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Friday, August 7, 2015

Movie Review: #TheFantasticFour

After a promising start, The Fantastic Four descends into the rumored trainwreck.

Review by Matt Cummings

If the recent history of comic book movies has been one of glory, that success was built upon a myriad of high profile failures, none more so than first two Fantastic Four films, which premiered in 2005 and 2007. For fans hungry to forget those disasters, the newest incarnation will do nothing to fulfill that desire. Not a total embarrassment but far from a success, The Fantastic Four is the trainwreck we all feared.

When the brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and his childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) concoct a rudimentary dimensional transportation device, Reed is recruited by the Baxter Institute to complete their parallel research. Along the way, he enlists the help of the tempestuous engineer Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan), his adopted genius sister Sue (Kate Mara), and the troubled Victor Von Doom (Tony Kebbell), who harbors a secret desire for Sue. Together, they journey with Ben to Planet Zero in the hopes of harnessing its resources to aid a troubled Earth. But an accident transforms them into super beings, each of whom take different paths in understanding and using their newfound powers. Fearful the children will be used as weapons of war, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathay) tries to convince Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) to develop their powers for the good of science. But when Dr. Doom threatens to end humanity, it's up to The Fantastic Four to stop him.

For 100 minutes, The Fantastic Four feels like an extended trailer, complete with shifting glances and long stares at the camera (and monitors) but ultimately achieving very little. Director Josh Trank breathes zero life into one of the most debated casts in recent memory, producing a solidly pedestrian experience. It's clear that Writers Trank, Simon Kinberg, and Jeremy Slater know what makes a good FF film: the sense of adventure, the family aspect, the conflict with Dr. Doom. But they take so long to get there - with a first and second act that could put you to sleep - that by the time the real action begins, one could care less. And it all happens so fast, the newly-omnipotent Doom (whose intelligence is supposed to be his strength) inevitably squaring off against the team only to be deposed too quickly.

Teller enjoys only moderate chemistry with Mara, and the very good Bell is left too often in the shadows to lament his condition without being able to actually vocalize it. He's merely a blunt instrument that someone forgot to hone with humanity. The only one to truly gain any ground here is Jordan, who actually gets a moment to think about the good his character will ultimately achieve, even if Reed and others can see right through the government's pitch. Cathey and Nelson employ a somewhat lively debate throughout the film, but it's all stuff we've seen before done better elsewhere. But it's Kebbell as Doom that keeps the film from evolving. Although he represents a genuine threat, Doom is given Doctor Manhattan-like powers he never had in the comics, with none of Victor's earlier infatuation with Sue ever making it back into the final act. He's just an angry guy, devoid of personality, and whose single-minded destructive nature fails to resonate. Kebbell never becomes the Doom that we deserve, thus never becoming what the FF deserve to fight.

None of the environments feel new or exciting, and any chances Trank gets to show something off is ruined in a previous scene. Watch how Area 57 is handled, with the name plastered across the screen, only to reveal a much more interesting version of it as Reed later escapes. There's no connection to Fox's X-Men universe, and no suggestion that Deadpool or other anti-heroes might be watching. Some of that might have been culled from the final edit, but it's become an expectation of this genre. That's the small things which can break a movie, and Four offers so much of it.

And then there's the inconsistent CGI, one moment looking quite good then turning on itself in the very next sequence. Planet Zero looks like it was shot on a green screen stage, and even The Thing appears to grow and diminish, sometimes a towering figure and others merely a foot taller than the team. Continuity is also off, with Sue's hair showing off at least three different shades of blonde, which might have been caused by poor lighting. If the side debate of using practical effects is gaining ground, The Fantastic Four only cements the argument.

For all its potential and all its rumored trainwreck of a production, The Fantastic Four neither totally embarrasses nor even remotely succeeds. Perhaps it might just be one of those "too hard to develop" properties that not even the mighty Marvel can rescue. But it's probably time for them to try.

The Fantastic Four is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some suggestive content and has a runtime of 100 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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