resulted in Trank’s name being dragged through the mud and him being given the unwanted label of being “difficult to work with”.  Making matters worse was the fact Trank was set to direct an as of yet untitled “Star Wars” anthology film of which Kinberg was also set to write and produce.  This led to Trank’s firing by Lucasfilm and a lot of questions about just what kind of product he would deliver with “Fantastic Four” for Fox.  Funny thing is, what’s exactly wrong with “Fantastic Four” doesn’t necessarily point to Trank and his overall vision of the material.  It’s the material itself, provided by Kinberg in a disaster of a screenplay.  Never mind the fact he was also responsible for overseeing the production.  I suppose this is what happens when egos get in the way and it’s the audience who tends to suffer the most.

     Believe it or not, it has only been 10 years since the release of the first “Fantastic Four” film and just 7 years since the release of the sequel, “Rise of the Silver Surfer”.  Of course, comic book based superhero films are all the rage right now and with the production of this remake, it becomes blatantly clear that Fox wanted to get a piece of the proverbial pie.  And so we have Trank’s new version to digest, knowing full well the film is nothing more than a cash grab.  For all of the progress Marvel Studios has made in the quality and presentation of these types of films, it seems the filmmakers here have taken a tremendous step back, resulting in something more comparable to the late 90’s and early 2000’s era in which duds like “Batman and Robin” and “Daredevil” were gracing the screens at multiplexes.  But Trank has made this mess in a completely different way.

     Perhaps in an attempt to channel his inner Nolan, Trank has completely taken all of the fun out of these characters and instead presented us with a story that takes itself dead serious.  It’s really not a superhero film either.  Most of the goings on would be right at home within the science fiction genre, save for perhaps the last fifteen minutes or so.  The color palette is dingy and dark at all times and there is never anything well detailed or awe inspiring to look at.  The characters that populate this film are all for the most part self serving and speak as if they’re always in some kind of deep scientific thought.  There’s nary a wisecrack to be found and the dialogue is so incredibly bland that the middle portion of the film just might put you to sleep.  I actually feel bad that Miles Teller, who plays Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic, though we never get to the point where he is actually referred to as that name.), had to go from being a major player in an Oscar winning film last year (“Whiplash”), to appearing in crud like this.  The same goes for the other actors involved as well, which includes a sort of “House of Cards” reunion with Kate Mara (Sue Storm) and Reg E. Cathey (Dr. Franklin Storm), plus Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm) who starred in “Fruitvale Station” and the upcoming “Creed”.  I doubt any of them will be proud this one is on their resumes.

     “Fantastic Four” starts with plenty of promise.  A flashback sequence shows a grade school aged Reed (Owen Judge) creating a machine that can actually teleport objects to another dimension in his garage.  He befriends a classmate named Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann), whose parents own a junk yard and thus can provide the parts he needs, and the two of them team up through their high school years perfecting their project.  That’s when Dr. Storm appears and offers Reed a scholarship to work in his research lab where they are generally working on the same exact thing.  The first issue with the narrative begins when the group sends a chimp to another dimension and back and then somehow deems it safe to begin sending humans.  There’s probably five minutes between the time the chimp returns and the crew is suiting up to go themselves.  Even more improbable is when Reed calls Ben (now played by Jamie Bell), who has not been involved to this point, in the middle of the night and convinces him to go along for the ride.  This is certainly a lesson in not answering the phone while you’re sleeping since everything that could go wrong does.

     Reed, Johnny, Ben, and the group’s resident weirdo, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) try the machine out and actually do end up in another dimension.  Problem is, there seems to be some kind of strange green energy vapor that appears on the surface where they land that doesn’t take kindly to their presence.  As they abort the mission and attempt to get back by way of Sue at the controls back home, each of them is exposed to this foreign substance and Victor is thought to be lost before the teleporting machine can get them back.  Trank then spends the next solid hour showing us the group as they deal individually with their new found powers.  Reed, of course, is now like plastic and can stretch his limbs to more than ten times their normal length.  Johnny is basically a walking ball of fire. And Sue is able to make herself and other objects invisible.  That leaves poor Ben, who takes the fact he has been transformed into a walking pile of rocks rather well.  Making matters worse, the military is intrigued and begins using them for various combat missions against the wishes of Dr. Storm.

     There’s no doubt a story centering around the ability to teleport humans to another dimension is one worth exploring.  It was one of the things that made last year’s “Interstellar” so engaging because you sit there and think about the possibilities of there being an actual alternate reality or parallel universe to our own.  The issue with “Fantastic Four” is solely with its flawed execution.  The origin story that occupies the film’s second act sorely needed to be punched up with better dialogue.  I mean these characters were so boring it became difficult to focus!  Then it seemed as though the filmmakers remembered they were supposed to be making a “superhero” film so they reintroduce an implausible villain and and stage a poorly thought out climactic battle sequence over the last fifteen minutes that plays like it was an after thought.  Then, almost immediately after, the group is back home and has a conversation about what they should name themselves.  It’s as if you have an assortment of puzzle pieces or scenes, but none of them fit together.  An issue like that seems to fall more so on the shoulders of a poorly written script, rather than the overall vision provided by the director.  Regardless of where this thing went south, we can only hope they’ll let the further exploits of these characters unfold on the pages of comic books instead of another needless sequel.  GRADE: D