Fantastic Four Directed by Josh Trank (PG-13)

A decade ago, Fantastic Four delivered an origin story and visual effects bonanza, but very little entertainment. The feature and its lackluster 2007 sequel failed to lure blockbuster-worthy audiences.


For obvious financial and secretively legal reasons, the Fantastic Four have returned, this time shedding colorful antics and trying to find a fresh concept for understandably suspicious viewers.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The Fantastic Four are a contentious group with hazily defined motivations.


As a brilliant teen in 2007, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) works to perfect a teleportation device that could revolutionize science, finding help from his pal, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), whose knowledge of his family’s junkyard helps his friend assemble the impossible.


Years later, the pair display their invention at a school science fair and, while the results are troubling, their genius intrigues Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey), with the teens introduced to the scientist’s son, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and his adopted daughter, Sue (Kate Mara).


Receiving an opportunity to perfect his device at the Baxter Institute, Reed oversees the construction of inter-dimensional teleportation pods, joined by unstable project leader, Victor Von Doom (Tony Kebble).


Volunteering to test the pods, Reed, Ben, Victor, and Johnny visit “Planet Zero,” a harsh alien realm that gifts the foursome strange powers after an accident occurs. Returning to Earth, chaos ensues, forcing the unlikely family to face the wrath of Victor, who’s looking for revenge.


Fantastic Four is the second effort from director Josh Trank, who rose to prominence with 2012’s mangled Chronicle, which attempted to tell a superhero origin story through found footage. Even though it was a minor box office success, Chronicle wasn’t enough to prepare Trank for blockbuster moviemaking.


The bulk of the screenplay (credited to Trank, Jeremy Slater, and Simon Kinberg) is devoted to setting up Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny. The aspiring scientist takes most of the screen time, acting as the audience surrogate into an underground testing facility where kid genius is allowed to create his inter-dimensional breakthrough.


Instead of a world-dominating heavy, Dr. Doom is reduced to a lovesick genius who’s jealous of Sue’s interest in Reed. So much for Latverian intimidation.


Threatened by government stooge Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson, who’s uncomfortably hammy), the gang secretively suits up and travels to Planet Zero, a volatile, mountainous region with glowing green rivers of energy.


Hubris is rewarded with disaster. Victor is swallowed by the land, while the rest return with their comic book powers. Reed wakes up with the ability to super-stretch; Ben is transformed into a rock creature (who refuses pants); and Johnny becomes a flying bullet of controlled flames. Sue (who doesn’t initially visits Planet Zero) is hit with debris on the return trip, bestowing her with the power of invisibility and psionic energy control.


The screenplay works hard to keep the particulars cruel and dark, which works for Batman because he’s a nighttime vigilante with murdered parents, but it’s a strange fit for a movie about a rubbery man and a human torch.


Trank is lost at sea. When Victor reappears as a metallic monster with extreme telekinesis, it’s clear the production mandate was to keep this Fantastic Four miles away from the previous incarnation and even the comic books.


There’s nothing joyous here, nothing that inspires thrills or even the excitement of teamwork. The sullen four are largely separated until the abrupt climax, and even then they’re a contentious, bitter group with hazily defined motivations.


Fantastic Four tries to rub some superhero sticks together in the finale, counting on ridiculous dialogue and visual effects trotted out to please the fanbase, but without personality, the whole effort feels like a wet blanket.


Not that Fantastic Four was better off in 2005, but at least that picture had goals and a tone that celebrated the original comic. Either through inexperience or intention, Trank has constructed an unpleasant movie that’s too confused to be anything but an absolute mess.

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