Fantastic Four (2015).
Director: Josh Trank (Big Fan, Chronicle).
Cast: Miles Teller (21 & Over, Divergent, Whiplash), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed), Kate Mara (127 Hours, The Martian), Jamie Bell (Snowpiercer), Toby Kebbel (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), Reg E. Cathey (House of Cards).
Toby Kebbel, the actor who plays Doom in 2015’s Fantastic Four (Stylised as “FANT4STIC” (which is an early indicator of the film’s quality)), says that a ‘darker version’ of the movie exists, but we will never see it. And that’s a shame.
“A dark version of the Fantastic Four? Who wants that?”, I hear you say. Surely that’s an oxymoron! But after watching the film, I came to the realisation that a darker version, a funnier version, or a whatever version of the film would have been welcomed, because the entire 100 minute affair lacks any identity whatsoever.
Let’s start with the obvious.
After producing a Fantastic Four film, 20th Century Fox (and Constantin Film, the actual owners of the film rights to the Fantastic Four), have seven years to start production on a new Fantastic Four film, or the rights will revert back to Marvel.
The last Fantastic Four film, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, released in 2007.
Normally I wouldn’t mention a film’s production in a review, but the more I come to reflect on 2015’s attempt at Marvel’s first family, it’s evident that this was a hastily produced film with little foresight, created only to retain film rights and keep the suits at Fox happy.
Money can only get a film so far, but the saving grace of the movie is its cast. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbel and Reg E. Cathey make the best of a bad situation. Teller, Jordan and Mara sell their roles pretty easily, and should a sequel happen, I’d likely watch it on the backs of these good actors. There’s an obvious chemistry between the young cast, which just about elevates the film from awful to below average.
But their characters aren’t so much people, but instead cases of stolen identities from the comic books. “Well, duh”, you say, these are comic book characters after all! But Chris Evans doesn’t make a man wearing the American flag feel like a walking cliché. Ben Affleck doesn’t make a man in a bat-suit feel dumb. That’s due to both the performers and writers. The script is full of cliches and sci-fi jargon that wouldn’t be amiss in an ’80s children’s cartoon. Three out of four of the Fantastic Four group are really smart, which makes Teller’s character being the smartest feel redundant. All the characteristics are there, but no personality to care about, no obvious distinction to make the audience give a damn about what happens to them. There’s close to zero character development, for all characters. It’s laughable in hindsight.
This leads on to the other glaring issue of the film, nothing exciting really happens, at least for the audience. It’s an origin story, so we’re aware that no-one from the four is going to die before the end of the film. The pacing is jagged, and then rudely interrupted by the arrival of the antagonist, Doom, who exits as fast as he appears. The last 20 minutes feel like everyone forgot how to structure a film, so they decided to just cut their losses and stick on a commonplace ‘I can’t beat him alone, but he can’t beat us together’ ending.
But the worst crime that Trank commits to the Fantastic Four, is, well, the lack of any fantastical action, drama, or entertainment. After those 100 minutes, I felt like I’d just watched a teaser for the promise of something better. Only once I felt something, after watching the ‘heroes’ acquire their abilities and their reactions, Johnny’s especially. For a minute, there was an essence of drama, of a reaction to what was actually happening with the plot. But soon enough it skips through what could have potentially been a strong emotionally driven story beat, and on to the next sequence. 90% of the film is aesthetically boring or ugly, with some dodgy special effects here and there, and glaring continuity errors due to reshoots. This production just feels extremely lazy, which is unfortunate because making films like these are anything but. What Fantastic Four needed was someone with a strong imagination and vision, as well as full creative freedom.
Now onto Doom.
I’m not sure what happened here. Doom looks like someone stepped into a microwave with tinfoil and Kryptonite on their face, set it to five minutes and then went to the nearest Primark to buy a cloak. Thinking back, I can’t even remember his motivations, just that he was a dick. And that’s the crux of Fantastic Four, it’s entirely forgettable.
Think back to the previous Fantastic Four films and there’s probably a handful moments that you can remember, regardless of quality. Trank’s version has a couple at best. In a sentence I’d never thought I’d be writing, I’d recommend Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer over the 2015 ‘attempt’. Yes. The film that has Galactus as a cloud!
It’s hard to find blame for what happened here. Was it Trank and his directorial style? Was it interference from the studio? Should anyone one person be to blame, in the first place? This leads back to my first point, no one wanted this, and was only made in order to retain film rights. Even so, I’ve no doubt that a competent Fantastic Four film could have been made even if it was to keep the film rights. Fantastic Four’s qualities come from the relationship between the family, Doom, and the character’s gallery of villains. Pair them up with the X-Men and you might finally get audiences interested in stretchy guy, invisible woman, fire man and orange Hulk.
In the words of Miles Teller’s Reed Richards, “You made it ugly”.
Feature image credit: 20th Century Fox