The Problem With 'Fantastic Four' Is That It's All Work and No Play

by John Boone 2:05 PM PDT, August 06, 2015
Photo: 20th Century Fox

All movies have problems. Sometimes it’s that the script isn’t quite there. Or there’s drama on set. Sometimes the director and studio have two different visions and can never find a middle ground. Sometimes the movie is rushed to hit a release date. These are some things that, combined, could result in a quote unquote bad movie.

Maybe Fantastic Four had all of those working against it. Or maybe it had none of them. But something went wrong.

A quick Google search will fill you in on whispers of Josh Trank’s behind-the-scenes troubles. The Hollywood Reporter alleges the director, who was picked to reboot Marvel’s First Family off the success of his indie hit, Chronicle, caused $100,000 worth of property damage. Another search will reveal forums filled with fanboys speculating on reverting studio rights. As for the script, penned by Trank, Simon Kinberg (X-Men), and Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect)? We have a few questions.

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Photo: 20th Century Fox

Like, why is there no second act? There’s the first part, the origin story part -- the part no one actually likes -- which drags on forever, filled with endless expository dialogue about science and past grudges, and science and other past grudges, and science and current grudges. And science. So much screen time is spent heavy-handedly setting things up, but nothing ever comes of it.

The middle part of the film, when the characters first get their powers and learn to control them, we skip over with a breezy “One Year Later” title card. We don’t know, that seems kind of important? Instead, we’re rushed into the intergalactic finale showdown, which feels more like an afterthought than a culmination of what’s come before it. Like with 15 minutes left in the movie, someone interjected and asked, “Hey, are they ever going to use their powers for anything?”

Then the credits roll.

Instead of action, there seems to be an enormous effort put into character development, without any characters actually developing. Miles Teller’s Reed Richards comes complete with origin story flashbacks, but his only personality trait is that he’s sad because he’s good at science and no one appreciates it. Meanwhile, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) gets about two whole minutes onscreen as the put-upon best friend before he becomes The Thing and that's thrown out the window. Sue Storm (Kate Mara) likes music. And we didn’t really “get” Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), except that he seems to wish he were in a Fast and Furious movie instead.

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Photo: 20th Century Fox

But things like “character motivation” and “stakes” can be forgiven if the viewer is enjoying watching the movie, and that’s the main problem with Fantastic Four: No one seems to be having any fun.

Not Teller, whose frat boy goofiness is all but suffocated in emo monologues about no one understanding him. Not Mara, who spends 90 percent of the movie staring at a computer screen. Not Bell, who is barely in the movie. If anyone, Jordan seems to be the only one who realizes that being a superhero in a big summer superhero blockbuster is kind of cool. Even still, it’s as if after every take, the director was like, "OK, but now do it like you hate yourself and everyone else in the scene.”

Trank tries to slip references to the comics in the movie too -- like Johnny’s “Flame on,” said offhandedly during a military training operation; or The Thing’s catchphrase, “It’s clobbering time,” which in the movie is something Ben’s older brother said to him as a child when he beat him, and for some reason, Ben decides to bring back in the climax? -- but they feel unearned and out of place here. Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell, not a blogger, as had been rumored, but a computer prodigy who’s pissed off because his crush is unrequited) at one point says something slightly pessimistic and Sue goes, “Dr. Doom over here, amirite?” (We’re paraphrasing.) They’re meant to wink at the source material, but mostly just remind us how fun the comics are.

Marvel Studios creates the lighthearted superhero fair, and Warner Bros. does the dark and gritty DC films. Fantastic Four aims for the latter, but ends up solemn and tedious. It’s all Doom and gloom. Say what you will about the last attempt at Fantastic Four, 2007’s Rise of the Silver Surfer, but at least pre-Captain America Chris Evans and pre-Honest Company Jessica Alba seemed like they were excited to be there.

Now, find out how the Fantastic Four cast responds to fanboy backlash: