Tweetable Takeaway: Fantastic Four has promises of a good sci-fi movie ruined by superhero clichés. Tweet
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
Within the latest iteration of Fantastic Four a great sci-fi tale exists. A tale that tells of the possibilities and dangers inherent in teleporting to other worlds and dimensions. Up until the titular foursome receives their powers, Fantastic Four is an interesting movie. Of course, it’s those powers that make the four so fantastic, and the reason the movie exists in the first place. It’s a sad twist then, that everything that makes the Fantastic Four what they are is exactly what brings this movie down.
This time around our origin story finds Reed Richards in grade school, building a teleportation device in his garage with newfound friend, Ben Grimm. Reed dreams of greatness, of being the one to forge ahead this undiscovered path of travel, and his ambition is infectious. Infectious enough to bring Ben on his side, at least. In an interesting thread that is dropped by the movie (along with many others), the two boys come from lower-middle class families, Ben in particular is tormented by an older brother.
Reed and Ben’s plight is entirely within the audience’s sympathies, only to be dashed away by a “7 Years Later” title card. The two are now in high school, and don’t seem to have gotten much further with the teleporting device. Large ellipses in time can be tricky in movies, they often distance the audience from the dramatic legwork done in the prior scenes. Here, especially, the only impetus for jumping ahead in time is to have older actors Miles Teller and Jamie Bell take their places as Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, respectively. The biggest leap is that the two have been able to bring back the items, albeit covered in dusty sand of some sort. Being the child geniuses they are, naturally they neglect to ever take a look at the sediment teleported back. Obviously it’s just dirt from China.
Setting that script oversight aside for now, their machine catches the eyes of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue Storm (Kate Mara). They’ve been working on a teleportation device of their own, and bringing Reed on board will bring them to completion. Also rounding out the cast is troublemaker Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), as rival genius to Reed, and apparently third in the love triangle between Reed and Sue (another thread the movie abandons as soon as it starts it). And for absolutely awful reasons, Dr. Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) is brought to the lab because he can, ahem, “build anything.”
Together, the four successfully send the year’s worst CGI chimp to the other side and back. Choosing a chimp was probably a poor choice after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. If the filmmakers knew they wouldn’t be able to match the outstanding CGI in that film, they should’ve gone with another animal. Any other animal. Send a sheep to the other side. Maybe a capybara? A stray Russian dog, if the movie wants to parallel the practice of sending animals to space. In any case, the chimp survives just fine, and immediately, the machine is approved for human testing.
Reed, Victor, and Johnny are excited to pop over to the other side, only to be informed that NASA will be taking over and sending their own people. In a speech that makes enough sense for motivational purposes, the three decide to go themselves. Well, not before Reed calls his buddy Ben and tells him to make the ostensibly long commute to the big city and join them on their first trip. It’s at this point one can visibly see the movie begin slipping downward. The four manage to transport themselves remotely with no help from anyone in-house. They make it to the other side and instead of simply being in awe of stepping foot on another planet, they climb down the side of a cliff to get real nice and close to green, glowing, volatile energy. Things go wrong and start exploding, Victor Von Doom doesn’t make it back to the shuttle in time, and the rest come back with a variety of superpowers. The U.S. government keeps the four on lockdown, but Reed manages to escape. Before he does, he promises Ben Grimm, now in rock form, that he’ll come back for him.
And once again, we have a fatal title card reading “1 Year Later.” All the dramatic meat that the movie might have sunk its teeth into gets tossed into the ether of another dimension. All our heroes are now comfortable with their powers. Ben Grimm, the most tragic character of the four, has no problem using his rock powers to help the military in a variety of missions. Johnny Storm, turning on his fire at will, will soon join Ben in the field. And Reed, so intent on helping Ben but abandoning him for more than a year, is living incognito in another country. It’s not long before another group is sent teleporting to the other world and find Victor Von Doom ambling about and set on destroying Earth. We get a quick battle featuring more terrible CGI, and the movie is soon over. Not before we get a rushed speech talking about family and working together and all sorts of similar hooey that come out of left field.
Fantastic Four aims for a dramatic payoff that it has spent no time working toward. It’s a cheap move, and leaves such a bad taste in the mouth that it almost sullies all of the good work done in the first third of the movie. The movie works great before the four receive their powers, and once they do, a workable movie still could have been salvaged. The true nail in the teleported coffin comes with that “1 Year Later” and all the cliché moments associated with a superhero movie.
Somewhere in Fantastic Four there’s potential for a great science fiction movie (sans superheroes), and potential for a passable superhero movie (sans the rushed and terrible third act). That movie might what director Josh Trank has hinted at in deleted tweets, before reshoots. We may never know, but we do know the movie we’re left with, a movie with promise squandered on a fantastically awful third act.
I give Fantastic Four 2 horrible CGI chimps out of 5
Score: 2 out of 5