FANTASTIC FOUR Flops So Hard It Could End Careers

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FANTASTIC FOUR opens Aug. 7, 2015. You have been warned.

FANTASTIC FOUR is the fourth film and the third attempt at turning Marvel’s superhero family into a gold mine franchise like X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN and the AVENGERS. It’s also easily the worst. In fact, it might be worse than SUPERMAN IV; THE QUEST FOR PEACE. This is rarified territory. You would almost have to work harder at screwing this up than getting it right. I mean, there’s only like 600-plus issues of the comic book to mine for story and plot and characters. Pick one that is exciting, funny, a little tragic, a little heartwarming, and then go shoot it on film. No, that’s too easy for director Josh Trank. He eschewed the readily available and beloved stories presented by America’s favorite storyteller Stan Lee to make a boring, tedious, muddled mess of a movie. Fans saw this train wreck coming for years. Now it’s here, and I think the Internet owes oft-ridiculed videogame movie director Uwe Boll one hell of a big apology. Even he couldn’t make such a fantastic flop.

I’m actually embarrassed to even list the actors here, because it’s not really their fault. Actors do what the director demands. In this case, Josh Trank apparently demanded the actors put the audience to sleep with a ploddingly-paced origin rehash before jumping into a disconnected battle with Doctor Doom, who I’ll come back to in a bit. Let me throw this out to Hollywood for free: you can make a superhero movie without telling the origin story. Seriously, it’s allowed, especially when someone else has already done it. We never again need to see a baby reach escape velocity in a small rocket as Krypton explodes behind him, or a bookworm with a fondness for redheads get bit by an irradiated arachnid. It’s all been done before. Roger Corman surely told the origin story in his unreleased but obtainable by bootleg film from 1994. Tim Story did it again in 2005 in his version, which fell slightly short of fantastic for me, but was at least passable. Trank puts Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Susan Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) through the same sad routine again. I admit that of the four I’m most familiar with Kate Mara, and she much better than this film allows her to be. This film, unfortunately, is so mind-numbingly bad that some members of the cast and crew could find themselves out of a career.

I don’t want to go to deep into the plot because I’m trying to purge it from my mind, but what it all boils down to that Trank ignored everything super-heroic in the comics and attempted to go pure science fiction. He set Richards and Grimm as grade school kids in the early 2000s and college undergrads enrolled or working—I couldn’t quite figure out which—at the Baxter Foundation, headed by Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey—Freddy the Rib Man in Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS, with Kate Mara in the first season). Franklin’s son Johnny is smart (since when?) but undisciplined, and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) is a slacker prodigy who is also on hand to work on Richards’ teleportation process. A test run actually works but they aren’t teleported across the planet, they’re teleported across dimensions, ending up on a stormy, rocky, volcanic world of green lava-slime that imbues powers to the teens. Doom is left for dead, some pencil-pusher named Dr. Allen (the slumming Tim Blake Nelson) weaponizes the now rock-fused Grimm and the Human Torch while Sue works with her father to locate Richards, who ran away on rubber legs to find a cure for them all while laying low in South America. This paragraph comprises the first hour of the movie. Bored yet? I was.

The biggest problem with the plot is that the films main antagonist is actually Dr. Allen. The Fantastic Four are battling a lying, manipulative jerkwad in a bad suit. That wouldn’t even fly in the comic, which brought us such villainous luminaries as Agatha Harkness, the Wingless Wizard (because Gandalf and Merlin and Harry Potter all had wings, I guess?) and Paste Pot Pete. Worse, Trank makes Von Doom an afterthought and then when he realized his movie was going nowhere he puts him in the spotlight without any motivation. Doom’s powers seem to be earth control as he can craft large columns of earth a launch chunks of rock at his foes. Poor Doom, and poorer his many fans. Doctor Doom is the quintessential Marvel world beater. The character I so richly developed a grade school child should be able to tell a solid story about him. Trank, who was at one time attached to an upcoming Star Wars film project, failed to recognize Doom for what he is. Doom is Darth Vader. Actually, Doom came first, so he’s the Vader prototype—a man equally adept as science and magic with a damaged body hidden behind menacing armor. Tim Story didn’t quite succeed with Doom in his 2005 movie or the sequel that also featured the Silver Surfer. At least he didn’t turn him into a BIG BANG THEORY reject who looks like a half-melted statue of the Vision leftover from Joss Whedon’s AVENGERS 2: :THE AGE OF ULTRON. If you can’t do Doctor Doom correctly, you shouldn’t be doing FANTASTIC FOUR at all.

The special effects aren’t all that fantastic either. The Thing looks no better than that talking mountain from THE NEVERENDING STORY. I never thought I’d miss Michael Chiklis’ rubber suit, seams and all. The real loser for me was The Human Torch, who often looked like he had exaggeratedly large lips. Bad enough they had to set the black kid on fire, did they have to animate his powers to look like a caricature of a racial stereotype?

Going back a couple of years on Facebook and around the internet on entertainment outlets, I saw posts from the director and the cast at various times trying to encourage fantastic fans to keep an open mind about casting, costumes, effects, plot, and so on. That should be completely unnecessary. Marvel movies and the properties still under control at Fox and Sony have made ridiculous money. You shouldn’t have to try to save face before it’s even out of production. It’s an admission of failure. The film Josh Trank created doesn’t even rate a Stan Lee cameo. It didn’t rate a public screening. What kind of superhero movie wouldn’t do advance promotional screenings for the public? One of the critics I was seated near was a black woman, so I asked her and her husband, “In all seriousness, how many black families have you heard of that have adopted a white child?” They laughed and agreed that the color-blind casting didn’t work here at all. We all tried to tell them that on social media. We posted comments on articles, tweet and status updates imploring them to fix some of their bad decisions. Our pleas fell on deaf ears. 

Somewhere Roger Corman is laughing. 

Grade: 
0 / 5.0