There aren’t enough words to convey how stupefying Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is. I can’t call it bad—it would have to make a lot more sense to qualify for normal criticisms like that. I’m not even sure it qualifies as a movie. If you ever wondered which critics are on the studios’ payroll, just make a note of all the names responsible for Fantastic Four’s 9% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
I’d have an easier time pointing out the artistic merits of a slug trail than writing this review. When I sat down to write it, I sighed and shook my head. I’m still shaking my head. What the hell was that? I mean, in a way, it’s actually kind of exciting how misguided it is. I’ll say one thing about it: I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ve seen movies so bad I had to leave the theater and movies so bad I laughed hysterically. Fantastic Four is neither of those movies. It assaults you so thoroughly with its badness, there’s not even enough time to roll your eyes.
Even knowing the film’s storied production history, you won’t be able to figure out how so many bad creative decisions can be made. You don’t see the Fantastic Four use their powers until about an hour in. You don’t see them use their powers again until the anti-climactic battle with the film’s villain, who’s dispatched almost as quickly as he’s introduced. Among the strangest creative decisions is the Thing doesn’t wear any pants. If I had to guess why, I’d say it was because the CGI department wasn’t good enough to animate cloth.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Fantastic Four is the kind of movie in which a high school genius builds a functioning teleporter, kind of like the one in The Fly, and gets disqualified from a science fair because… well, as my mother used to say, “Because it was in the script, dummy.” That’s like flunking a student for ending world hunger. There were reports the director and the lead actor were showing up to the set on drugs and alcohol, but when you see this movie you’ll wonder if anybody was sober.
Immediately after Richards’ science experiment is disqualified, he’s approached by a couple of bonafide scientists, one of whom is Susan Storm. The scientists reveal they’re also experimenting with teleportation, but they can’t bring their test subjects back the way Richards can. So, with a straight face, this movie asks us to believe A) that brilliant scientists peruse high school science fairs for ideas and B) this tactic actually panned out. Naturally, Richards is given a job, but we learn the g-men overseeing the experiment are, like Richards’ teacher, just as clueless about the real world applications for what could possibly be the most amazing invention in human history. I have a feeling if someone actually invented something like this, the real government would be drooling all over it. Yet the writers seem hellbent on throwing illogical adversities at their characters because a 2-day screenwriting course told them to include lots of conflict.
Soon after Richards is recruited, the film introduces Victor von Doom, whose speeches are about as poignant as Jaden Smith’s tweets.The version of Doctor Doom in the previous FF films actually got a lot more right about the character than this one does. Trank’s version would have us believe Doom’s a genius, but he seems more like a Silicon Valley reject whose parents still pay for his World of Warcraft subscription.
There’s no reason for Doom to even be in this movie, just a sloppy excuse. What’s worse is he and Richards are madly in love with Sue (yawn), which creates a pointless love triangle nobody wanted. Even if you’re not familiar with the comics, it’s the kind of run-of-the-mill romance that always has an outcome which will surprise no one. No, what’s unexpected is this plot thread leads absolutely nowhere (Doom tries to crush Sue to death later in the film and if that’s not true love I don’t know what is). Come to think of it, hardly anything they set up early in the film has any kind of payoff or resolution.
Other comic book adaptations would have given us at least one action sequence early in the movie. This one doesn’t unless you count a one-minute car chase involving Johnny Storm about twenty minutes in. It’s a bold move which might have paid off in a better movie that actually cared about its characters. This movie doesn’t. For example, Ben Grimm appears early in the movie to help Reed Richards construct his experiment, but he mysteriously exits the stage until it’s just about time for him to transform into the Thing.
Nearly an hour into the movie, there’s a glimmer of hope for it when it accidentally becomes entertaining. The four male characters get drunk and decide to take an unauthorized trip through the teleporter so they can plant an American flag in an alternate dimension. You’ll be happy something is finally happening, but what’s incredibly insulting about this decision is no one even thinks to take Sue along with them, whose contributions to the project were supposedly critical.
By then, the movie had so thoroughly shut down the activity in my brain, I actually found the next few scenes to be kind of enjoyable. The only problem is this stuff should have happened about ten minutes in, not halfway through. Just when it started to hook me, it pulled a title card out of its ass, announcing a year had passed.
Because it was in the script, dummy.
Kids won’t like this movie because it takes so long to get to the good stuff, which is fleeting at best, and adults won’t like it unless they’ve never seen a real movie before. Part of what drew me to Jack Kirby’s source material was the fact that, with the exception of Johnny, the Fantastic Four were seasoned adults who at least tried to make scientific decisions. With actors as young as these, this is Fantastic Four: The Hip Teenager Version, and their age is somehow even more obnoxious and misguided than the decision to cast Jessica Alba in the previous installments. To this day, Roger Corman’s infamously cheap production is the most genuine Fantastic Four film of all. At the very least it gave us age-appropriate actors and didn’t rewrite the mythology so many of us love.