REVIEW: "Fantastic Four" Is Super Only In Its Mediocrity

The bad buzz around 20th Century Fox's "Fantastic Four" reboot has been brewing for months. Red flags included rumors of reshoots, negative fan reaction to what appeared to be significant deviation from the source material, and director Josh Trank's abrupt departure from his enviable "Star Wars" gig. Of course, reshoots don't always spell doom (consider "World War Z"), and Trank says he chose to walk away from "Star Wars" to avoid being obligated to a second franchise. So, perhaps these news items have no bearing on the finished "Fantastic Four." Regardless, it's shocking a superhero movie can be this boring.

An origin story, "Fantastic Four" centers on Reed Richards (Miles Teller), a brilliant teen who dreams of building a teleporter. With the help of his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), he constructs a small prototype for his high school's science fair, where it's discovered by supportive scientist Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey). From there, Reed is invited into a top-secret project attempting to accomplish inter-dimensional travel. Working with siblings Sue and Johnny Storm (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan respectively), and the ominously named Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), Reed wants to change the world. But a disastrous accident changes this fivesome, fating them for a showdown in the film's finale.

You'd think a film about the Fantastic Four's discovery of their powers might want to focus on them exploring these abilities. "Fantastic Four," however, takes another approach, resulting in a film top-heavy with movie science about that teleporter and extraneous setup scenes. We begin with a long, dull sequence set in 2007, with a little Reed making friends with little Ben while trying to rob his parents' junkyard for parts. Then there's the whole science fair rigmarole. Then comes a sequence of Ben helping his buddy move to the Baxter Institute. Then, Dr. Storm must convince a jaded Victor to rejoin the team. Then we introduce Johnny as a mechanic who loves to race P.O.S. cars. It goes on and on, trying the audience's patience with irrelevant information before bumbling into an accident origin that barely makes sense.

Infuriated that the bigwigs of the Baxter Institute have decided that NASA should send in trained personnel to travel to the other dimension in their teleporter, a drunken Victor, Reed and Johnny throw caution to the wind and do it themselves; after all, they earned it since they built this machine together. Also, bring Ben along, because friends forever. But in this other dimension things go to hell fast. They lose Victor. Rocks tumble into Ben's capsule. Johnny catches on fire. Check. Check. Sue -- who rushes in the lab to save the lot of them -- becomes invisible, I guess because she was essentially invisible to them when they decided all the inventors should go, yet forgot her? And Reed becomes stretchy because -- why exactly?

The script is filled with these tendrils of ideas, left dangling and unable to come together in any semblance of making sense. But worse is the dialogue, awkwardly constructed with bland, utilitarian talk like, "We opened the door. We have to shut it." You know it's a bad sign when the line that got the biggest audience reaction is a rip-off of another movie. ("There is no Victor. There is only Doom.")

You'd think all the time spent establishing backstories would flesh out the characters in a way that would make them compelling. Nope -- instead, the film gives you bits of trivia in lieu of personality. Sue likes listening to Portishead. Johnny likes cars. Ben is poor. And Reed is apparently a smug jerk, not that the film illustrates that point with scenes or his actions. But hey, other characters say it. So go with it.

There's a lot of blame to go around for how insanely lame this movie is, but I'm blaming Trank for the fact that his version of a "gritty" reboot is apparently caking the whole film in grey and directing his actors to speak in a monotone. Maybe it's meant to make them all sound serious and dramatic, but they just seem bored. And if they don't care about what's happening in this movie, why should we? It's actually astounding how Trank's direction bled all the charm out of Mara, Teller and Bell. Jordan -- to his credit -- manages to throw a little flare and entertaining arrogance into his Human Torch, but be warned: some of the one-liners he dishes out in the trailers have been left on the cutting room floor.

But ultimately, the film's greatest sin is its lack of action. When I got home, I re-watched the trailer, confounded that so much of what I saw in "Fantastic Four" took place in a lab, not in combat. The ads are crafty, cutting in a montage scene of Ben Grimm: Secret Military Weapon and the Storm siblings training in order to make it look appear as though the FF actually get to be heroes before the very last sequence of the film. But they don't. They train. They bicker (the stakes of which are lost because of the faulty character development). And by the time Victor reappears as Dr. Doom, the movie is almost over. It's so galling that even though I didn't pay to see it, I feel like I'm owed money back.

Please, let this film be the death knell of the "gritty" reboot. Trank and his cast have drained the life and fun out of this property to create a joyless slog through moody teendom, which is further jarring in that not one of these actors can pass as 18. Within this grim perspective, the powers of the Fantastic Four transform into body horror; despite the PG-13 rating, there's a disturbing amount of bloodshed and gore, and sensitive kids might have nightmares about the Human Torch's hellish introduction, or Ben's screams of pain, or Reed's horrifically distorted limbs.

Ultimately, "Fantastic Four" is a profound mess. It's not fun. It's not exciting. It's far from action-packed. And it's most certainly not fantastic.

"Fantastic Four" opens August 7th. 

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