"Fantastic Four" (Yes, It is awful)


"There has been joy. There will be joy again."

That's a famous line from "The Demolished Man" by Alfred Bester, who obviously never imagined a movie like this one. There's no joy here. Not so much as a smidgen, visually, emotionally or intellectually.    

It's hard to describe the sheer totality of the failure. "Fantastic Four" is drab, claustrophobic, lifeless and incoherent. The first half is kind of a movie, albeit a bloated one. After that the train comes screeching off the rails with a disjointed third act and a laughable fourth one. It simply has to be seen to be believed, but please, for the love of God, don't see it. Neither that ten dollar bill in your pocket nor you deserve this.

"Fantastic Four" is rotten to the foundation. First, no one green lighting this gave a tinker's damn about the property. This movie was made by Fox solely to keep the rights to Fantastic Four from reverting to Marvel. Second, they made a strange creative choice with the director. They picked Josh Trank, who had only the somewhat interesting found-footage surprise "Chronicle" under his belt. Trank tried to go cerebral and layer the story with remorse, a risky bet for the basic fun loving Fantastic Four concept. Third, reading between the lines, it's obvious that the studio panicked at the final product and seized control, churning out reshot after reshot. That yields about the only visual highlight in the whole mess--Kate Mara, a talented enough actress, sports an obvious wig in the reshot sequences.

The thought that occurred to me is simple: why bother? This thing is sitting at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes (and an equally appalling 29% on the much more forgiving audience reaction scale). How much worse could Trank's original possibly have been? Fox just threw more money at a project that's mutilated beyond recognition. There's no way the final product is making that money back.

With the autopsy now out of the way, I guess I should describe the corpse. This reboot cribs from the Ultimate Fantastic Four line of a few years back as opposed to the Lee-Kirby original. The team are teenagers who get their power from a teleporter gone wrong, with Victor von Doom becoming a villain due to the same journey. That presentation was actually fresh and interesting in the Ultimate line. It's dead as a doornail here.

The story opens with a child Reed Richards and his pal Ben Grim trying to build a teleporter. This goes on for years until Reed is pegged as an up and comer by Dr. Franklin Storm, which leads to Reed's pairing with Storm's children, Johnny and Sue, and another soon-to-be-famous protégé named Victor. There's lots of talking. Some of it is even interesting, but the movie is overly indulgent of its slow burn. More than half of the movie is gone before we even get them to take that teleporter on its fateful spin. That's bad news for a movie telling an origin story everyone already knows.

Don't get me wrong. The opening half is by far the better half of the movie, but it should be trimmed down and sharpened up to lead into a better organized second half that has time to achieve thematic integration. There's too much exposition, background and subtle brooding that should be handled more efficiently.  All that buildup doesn't pay off anyway because this is three or four different movies jostling for screen time in one. By the time we get to the end, all that buildup has been discarded for a rushed battle sequence that can't even rise to the level of passable cliché.

For some reason Sue doesn't go with the other four to the dully named Planet Zero. Insert whatever sexism observations you may have at this point. She somehow gets her invisibility from an energy surge when the teleporter explodes bringing three of the four back. Victor is the one missing and presumed dead.

There's a brief, intriguing sequence of David Cronenberg style horror as the altered foursome try to come to grips with the horrors of bodily transformation. But then the movie simply cuts the cord on everything that has happened until now. We jump forward a year and become a military industrial complex conspiracy movie. Reed has escaped somewhere while Johnny, Sue and Ben (The Human Torch, Invisible Woman and The Thing) are being exploited by an evil corporate guy who pretty much becomes the main character for a while. It's his movie all of a sudden--The Weasely One. We go minutes at a time repeatedly with Johnny, Sue and Ben hardly saying a word. The net effect is jarring. Especially given how much time we wasted on supposed character development.

After a while, someone realized this movie wasn't going anywhere, so Reed is delivered back to the dreary, depressing warehouse in which most of the movie is filmed. The teleporter has to be reconfigured so the transformed Victor can return as DOOM. He's a visual mess, has a bunch of powers that make no sense and wants to destroy the world for no real reason. I guess he's just desperate to end the movie, too. We have a terrible CGI fight on Planet Zero that's over almost as soon as it begins, some painful dialogue, and the cruel threat of a sequel.

Fat chance.

The climax with DOOM is so rushed and senseless I wonder if it was even part of Trank's original version. I wonder if he planned to end with a hint of Doom for the sequel, and all this Planet Zero fight crap was hastily thrown together by cut-and-paste morons.

I wonder. But let's be honest--I don't care. I'm out of that theatre and wild horses couldn't drag me back.