The foursome of superheroes is back, but it's definitely not fantastic.
While harping on Marvel execs for their insistence on using their formula with every film is easy, one would be remiss to overlook the fact that it nonetheless actually works. There's a reason their films have raked in tons of cash. Too many characters and overwrought plots aside, it gives the shock and awe of action-superhero blockbusters that audiences crave. Thus, Fox's reboot of Fantastic Four should have had it easy by adapting the preset formula of the franchise's creators that was almost guaranteed to work -- plus the already low expectations after Fox's first attempt at bringing the foursome to the big screen -- but the film makes few, if any, improvements over its predecessor.
The film begins in the past to show that nerd extraordinaire Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been working with childhood best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) on a teleporter since elementary school. After several neighborhood blackouts and destroyed toys, the duo eventually succeed in creating a prototype for their high school science fair. While the judges are not impressed by their project, Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) -- head of the Baxter Foundation -- and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) are. Professor Storm explains that they are actually teleporting object interdimensionally, as Sue produces a sample similar to what Ben and Reed have been receiving. Professor Storm offers Reed a full scholarship to the government-funded research center he runs.
Reed joins Sue and Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), Professor Storm's former protégé, in completing a "Quantum Gate," essentially a more refined, large-scale version of Reed and Ben's prototype. Doom is hesitant to join the project but gives in to the professor's request due to his feelings for Sue. The professor adds his technician son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) to the team as a punishment for wrecking his car while drag racing, but the four soon form a close bond in the completion of the project. After only one live experiment on a chimpanzee, the Quantum Gate is deemed a success.
However, Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), the supervisor from the government, says that they will now take the project to NASA to assemble a group of astronauts to explore the new planet discovered in the parallel dimension. Upset by loss of control of their project, Reed, Johnny and Victor do what any college-aged kids would do: get drunk. The liquor-addled conversation soon strays to talk of grandeur, fame and money, all now lost since they won't find the world first. Then, Reed has the brilliant idea of taking the Quantum Gate for a spin first.
Where Fantastic Four (sort of) succeeds is in the characters as it spends a tremendous amount of time showing their growth and humanity, particularly that of Reed, but all that time spent trying to develop the characters comes at the cost of a well-formed narrative and tone. The story goes from confusing but interesting to downright random and illogical. Victor's motives to become Dr. Doom are never clear, Ben has some childhood abuse issues to work out, and these kids -- because that's what they are in this rendition of Marvel's beloved superheroes -- literally take an interdimensional vehicle for a drunk joyride all because they want their names in lights. And all of this could be either funny or serious, but the film can't decide and attempts both. It tries to take itself seriously with much intensity and gravitas but cuts that down with half-hearted jokes that lack in delivery but mostly in humor.
Despite the aforementioned, Fantastic Four is by no means a bad movie. The actors aren't terrible, though they're clearly not invested. The plot isn't boring, but it does drag. And the visual effects are kind of cool, even if they're lost in the dark cinematography. But that's the problem: the film is completely bland and aggressively middling. It's not even bad enough to merit a cult following. No, this lacks enough energy to do anything to audiences except leave them with a half chuckle of confusion over whether or not that line was meant to be funny.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios.