Movie Review - Fantastic Four (2015)

This film is akin to the recent The Amazing Spider-Man. It's an adaptation of a Marvel Comics property that is essentially a reboot from a just as recent adaptation, and, besides employing a younger and sexier cast, it also takes the tone of most comic book adaptations post-Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. It's less about being fun or jokey and more about being serious or more realistic. Director and co-writer Josh Trank leans less toward Nolan's thoughtfulness and back toward the self-consciousness of Martin Campbell's Green Lantern. Trank was perhaps aiming for the same balance as Joss Whedon in his first shot at a big blockbuster, comic-book film, but somewhere along the way the movie loses focus.

The movie is divided into four chunks. The first chunk is very much in the vein of Weird Science (1985) and Project Almanac (2015). It's teenagers in a garage building inventions that defy laws of physics. Miles Teller (Divergent and Whiplash) stars as Reed Richards and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot and Defiance) co-stars as Ben Grimm. Reed is a scientific genius and Ben is a mechanic. They met as children, but either screenwriters Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg or the film editors didn't include enough scenes to develop Reed and Ben's friendship or understand their relationship much at all. Teller and Bell do their best but more was needed in order to get why they're so bonded.

The second chunk is like a recruiting and training montage that one would find in most sports films. Reg E. Cathey (The Wire and House of Cards) plays Franklin Storm. If this were a sports film, he would be the rousing coach, but, in this world, he functions mostly as Professor X, only African-American and not a mutant.

He recruits Reed and Ben from high school and gets them to attend the Baxter Foundation, a special institute that's like a college and a place for gifted minds to study and apply themselves. Franklin includes his two children who are also prodigies. When he and his daughter Sue Storm, played by Kate Mara (House of Cards and 24), approach Reed, it's like the scene in Tomorrowland when prodigy Frank Walker is approached at the World's Fair. Franklin also brings his son Johnny Storm, played by Michael B. Jordan (The Wire and Friday Night Lights).

Not much about the inner or social lives of Sue and Johnny is learned. Sue is good with patterns. She listens to Portishead. She's very well-read. She knows computers. She's a fast typist, and she doesn't want to be a tool of the government. One wonders if she has friends or what her other interests are. One wonders what even sparked her interest in these particular sciences. Johnny likes to build cars from scratch by hand and then street-race them. One can guess that his friends are his fellow racers, but, for the most part, we only see these people inside the lab at Baxter.

Toby Kebbell (Black Mirror and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) co-stars as Victor Von Doom, a slightly older scientist who left Baxter but who was working in a similar line of work as Reed but could never solve the riddle of bridging this world and dimension with the others that quantum physicists theorize. He becomes a recluse but comes back due to Franklin's insistence, and there is a little bit of resentment toward Reed.

The third chunk is like Roland Emmerich's Stargate or Ridley Scott's Prometheus but as directed somewhat by David Cronenberg. Characters travel to new worlds and undergo physical transformations that aren't always greeted happily. This movie is more in-line with body horror films in that regard, but, again, the writers or the editors didn't include enough scenes to develop that body horror or make us feel the terror of it. All of the young characters transform, except Sue, in ways that completely alter their bodies and we barely feel it.

The fourth chunk is obviously the ending and it has the obligatory good guys fight bad guy. If anyone has seen last year's Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the ending here is basically the same as that animated film. The only difference is that the animated film succeeded in making me care about its characters. This movie doesn't. I didn't care and unlike The Incredibles, which was the Oscar-winning cartoon that riffs on the original Fantastic Four comics, the action scenes here did not utilize the powers of the protagonists in clever or interesting ways.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.


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