Nearly a decade after Tim Story’s goofy films failed to ignite fan interest, news that Josh Trank would be next to take a shot at a Fantastic Four movie appeared promising. Trank’s low-fi debut, Chronicle, was a dark, compelling take on the whole superhero thing, raising hopes that, with the help of X-Men creative mind Simon Kinberg and a quartet of super talented actors, he could be the one to finally carve out a big screen presence for Marvel’s longest-running superhero team.
Yet the project was almost immediately beset by whispers of creative tussles between Trank and 20th Century Fox, leaving many Marvel fans fearing yet another disappointment. They were right to be worried: Fantastic Four is comfortably the worst superhero movie to hit screens since The Green Lantern.
We may never know what really went on behind the scenes, but this certainly doesn’t feel like the movie Trank – or indeed anyone – intended to make. Narratively muddled, tonally awkward and structurally uneven, the whole thing feels like one long set-up for a movie that never happens, leaving the characters to flounder while the plot searches for a clear direction.
Events kick-off with a young Reed Richards, assisted by his unlikely best friend Ben Grimm, attempting to cobble together a teleporter in his parents’ garage, much to the derision of his peers and teachers. His haphazard experiments eventually attract the attention of pioneer scientist Professor Storm, who recruits a now-grown Reed to join his adoptive daughter Sue, wayward son Johnny and anti-social programmer Victor von Doom on a project to crack inter-dimensional travel.
Disappointed at being pushed aside in favour of government-approved astronauts, Reed and his new friends drunkenly decide to claim the glory for themselves, commandeering the teleporter for an unsanctioned voyage to an alternate world. When the mission inevitably ends in disaster, Reed, Sue Johnny and Ben are left with frightening superpowers they must learn to control to save the Earth from a former friend turned enemy.
The story works best when our heroes are left to tinker in their lab, with the central cast displaying an enjoyable chemistry as they bond over shared experiences of broken families. These scenes hint at a potentially engaging team dynamic, with Teller, Jordan, Mara and Bell all offering encouraging performances, yet this is never explored further as the undercooked script lumbers its characters with thin backstories and only surface-level relationships.
It’s Toby Kebbell’s big bad who suffers the effects of such weak characterisation most. We know from his brilliant turn as Koba in Rise of the Planet of the Apes that Kebbell can do conflicted intensity, but he barely registers here as Doom. Appearing fleetingly and with no semblance of motivation, it’s almost impossible to buy his transformation into a seemingly powerful threat.
With all the character development and actual action crammed into the final ten minutes, it’s inevitable that the climax feels rushed and ill considered. While Trank manages to pull off a couple of gripping and inventive sequences, because we’ve been given almost no reason to care about these characters or their actions, the finale lacks tension and suspense, feeling as dull and lacklustre as the 90 minutes that preceded it.
Where this leaves the already-announced sequel is anyone’s guess. There are flashes of potential here in the main cast’s excellent performances and the brief glimpses of Trank’s true vision that sneak through the mire, but Fantastic Four is so drab and unimaginative it’s unlikely to garner enough interest to warrant a a second outing – even if the director was willing to return.
Ultimately, what promised to be a bold, intelligent re-imagining has ended up as a woefully misguided experiment, totally lacking in vision, depth or even simple cohesion. A fantastic bore.
Runtime: 100 mins; Genre: Sci-fi/Superhero; Released: 6 August 2015;
Director: Josh Trank; Screenwriters: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank;
Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Toby Kebbell, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell
Click here to watch the trailer for Fantastic Four