I wasn’t going to watch this latest superhero reboot but my interest was piqued by the slew of negative reviews it received as much as Josh Trank’s widely-publicised tweet, in which the director claimed he had a ‘fantastic version’ of Fantastic Four a year ago, prior to studio interference. Trank didn’t hold final cut, and it seems as though studio 20th Century Fox have butchered his baby with re-writes, re-shoots and poor, enforced editing choices; of course it’s a lot easier for the director to claim he was sitting on a masterpiece than to prove it, but it’s quite telling that much of the exciting-looking material from the trailer has been left out of the version currently in cinemas. I still had some hope for the film, despite all the negative publicity. Is it really that bad? Are there some brief signs of Trank’s lost masterpiece lying amidst all the rubble? Did Jamie Bell’s The Thing get to shout ‘IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!’?
Sadly I have to go along with the consensus, though I feel the way the film has been criticised for its dark, bleak tone is a shame; this could have been a welcome antidote to the largely one-note barrage of films Marvel has been hitting us with (albeit those that fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as opposed to this one, which the titular foursome ostensibly share with the X-Men), and I’ve been waiting for a film that depicts some actual consequence of villainy (outside of the generally-darker DC Comics-related films, at any rate). Trank’s earlier assertation that his film would be influenced by David Cronenberg just about holds sway, and we get to see a little bit of Scanners-style body horror as the Fantastic Four’s nemesis Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell) goes on a telekinetic skull-exploding rampage, but it’s all too brief and it sadly sits within a very rushed final showdown. This end battle is the first time we see anyone properly flex their powers – it’s all origin story up to that point – but it’s messy and sits unevenly next to the preceding hour-or-so of slow, slow build-up. And that build-up seems to go on forever: aren’t super-hero films supposed to be fun, above all else, even if the stories are predictable and the tone occasionally reflects the characters’ dark sides? This film will only delight the few people in the world who want to watch an unconvincing tale of teenagers experimenting in labs.
In its final, released state Fantastic Four is a largely humorless affair – no-one even calls Reed Richards’ Mister Fantastic (Miles Teller) ‘Stretcho’, for example – and the film seems overly preoccupied with laying down the groundwork for later sequels that may now never come. The cast struggle to inject any life into proceedings, which may well be down to poor acting, poor writing, poor direction, poor editing or a mix of all four, though it’s entirely possible we’ve been presented with a number of hastily-assembled scenes from the cutting room floor that were once rejected by Trank for not being up-to-scratch. Given the continuity errors (particularly with regard to the physical appearance of some characters) it looks as if we have been served a lot of re-shot material, though that isn’t uncommon for big budget super-hero blockbusters, and even that doesn’t explain why the acting is so universally unenthusiastic. Hopefully there’s no lasting damage done to the young cast or their director, whose debut Chronicle I enjoyed, but the game of blame-and-counter-blame currently playing out in public is helping no-one (even if it’s enjoyable to rubberneck). As much as I’ve looked for the angle to write something different and more positive about Fantastic Four I have to concur that it’s a stinker, but at least Bell says ‘IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!’ with a little bit of conviction.
Directed by: Josh Trank.
Written by: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank. Based on Fantastic Four by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby.
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson.
Cinematography: Matthew Jensen.
Editing: Eliot Greenberg, Stephen E. Rivkin.
Music: Marco Beltrami, Philip Glass.
Running Time: 99 minutes.