Fantastic 4 is nothing but 100 minutes of running out the clock.
A few days ago, I wrote a piece expressing my belief that Tim Story’s 2005 attempt at Fantastic Four was not actually a bad movie. The film that we were presented – a story about terrible people who don’t particularly like each other being given powers they (mostly) don’t want and spending the majority of the film’s runtime trying to get rid of them – was actually perfectly fine, it was just presented to us as a crowd-pleasing superhero movie and therefore came off dreadfully. I still stand by that article completely. Hell, that great movie I described already exists and it’s called Chronicle!
Which I guess makes Josh Trank a pretty good fit for this whole thing if that’s the track that Fox wanted to go down. Now, I must stress, even with the critical drubbing this one has received from nearly every film writer alive and even with my own hopes and expectations sent to rock-bottom thanks to some terrible trailers and a non-stop deluge of “this production is f*cked” gossip from all corners of the globe, that I wanted to like this new Fantastic 4. Trank kept talking up how much he took inspiration from the works of David Cronenberg, wishing to make something closer to a deconstructionist Body Horror than a typical superhero movie, and his debut feature Chronicle displayed a similarly off-kilter approach to the treatment of superpowers. If an incredibly grimly serious tone is what it took to get this kind of film made, then I would be willing to suck it up and give it a try. I wanted to like this.
But I don’t. I really don’t. Folks, the Fantastic 4 I watched does not class as a movie. What I saw was 100 minutes of wallpaper, a thing you stare at because you’re bored or you’re miserable or you have nothing else going on in your life. It does nothing, it says nothing, it simply exists because it gives off the illusion that you’re staring at something of value cos, hey, at least it’s not a blank wall! There is nothing to this movie. It does nothing, it says nothing, it tells no story, it has absolutely no purpose to exist. What I saw was not a film. What I saw was 20th Century Fox running out the clock for 100 minutes because they didn’t want to give Marvel its toys back. Fox is the Homer Simpson to Marvel’s Ned Flanders, refusing to give him back his barbeque even though Homer was never planning on using it until Ned asked and is now dragging it through the mud irreparably out of spite.
And, yes, I know that I’m supposed to ignore all that stuff and review the movie I’m given, but I’m really clutching at straws here, folks. There is nothing. This is literally just a dick-waving “na-na-na-na-F*CK YOU!” that’s been dumped into cinemas. Very, very, very rarely, I could get an idea of what Trank and co. might have originally been going for – basically the same film I described up top but also with government interference. But, and here’s the thing, the film never does anything with any of it. It doesn’t probe enough into its cast, it doesn’t do anything with the government angle besides the very occasional “they’re dicks and will use people for weapons”, and it spends almost zero time on its Body Horror aspect.
There’s nothing there, and what glimpses of something that is there are promptly sunk by absolutely atrocious writing and characterisation. Despite spending an interminable amount of time in the presence of our cast, none of them ever develop past their initial sole personality trait. Reed (Miles Teller) is The Science Guy, Sue (Kate Mara) is The Distant Aloof Girl, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) is The Guy Who Doesn’t Take Orders Well And Hates When You Call Him That Because That Is Somebody’s Idea Of Brilliant Dialogue, Victor (Toby Kebbel)… I honestly have absolutely no idea what Victor is supposed to be – he switches from scene to scene, sometimes ambitious and driven, sometimes lazy, sometimes thinks he’s better than everyone else, sometimes rants about the government because that’s about as far as the film is willing to go on that theme – and Ben (Jamie Bell) just wanders in and out of the film because that’s how little of a sh*t it gives about him and his condition.
By now, I should have given you a plot synopsis for Fantastic 4. Except that I can’t because telling you the set-up/outline of this movie is to quite literally tell you the entire first hour of the movie. That’s how little is going on here, the set-up of the movie technically constitutes a goddamn spoiler. Characters do not develop, themes do not get touched on or explored at all, and we don’t get any particularly interesting or memorable scenes – save for Reed and Sue’s first encounter which is only memorable because of just how awful the damn thing is, two emotionless drones with zero chemistry delivering dialogue that might as well have been written by emotionless machines.
