I wish that the newest attempt to make a Fantastic Four movie, about as blatant a 'just keep the license' job you'll ever see, was stupid and cheesy and incompetent. It would make it more fun to talk about. Instead, Fantastic Four is the absolute worst thing that a film can be, it's completely boring. It was so thorough a non-event that I have to wonder if I actually saw something projected onto the screen at all or just saw the shadows of projectionists behind and imagined the joyless 100 minute slog about building a spaceship, like a prisoner of the Platonic cave. I didn't like it much.
All traces of the Fantastic have been scrubbed from the source material until it bleeds. The problem for the studios is, Marvel Studios have so emphatically cornered the market on being the fun and funny ones that other studios wanting to put out superhero movies almost have no option to present an alternative. I've made it clear that Warner Bros going grim and gritty with their DC material is not for me, but they tried following the MCU's lead tonally with their Green Lantern movie and it was a total disaster, so you can at least understand why they decided to go another way, and revert to the dark tone that worked for them with the Nolan Batman movies. Amazing Spider-Man didn't know what it wanted to be tonally and collapsed on itself. For the Fox superhero properties, the X-Men series is helped by having success prior to the MCU and now has the period piece angle to help distinguish it, and the upcoming Deadpool should be alright, having the hard R rating to stand out. But what do you do with the Fantastic Four? The film has no real identity of its own. There are a couple of scenes that are aiming for a body-horror vibe, but they're not really consistent with the rest of the movie. It's not really dark, it's just serious.
Wunderkind Reed Richards has been working on a teleportation machine since he was a little boy, alongside best friend Ben Grimm, who contributes greatly somehow despite not having any scientific knowledge at all. As far as what we're shown, his great contribution is moral support and handing Reed things. Reed is recruited right out of a high school science fair by scientist Franklin Storm to work on an inter-dimensional teleportation machine alongside his children Johnny and Sue, and Victor Von Doom; the most over-the-top megalomaniac villain in comics interpreted here as a mardy bum who wears leather jackets, gives people the middle finger and drinks out of a flask. They build the machine and do science for about fourteen hours and then in the last minute and 35 seconds a superhero movie happens. There or thereabouts.
The movie fails in providing any one of three things that could have made a blockbuster like this entertaining. Three out three would have made it actually good but we mustn't expect miracles. Firstly it fails to provide an actual plot. The film is over halfway over before anybody gets any superpowers and once that finally happens there is nothing for the Fantastic Four to stand for or fight against, They are being exploited as weapons by the government but are mostly passive about that. Doom reemerges at very end as the villain (of course) but he doesn't have any actual plan, he just tries to destroy the world for no reason and they stop him. Everything that could be considered a story beat ends up going nowhere, there are plenty of beginnings, some middles but no ends, resulting in a movie that has no momentum at all and feels significantly longer than it is.
The second failing is that there are no characters. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell is a talented cast to assemble for a team movie yet it's all for nothing as they end up being wasted on characters with one (under cooked) personality trait each who barely interact with each other. The relationship between Reed and Ben is the closest thing to an emotional through line yet Ben is barely in the first half of the movie and is brought back for no real reason. It's impossible to care about Sue and Johnny's relationship with their father, or care about what ends up happening to him, because he's a stiff who's purpose to the story is to spout exposition until suddenly, unsuccessfully, his purpose is to evoke an emotional reaction. Sue and Johnny are adopted siblings who barely share a word with each other. Just when it appears that Teller and Mara have the charisma to spark something between their characters, any romantic elements are teleported out of the movie to another dimension, not to be heard from again until the probably-not-happening-sequel. Doom as a villain is at least 50% ruled by his jealousy, hatred and resentment of Reed Richards, yet in this movie he just maybe dislikes him a little while they're working on the machine, then when he comes back as an actual supervillain doesn't have any strong feelings about him at all. The Doom in this might legitimately be a worse interpretation than the Nip Tuck guy from the mid 2000s attempts at Fantastic Four movies, which is some achievement. This is a movie about a team, but there's no exploration of the team dynamic because they're only all together at the same time for literally the last ten minutes of the movie. What makes Reed the leader? How do say, Ben and Johnny feel about each other? No idea. It makes no sense to leave everybody powerless for so long if that time wasn't going to be used exploring how the characters relate to each other.
The final failing of the film is that there is no action. Miles Teller has claimed in interviews that they were attempting to do something different to the usual superhero blockbuster with this film, but the previous two failings ensure that that attempt falls flat. Exciting action would be the film's last hope to be saved from boredom, but is basically absent. There are essentially one and a half scenes of action in the film; a bitter Thing and some soldiers trying to capture Reed Richards while he's on the run, and the rushed CGI climax of the Fantastic Four fighting Doom. The Earth is apparently at stake. Incredibly, the most exciting looking part of the trailers-the Thing being used by the military, dropping into warzones, tearing tanks in two-isn't really a part of the movie at all, confined to screens in the background as we are told how successful he has been as a weapon. For all that it was criticised for being a tease, even last year's action-shy Godzilla showed more than this. The scenes that are included lack any creativity and end up buried under the weight of the endless talking that came before. Fantastic Four essentially kills it's audiences attention span spending an hour and a half building one action scene that isn't exciting or worth investing in.
It all feels very much like a film that's been overthought and cut and recut into oblivion by a studio that isn't really sure what it (or its' audience) wants, especially since the promotion has devolved into actors and director making excuses, distancing and lowering expectations. Director Josh Trank has said on Twitter that a year ago he had a "fantastic" version of this movie that would have gotten great reviews, but it's hard to say. It's obvious enough that his original vision has had parts mangled out and shoved in that his version might have gotten better reviews, but his version still would have had the Thing's famous "it's clobberin' time!" catchphrase be inspired by Ben being beaten as a kid. It still would have had Sue left behind on the fateful mission that gave the Fantastic Four their powers, only getting caught in the aftermath. There's still a good chance it would have been a wrong-headed slog. The search for a legitimately good Fantastic Four goes on, but as it stands, the most watchable one is still the one that was never meant to be seen.