As a huge fan of the Fantastic Four books, this is a tough review to write up. This is Fox’s third try with the franchise and, to be quite honest, they botched it. This isn’t the complete disaster that you’ve heard about, but with all of the many missed opportunities in this film, this is by far one of the most disappointing superhero movies of the last seven years.
This movie is based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four books and not the traditional 616 Marvel Universe storyline. As such, our protagonists: Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Susan Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), alongside longtime Fantastic Four villain, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), gain their abilities from a teleportation accident. They are also all much younger than the classic versions of the characters.
Having the protagonists gain their abilities through a science experiment gone wrong and not by enigmatic cosmic rays is a very cool way to modernize the origin and also allowed the film to be more of a science fiction movie than a superhero one. The problem is that the superhero trappings eventually come along and derailed this thing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The heart of the Fantastic Four, and what makes them unique within the superhero genre, is the fact that they are a family. This movie tried to have some semblance of that but failed due to the fact that none of the characters spend enough time together to form any sort of bond we can identify with. The bland dialogue didn’t help matters either as everything spoken was surface level with no sense of depth. You’re supposed to just accept that the characters care for one another but you’re never actually shown why.
The tone of the movie was incredibly inconsistent. The film wanted to be both a science fiction and superhero film. The problem here is that the scientific aspect didn’t mesh well with the superheroic. Actually, I’m being generous here, it flat out didn’t work. The first hour of the film was spent with the building of the teleportation device that lead to the main characters getting their abilities. The last half an hour (yes, this is a very short film), is all about superheroic battles. Given the serious nature of the first portion of the film, the standard, by-the-numbers obligatory superhero fight just seemed incredibly out of place and should have been cut from the film entirely.
Fantastic Four is a franchise which is supposed to be about limitless possibilities and exploring a grand and larger universe. The movie has none of that. The extra-dimensional world that our heroes go to (the unfortunately named Planet Zero) looks like a random set from an old Star Trek TV episode. It did nothing to spark the imagination in anyway and wasn’t even explained properly. What was that green crap on the ground? Was it sentient? Who knows.
Worse still is what happens back on Earth. Most of the film takes place either in a laboratory or in a secret military installation. It created a sense of claustrophobia that shouldn’t even exist in this franchise. I understand that the film was going for a more serious tone, but having the action take place in mundane environments was one of many missteps taken.
The “realism” extends to the cinematography was well. The movie is filled with dark blues and grays. However, this just made the film appear muddy and hard to look at. I’m not asking for bright colors, but the film didn’t need to be as drab as it was. This is the same issue that Man of Steel had as well. Someone needed to cool it down with the post-production color grading.
One of the things which has helped the superhero movie genre gain credibility over the last 15 years is how convincing digital effects have made the outlandish powers these heroes possess appear. Despite the fact that Fantastic Four is a film from 2015, the special effects look like they came from the late 90’s.
The worst offender in this case is Reed Richards’ stretching ability which looked like a complete joke. Maybe it’s because having the ability to stretch limbs is in itself silly, but I’m going to go with poor CG effects here. Especially considering how cartoonish Johnny Storm looks when he flames on, or how out of place The Thing looks when he’s standing next to actual people. The only power that looks halfway decent is Susan Storm’s shield generation abilities. Still, for a movie that cost $120 million dollars to produce, the CG effects should have looked much better.
By far, the worst part of this movie was Victor Von Doom… or was it Victor Domashev? The “human” version of Doom actually seemed like an interesting character, but as soon as he gains his abilities, he becomes a cackling supervillain who wants to destroy earth… because he’s evil… or something. Not to mention the fact that he looks absolutely horrendous. Seriously, every time he was on-screen he made me want to laugh because he looked like a green crash test dummy. Worse still is how much of a throwback he was to the ridiculous comic book movie villains of old. Doctor Doom is supposed to be the greatest supervillain of all time but in this film he is anything but.
This leads into something I said earlier. I believe the film would have been better if the entire third act were removed. I mean, it felt tacked on anyway, so it wouldn’t be a problem to get rid of it. The film really should have stuck to its depiction of hard science and body horror and not have gone down the stereotypical ‘heroes versus villain’ route. It would have been far more interesting to actually get into exactly how each character is emotionally dealing with their powers instead of just paying it lip service. There is also the part about the team being used to fight America’s foreign wars which should really have been spotlighted more than it actually was. Again, just another example of lost opportunities with this film.
While there are a lot of negative things to say about Fantastic Four, it isn’t a total disaster. The cast is actually very good and do their best to deliver, or try to deliver, the cliche-ridden lines with some sort of authenticity. Reed in particular is very likeable and is probably the most relatable version of the character we’ve seen. This is the case with most of the main cast but, again, they weren’t given enough meat to chew on when it came to the script (which was supposedly re-written several times). And like I said before, I liked the hard-science angle and the body horror aspects as well, but (and I’m repeating myself now), they weren’t conveyed properly.
Despite the fact that I didn’t hate this movie as much as others have (come on guys, this isn’t as bad as Batman and Robin!), I can’t say that I liked it since this clearly is not a good film. In fact, I could not recommend this movie to anyone unless they are a die-hard fanatic of the Fantastic Four, and even then, it would be with a strong word of caution. While this movie has some cool ideas behind it, they aren’t fleshed out enough to justify anyone going to the theater to actually watch it.
This movie is a clear example of what happens when a director and film studio don’t see eye to eye on a project. There is no guiding hand like that of a Kevin Feige to steer things in the right direction. We may never know exactly what happened behind the scenes of the film (we are hearing different stories from both sides, each blaming the other) but it’s obvious from watching the final cut of the movie that something went horribly wrong in production.
Who knows, perhaps the failure of this film may be a Galactus-send in disguise. I seriously doubt that Fox will want to make another film in this franchise just so they can retain the rights to it. When this series’ rights revert back to Marvel, perhaps the company that created The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine can give the world the great Fantastic Four movie that this franchise has the potential of producing.