Ugh, but anyway, after a literal Age, the cast go off on and come back from their expedition to “Planet Zero” changed men – and, yes, I do mean “men”, Sue doesn’t go with them for some inexplicable reason and she just kinda gets her powers from them coming back for some other inexplicably reason. This is when the film threatens to start doing something interesting, as it finally starts attempting some Cronenberg-style Body Horror and hinting at addressing the theme of governments using these kids for their own war-based advantage. Unfortunately, this gets shot down for two reasons. The first is that, like every other scene in this tripe-fest, they’re badly written, flatly directed, dreadfully acted, or any combination of those three (and the reasons why these sequences fail change every few seconds). Unintended laughter should not be the effect of your Body Horror sequences, yet that’s what happened to the audience in my screening whilst I sat there not being affected at all. It’s just dull.
The second is that the film immediately cuts this attempt at gaining some traction dead with a time skip. I’m not joking. The second that the film looks like it’s going to get its motor running and do something interesting, there’s a time skip. Not a tiny one, either, a full year. One full year, designed to flush out all of the potential intrigue, conflict, and thematic depth in favour of the supposedly requisite superheroics finale. I checked my watch when the card came up – and it comes up like those mocking time cards in a Spongebob Squarepants episode – in order to see how much time had passed, and saw that a full hour had elapsed and we were now in the last 30 minute stretch. An hour. One full hour of this 90 minutes + credits movie and NOTHING HAD HAPPENED!
And then it craters.
The first hour of Fantastic 4 is atrocious, pointless time-wasting at worst and dreadfully done potential wasting at best, but the last 30 minutes are somehow even worse. Utterly incoherent, taking a whole load of baffling character turns to set-up an utterly pointless and absolutely embarrassingly terrible final action sequence, the film attempts (in complete vain) to transform itself into a ridiculously generic superhero climax with completely disinterested “fate of the world” stakes. Nothing matters because the left-turn into this is so abrupt, because the story’s motivations for doing so are so non-existent, and because there is nothing at all to care about it, not to mention that the film itself doesn’t care one single iota about any of this. It is more than just awful, it is one of the worst final thirds of anything that I have ever experienced.
I could keep listing things that are wrong with this movie… so I will. Sue’s complete and utter marginalisation in this movie is somehow even worse than the nagging sexually objectified shrew from the 2005 version. Victor seems to have a thing for Sue and gets slightly jealous that she and Reed have a five-second sequence where they don’t openly hate each other, but this whole thread is completely forgotten about straight after. Several effects-heavy sequences, like Johnny flying after a drone or Reed changing his face, are some of the worst special effects I have ever seen.
Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathy) is literally just the Magical Black Man, only instead of magic his powers involve giving endless droning monotone speeches that seem to have been written by slamming six different generic film speeches together into one speech that never means anything. There’s a certain power shown off during the climax that’s ignored completely after its usage for literally no good reason. Doom, when he eventually appears, almost caused me to burst out into hysterics, such is the dreadful excuse for a costume that he’s been given. Ben’s “clobbering time” catchphrase is revealed to have been something his older brother would say before beating the sh*t out of him in a beat so terrible that it almost caused me to take back all of my praise for Chronicle…
And the acting. Oh, god, the acting. This is a very talented cast, as each has proven in other works, but they are across-the-board godawful here. Miles Teller spends the entire time looking miserable and delivers multiple lines during the climax that are so wooden I’m amazed he actually got paid for them, Michael B. Jordan displays absolutely none of the charisma that he’s paraded about in his other performances, Kate Mara acts completely disgusted about having to be here, Reg E. Cathy might as well have been replaced with a f*cking Speak & Spell, Toby Kebbel makes exactly no impression. The only even slightly decent performance comes from Jamie Bell and, guess what, the film gives him absolutely nothing to do.
I’m shaking my head in utter dismay, right now. I’d like to say things like “Fantastic 4 is a full-on failure” or “this is a trainwreck of epic proportions”, but those insinuate that this thing had any goals or aspirations whatsoever. Why am I even reviewing this? Why have I wasted 1,700 words and counting on this? This isn’t my jurisdiction! I review movies, not childish dick-waving wastes of time created for the sole purpose of settling rights disputes! Fantastic 4 is only a movie in the sense that it has moving pictures and sound. It barely tells a story, it says nothing, it does nothing, and it doesn’t even have contempt for the audience it is swindling cash out of because it’s not even for them. This thing is for nobody, and I am fucking livid that this exists and that I had to sit through it. This is a one-man mission to selfishly destroy superhero movies for the rest of us, this is a middle-finger to the entire concept that films are supposed to be watched and/or enjoyed by human beings, this is anti-cinema.
Say what you want about Entourage and Pixels, at least those respected my time, my money, and my motherfucking intelligence by being movies for people. This… this… whatever this is, is not for anybody except studio heads engaged in a childish hissy-fit. Fuck this piece of complete and total shit.