DIR: Josh Trank • WRI: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank • PRO: Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Robert Kulzer. Matthew Vaughn • DOP: Matthew Jensen • ED: Elliot Greenberg, Stephen E. Rivkin • DES: Molly Hughes, Chris Seagers • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Philip Glass • CAST: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Seven years after the last Fantastic Four film, or to put it another way, the maximum amount of time that Fox could stall without losing the rights to the characters, we’re given a reboot of the series with fresh new faces and a new origin story to boot.
Based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, this film sees our would-be heroes preparing to travel, not into outer space, but across dimensions, leading to the accident which imbues them with their marvellous powers… eventually. There’s a serious amount of build up and character development exploring Reed Richards’ (Miles Teller) sense of isolation growing up as the only super genius in town and we’re given some rather briefer glances into Ben Grimm’s (Jamie Bell) early home-life, Victor Von Doom’s (Toby Kebbell) volatile personality, Johnny Storm’s (Michael B. Jordan) rebellious streak and Susan Storm’s (Kate Mara) intellect and discerning nature. Even with the sheer number of superhero origin films over the last couple of decades, it’s rare and refreshing to see so much detail given to who these characters are as people, until you realise that you’re quickly running out of movie. The pre-super powers part of the film takes its sweet time and feels like a richer film, but this makes everything afterwards feel forced and rushed.
When the inevitable happens and things go slightly wrong, leaving our titular characters stretchy, invisible, rocky and fiery, all character development stops and we’re rushed through several defining moments. The plot can be quickly summed up with
1- the government gets involved and tries to control the FF.
2- Reed escapes. The others don’t.
3- Reed returns and they learn to fight as a team in one of the most rushed superhero fights to make it onto the big screen.
Given the saturation of superhero cinema at the moment, it’s a little surprising to see another origin story on the screen, particularly when audiences are generally at least a little familiar with who the Fantastic Four are. While some would argue that seven years is more than enough time for some kids to grow up with no knowledge of the previous Fantastic Four films or media, it’s worth noting that the darker content and occasionally strong language in this film really do appeal to an older audience than its predecessors.
With a truly great cast, this film could have probably benefitted from another forty five minutes to really stretch its legs and give us a different type of superhero film. What we’re left with is something that strives for a thought-provoking character piece about isolation, family, trust and responsibility… and then quickly remembers people will want some explosions and punches and tacks on an underwhelming last-minute fight just so nobody can say it didn’t have one. The obligatory villain, Doom, really feels like a missed opportunity. While visual effects shouldn’t be a major priority in a film like this (and I’d have to actually say that the CGI Thing and Human Torch avoid major issues), there’s something that feels a little cheap about Doom’s slightly plastic mummy-like appearance and there’s no hint of character development leaning towards his turn to supervillain. His character was an ass before becoming a super-powered fiend, but there really isn’t enough time given to explain his plans or motivations for villainy.
Is this film better than the last two Fantastic Four outings? Probably. It’s a more mature and carefully made film, without the camp gags and cheesy lines that plagued the others. Unfortunately, it’s no longer 2007. We’re now living in the post-Avengers age of superhero films and audiences have learned to expect it all; humour, action, style and snappy dialogue. Fantastic Four might be the best film we’ve seen made with these characters, (unless you harbour a secret fondness for the ludicrous 1994 film), but it sacrifices humour for darkness and then almost forgets it’s supposed to be a superhero film at all.
It’s fairly good.
Fantastic? That might be a stretch.
12A (See IFCO for details)