CHANCES are you’ve come across the negative criticism surrounding Fantastic Four (AKA Fant4stic). It’s been dubbed one of the worse movies of the year with a staggeringly low 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics slammed it, audiences were disappointed, and it failed to even break even at the box office during the opening week, it even seemed like the director (Josh Trank) didn’t really like it. So where did it all go wrong?
The film retells the origin story of the Fantastic Four, including how they came together and how they got their powers. The film differentiates itself from the 2005 version by making the characters younger and having their powers originate from a different dimension rather than space. The film takes itself far more seriously but without wandering into the realm of ‘gritty’. It doesn’t always, however, come across as seriously as they’d like.
The first act of the film is probably the worst as we see comically over-the-top genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller) trying to explain his teleportation device to his 4th grade classmates and teacher Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson himself). Incredibly, despite Reed’s youth, his teacher is somewhat unimpressed. This is one of the biggest problems of the film; many of the characters don’t feel like real people; we could relate to being an outcast, certainly, but we couldn’t relate to the frustration that people just don’t understand our theory behind the quantum physics of transporting matter.
Ben Grimm / The Thing (Jamie Bell) was leading up to be set up rather well – other than his brother beating him up while shouting “clobbering time”, which was pretty cringe-worthy. Coming from an abusive, poverty-stricken home, he forms an unlikely friendship with Reed. Why does Ben help Reed despite lacking the knowledge to contribute? It doesn’t matter. We just skip straight to the future where Ben and Reed are besties. Don’t question it, they just are.
Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) witnesses Reed’s teleportation machine which he demonstrates at a High School science fair and is bewildered that Reed has managed to finish the exact same project that Franklin has been working on. The only other man in the world who is working on the same project is attending Reed’s high school science fair to give out scholarships – the stars were aligned for that one.
Franklin puts Reed, his two children and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) on the project, and of course Von Doom is a wild card and undisciplined but Franklin believes in him (dammit!). I think that the film was attempting to add a sub-plot about who is more intelligent out of Reed or Von Doom, but it doesn’t go anywhere.
The construction of the teleportation goes on for quite a while but honestly I found it a lot of it enjoyable; the characters become quite fleshed out during these scenes and we see a deeper side to their personality. All, at least, save Ben – apparently the film forgot Ben existed for about half an hour because he dropped off the face of the Earth only to return just before they’re about to transport themselves.
I did like the idea of them travelling to another dimension but there’s nothing there. It’s so bland, dull and generic looking. There’s a neat little action scene where they get their powers in the most painful way possible and the film tries to have us believe that Von Doom dies but if you’ve ever seen a film before you know that he hasn’t.
The second half of the time is dedicated to them discovering and using their powers. There was an interesting idea at play here about using their powers to serve the military and if can they be trusted, but unfortunately both the military and the mysterious investors come across as cartoonishly evil so that idea is quickly discarded. There’s also a huge sub-plot about Reed abandoning his team while he worked on a project that lead up to absolutely nothing, Especially disappointing considering that the final battle with Von Doom feels rushed.
In the final act we see Von Doom return, who like Ben, disappeared for quite a while only to be remembered that yes, he does exist. But he won’t let the government control his new home! His home that we’ve never seen him interact with or have any emotional connection to! In fact, why did they let us think he died? Surely seeing him on that planet would be more beneficial the story than his ‘surprise’ return.
Von Doom’s design in this film is awful. You’ve got skilled artists and computer wizards on set, so why make him look like a faceless video game glitch? The Thing came out looking great, and Reed’s stretching came out a little too well to the point it actually seemed unnatural, but Doom was just awful.
Overall yes, Fant4stic is a bad movie – so then its poor reception was justified, right? Well, no, it has problems, quite a few – but worst movie of the year? Not against Pixels. Worst superhero movie? Not against Green Lantern. The fact of the matter is that everyone has judged the film to be terrible before actually seeing it. I’m not claiming that Fant4stic is an amazing flick, but it’s certainly not as bad as the internet has made it out to be.
There were a few things that it did right! Being serious without going into overly gritty was a good move and I applaud 20th Century Fox for at least trying to go somewhere between Marvel’s continuous pumping out of light-hearted actions movies with DC’s eternal grit. Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan made for a great sibling pairing, and while Sue Storm could have been given more to do, Kate Mara did the best she could with a bad script.
There is a slow build up and very little action, but while every other superhero film is doing their best to get to the violence as fast as possible, maybe we needed a film that approached it in a different way. Perhaps that’s why audiences also hated it, because we’ve grown accustomed to accepting that the process of getting powers to being a hero is a near instant transition.
Despite all of this, I’m actually looking forward to the inevitable sequel. Now that they’ve set-up the characters and hopefully Fox have learned where they’ve gone wrong we could hopefully get a film to pull this franchise out the wreckage. But no, I don’t believe that Marvel Studios should get the rights back, they’ve been recreating the exact same movie every time and while it’s a good movie, let’s please have something different. Something better. Something fantastic.