Fantastic Four is one of the most middling superhero films in recent memory, uniformly bleak, and not in a good way, drearily slow despite being such a short film, and entirely uninvolving, despite four proven charismatic actors at the forefront. The smothering sameness that carries through every shot, combined with the lack of any attachment to the four characters on-screen makes for a redundant, plodding excursion that drains nearly all the wonder out of the superhero formula and replaces it with soulless characters and a tired focus on the science.
The plot: nearly lifelong friends Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have been working on a prototype teleporter since they were in elementary school, and, upon showing it off at a science fare, attracted the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), the leading director of a government-sponsored research facility for the young and brilliant known as the Baxter Foundation. Reed and Ben work alongside a scientist known as Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and a technician known as Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) to create “Quantum Gate,” a more advanced teleporter crafted by Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), which has the ability to teleport people to different dimensions.
After a night of drinking to celebrate Quantum Gate’s success, Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Victor decided to test out the invention and subsequently wind up being in a life-threatening situation in a totally different dimension of the universe. All but Victor return safely, thanks to the help of Sue, but the remaining survivors all exhibit some physical deformity. Reed is left able to stretch any limb of his body without limits, Sue is left with the capabilities to turn invisible, Johnny can make himself engulfed in flames at the blink of an eye, and Ben is left a towering monster made up of rocks. Together, the four grapple with their newfound powers in the midst of squaring off against Dr. Doom.
The immediate problem with Fantastic Four is its pacing. It’s the type of film that seems so focused on future installments that it forgets to operate in the present. We get a drearily paced origins story, amidst meticulous emphasis on the science behind teleporting, that writers Trank, Jeremy Slater, and Simon Kinberg forget to make what’s occurring in the present of any interest. With that, upon the four heroes receiving their powers, Trank chooses to focus on the individual person being examined for their ailments, all while not adding any additional character development nor meaningful interaction with them whatsoever. It’s as if we’re arms length away from the characters, their agony, and their personalities at all time’s and that arm’s length stretches almost as far as Mr. Fantastic’s arm.
You may remember Trank’s directorial debut Chronicle, which rocked the box office back in 2012, making Trank amongst one of the few young directors to merit the honor of topping the box office with their first film. Chronicle‘s bleak nature, which housed found footage, superhero, and action film tendencies, was a brilliantly entertaining picture, and, to his credit, Trank replicates that sort of intriguingly dreary world, where everything seems melancholic. The problem is he fails to capitalize off of the environment, so the film carries this emptiness in the realm of why the environment is so ugly and the cinematography so dingy throughout the whole picture. It’s a nice aesthetic, but with nothing juxtaposed or defined, it’s as empty as the characters at hand.
However, the rushed quality Fantastic Four bears is the ultimate nail-in-the-coffin. At ninety-five minutes, this is hardly an introduction but almost a prequel to the characters, ostensibly made up of odds and ends found on the cutting room floor. It’s like watching a board game being set up before your eyes and, once every little thing is meticulously placed and every rule is read, the game is put back into a box to be open another day.
The fact that gifted actors like Teller and Jordan and a clearly ambitious director like Trank signed onto Fantastic Four indicates that, at one point, there was a glimmer of hope for a franchise built around four unique characters with superhuman capabilities. That glimmer, however, with the looks of this finished product, has withered to little other than an agonizingly slow superhero film that make for the genre’s worst in recent memory.
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, and Reg E. Cathey. Directed by: Josh Trank
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality in North Central Illinois. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!