In the past several years, there has been no shortage of films based on Marvel Comics. The Fantastic Four is one of Marvel’s most popular franchises, yet no movie has been released based on the legendary hero quartet since 2007. That is, until now.
Unfortunately, due to Marvel’s financial problems in the 1990s, they had to sell the rights to many of their best known comic book properties. As a result, Marvel Studios does not own the rights to create their own X-Men and Fantastic Four films; the movie rights remain with 20th Century Fox. X-Men has done well for the studio, with most of the movies receiving rave reviews. Fantastic Four, on the other hand, not so much so; only a pair of movies were made by Fox so far and neither received the same positive press. Part of the condition of Fox maintaining the movie rights and not allowing them to revert to Marvel is that they must create a new film every few years. That is why we are getting a rebooted, reimagined Fantastic Four a decade after the first of the two movies that Fox made before.
The Fantastic Four are noteworthy because they were Marvel’s first true hero “team.” In most iterations, the team is comprised of Mr. Fantastic, with the ability to stretch his limbs to unrealistic lengths, the Human Torch, who commands the power of fire and is surrounded by it, the Invisible Woman, whose power is more or less self-explanatory, and the Thing, a humanoid covered in rock with superhuman strength. The quartet got their powers from exposure to cosmic rays during a mission into outer space to conduct scientific research, and have battled countless villains over the years. The characters, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, have been going strong since the early 1960s. To date there have been multiple film, cartoon, comic, and video game series based on this legendary hero team.
Even prior to its release, this new take on the Fantastic Four drew controversy from fans and critics alike, who attacked the adaptation based on the deviations from the source material and the radically different atmosphere at hand (I’m going to pull my hair out of I have to sit through another “The Human Torch is not supposed to be a black guy” rant…) That said, this fan veered away from all of the negative press and speculation that seemed to be flooding every online forum and then some. I, after all, have a firm belief in waiting for movies to be released before giving any opinions on them. Already, negative reviews from fans and critics who have actually seen the film are becoming plentiful. So, how is the movie? Is it a pleasant and unexpected surprise, or am I someone who is going to be on the Internet typing angry “give the rights back to Marvel!” messages along with everyone else?
In this new version of the Fantastic Four, young Reed Richards invents a teleportation device that draws the attention of the scientific community. Reed’s efforts gain him a scholarship to a prestigious scientific facility, in which he is able to take his teleportation designs to the next level, alongside other likeminded personnel. An attempt by Reed and company to use the teleporter to crack interdimensional travel results in he and his friends being mutated by the elements found there, gaining them unusual powers. Unfortunately, the government has their own plans for the mutated teens, and an even deadlier threat is born as a result of the interdimensional trips, forcing the teens to step forward and take action.
Had this been an action/adventure/sci-fi film that was NOT released under the Marvel/Fantastic Four name, the odds are I would be writing a better review. Unfortunately, this is one of those instances where the naysayers, critic and fan alike, are right. This attempt to revitalize the Fantastic Four is dead in the water, with Fox once again failing to deliver a movie that does justice to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic creations. Bloated, poorly paced, underdeveloped and lifeless, lacking any heart and soul, there simply is not much that could make one want to see this film.
Where did Fox go wrong with this adaptation? There have been assorted interviews and online news stories implying the film may have been cut against the director’s will; this would account for the underdevelopment of many elements of the characters and the plot. Usually there is no problem when a comic franchise receives some minor changes for the big screen; the Marvel Cinematic Universe has actually made a number of changes that improved the stories and characters. The earlier Fox Fantastic Four movies were not great, but campy as they were, they at least stayed truer to the comics, and maintained much of the whimsy and atmosphere that made those original stories great.
When you are making a movie, pacing is everything. If you told me that one day there would be a Fantastic Four movie where the characters do not even get their powers until the movie is HALF OVER, there is no way I would have believed you. Yet it happens here; the entire first 45 minutes or so of the movie are typical nerdy teen melodrama that not only does not develop the characters; the scenes actually make us bored. Johnny Storm (later the Human Torch) is introduced far too late in the movie. Attempts at humor fall flat; I even had to remind myself what movie I was watching on a few occasions! We do not even see the heroes working together as a team until the movie is nearly over; circumstances occurring separate the characters so the “team building” dynamic (which The Avengers did with a vengeance) is strangely devoid and missing here, leaving another gaping hole in this lifeless film.
The characters themselves are not only dull and uninteresting; they are poorly written. Johnny Storm is an angry, vengeful teen in half the scenes he appears in and strangely friendly and cooperative in the others; he seems to boomerang between the two personalities depending upon what the scene requires. Attempts at character development are handled haphazardly and end up more stale than fulfilling. The fact that the film separates the characters in its latter half and never gives them a chance to come together as a team until the very end is disheartening, making the ending feel all the more artificial and “slapped together.” A major character in the movie is killed by the villain, and a few scenes later is more or less forgotten (aside from a brief mention at the end of the movie). Not to mention the villain himself feels like an afterthought; the “government” characters end up feeling more antagonistic and developed than the actual villain! With so much screen time devoted to the characters before they get their powers, you would think the film crew would succeed in developing chemistry between everyone. Yet, in the long run, even the lifelong Reed Richards/Ben Grimm friendship feels artificial and lifeless.
Filmmakers and studios seem to think reimagining properties and making them darker and grittier automatically makes them better. The problem is, this does NOT work for every franchise, and it is painfully true for the Fantastic Four. Their new film strips away all of the fun of the comics and only maintains the barest semblance of a plot and characters. Much like Superman Returns back in 2006, the movie has beautiful, bold production values that put the movie’s budget to good use, but the movie is devoid of a heart and soul. We do not feel anything for the characters in the movie’s duration, good or evil alike. Moments that should be dramatic and gripping accomplish nothing for this reason. The ending feels like the setup for a sequel, but after sitting through 100 minutes of this take on the franchise, fans likely will not be coming back to the theater when it comes out in a few years.
Big production values and phenomenal CGI cannot save this reimagining of the Fantastic Four, which feels more like a desecration. Movies like this are the reason that angry “give the rights back to Marvel” rants are commonplace on the Internet. The characters are one dimensional, with no personalities or chemistry. The “main villain” fills like an afterthought. The attempt at a grittier, more down to earth movie just makes for one that is depressing and disheartening. I am willing to give anything a chance when it comes to my comic book movies, but this is a Fantastic Fail.
DISCLAIMER: All images in this review are the property of their respective copyright holders. For promotional use only. All rights reserved.