Given the much maligned production from day one on this project, with the collective Internet and press moaning about pretty much every aspect of the production from casting, director, and stories of on set troubles, it is no shock at the response to it. The knives were out even before any screening of the film was run, and it’s pretty safe to say a few critics at least went in with the desire to tear the film to shreds. However, even within the wave of bad reviews, some of the poor reviews did touch on some glimmers of hope within the film, rather than just ripping the whole film to shreds in an attempt to gain some clicks and likes.
But is the film really as bad as the low score of Rotten Tomatoes suggests? Well, let me set off by mentioning tat I have been a fan of the Fantastic Four since childhood – it was the first Marvel comic book I read, and I have collected it ever since I was 7. The cosmic adventures of the team have thrilled me and excited me through the decades. I have laughed, cried, and had my heart broken at their personal lives, whilst embraced the dimension hopping, time travelling, micro-verse exploring elements of even their most crazy of stories. The love I have for the Four left me with mixed emotions on the Tim Story directed films – the banter and playful nature was there, but the film lacked something to make it really work. I have been intrigued about the new film, having enjoyed Chronicle, and am accepting of the ‘Ultimate’ approach the film is taking. So, as a fan, did it pay off?
The answer is no, it didn’t. But not to the negative degree that the consensus would suggest.
First things first, this is the Ultimate Fantastic Four version, with a young team building a dimension gate, and their experiences through it result in changes to their genetics to grant them powers. In addition Victor Von Doom, a young scientist from Latveria (not Domishev the hacker as was erroneously reported early into production) works with the team on the project and undergoes changes himself. We’ve seen this origin before, only last time it was a bit more fun, and had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. In this new version it is all a lot more serious toned, with some po faced lines of dialogue being recited with utter seriousness, and lots of frowns and serious stares. Much like the manner in which Man of Steel took the super away from Superman, here the four are less than fantastic.
Getting the bad out the way first, the middle act is a sombre mess of body horror (which really doesn’t belong in a Fantastic Four movie, even if it looks good) followed by a swift jump ahead in time as though the writers didn’t really know how to handle the team adjusting to their new powers, and so just skipped ahead to avoid tackling it. It feel like a huge, interesting chunk of story was just dropped in order to speed toward a climactic resolution against Doom. That, itself, is such a poor mess of a fight that is over pretty much as soon as it begins, with no build-up or any sense of threat.
But it’s not a total disaster. The start of the film is really well presented. A look at how Reed and Ben became friends as kids gives some heart to the start of the film, and the introduction of the cast to each other works well, even though they don’t quite gel at that point. As a fan of the comics I loved these earlier moments of getting to know the personalities of the characters. Miles Teller is an adequate Reed, Michael B Jordan has the cocky attitude of Johnny Storm just right, Kate Mara is pretty much spot on as Sue Storm in both looks and her scientific nature, whilst Jamie Bell is perfectly affable as Ben Grimm. Toby Kebbell’s introduction as Doom is a little weak, but his interplay with Reed as they work on the dimensional travel machine is lifted straight from the comics. Josh Trank (director) plays these earlier moments of the film well, and has a good eye for the right shot. Gone is his amateur camera style of Chronicle, and here is a more confident manner on which to follow characters as they grow on screen. However, it is once the machine is activated that the film goes dreadfully wrong. The initial character relationships are dropped, and there is barely any chemistry between any of the team from that point onward. The direction becomes drab, and the focus on the horrific aspects of the powers is uncomfortable and unnecessary.
At the closing moments of the film, we get a glimmer of hope of what we could see should a sequel be greenlit, as the banter starts to come into play. But why should it take this long to get the fun banter into play? If the film didn’t take itself so serious throughout, and delivered the same lines of dialogue with a wry smile instead of sombre expression it would have worked a lot better. Yes, editing faults would still hinder it, but at least it would be a lot more fun to sit through.
The film has been compared to a pilot episode of a TV series, and that comparison is spot on. The effects vary from great (Ben Grimm in rock form as The Thing) to ropey (Doctor Doom’s altered form looks like it was ripped straight from 80s era Doctor Who). The characters don’t quite work, but show promise for further episodes. The whole endeavour feels like a forced way to get the origin out the way before the fun can be had. If this was a TV pilot I’d be intrigued enough to see a second episode, to see if the bad would be dropped and the potential would come out (much as I did with the TV series of Constantine). But as film, it’s an unbalanced mess, and you can see the production problems and behind the scenes disagreements in ever scene from the mid point onward.
Tim Story’s films may not have been great, but they at least we’re as bright, colourful, and infused with a sense of fun as the FF deserve. This new FF, whilst not a total disaster, is just an unnecessary retread of a story we already know when they could have just jumped right in to the FF as a team.