The new Fantastic Four movie could have been so much more interesting than it actually ends up being. Chronicle director Josh Trank brings his suspense/thriller influences mixed with a sense of body horror and fantastical sci-fi genre troupes to the troubled first family of Marvel Comics superhero franchise. Trank initially aims to defy the superhero movie formula with some intriguing concepts and visuals before ultimately rushing to adhere to all of its elements and betraying its beginnings in the latter half.
The Ultimate-based reboot doesn't quite know where it fits as it almost entirely focuses on a lengthy origin story and pains itself to establish a very limited world where interdimensional travel is invented by fifth graders and perfected by high school/college students. The constant mix of genres, comic book exposition, and superhero action is never properly balanced as the narrative moves so haphazardly to fit everything in a tight one hundred minutes of running time.
Trank goes for a muted, more insular method of storytelling in line with Chronicle (an original, found footage superhero film), the first X-Men films (also produced by 20th Century Fox), and the sensibilities of Batman Begins. He, along with his co-writers, Jeremy Slater and X-Men: Days of Future Past writer/producer Simon Kinberg, really double down on the trippy sci-fi tricks and sense of adventure escapism. It's too bad the stilted dialogue and so many scenes come off so chunkily as huge exposition dumps to explain where the film is going and cancel out any sense of wonder or discovery earned.
The cast is an altogether fitting and charming bunch of fairly young and up-and-coming talents. Miles Teller plays slightly against type as the brainy, awkward Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic, the focus of the film). The versatile Kate Mara does her best as the smart and more straightforward Sue Storm (Invisible Woman). Michael B. Jordan is a lot of fun and dynamic as a rebellious Johnny Storm (Human Torch). Ben "The Thing" Grimm is kind of thrown into the film and largely sidestepped as Reed's childhood friend portrayed wryly through mostly (pretty cool looking) motion capture work by a brawny and mostly wasted Jamie Bell.
It's House of Cards character actor Reg E. Cathey who ably grounds the narrative in an accessible and identifiable way, anchoring the character relationships as Sue and Johnny's father, mentor to Reed, and all-around leader to the group. Unfortunately, not much is made of the obviously villainous Dr. Doom, an under utilized Toby Kebbell, who looks awful and never quite gets his motivations across before becoming overly tyrannical in a bloated climax. He shows subtle, small flashes of layered insight to his foreshadowed villainy before disappearing and enacting some disturbing violence towards a rushed finale.
Fantastic Four is frustrating mostly because there's so much potential in its introduction and style. Its casting and Trank's clear talent as a visual filmmaker elevate the jumbled script before finally succumbing to a bizarre third act of unexplained powers and mess of generic CGI action. It's easy to like the actors, characters, and their powers before being let down by some formulaic, lazy writing. It ultimately feels cobbled together instead of resembling any culmination of a unified vision. Trank clearly wanted to make a psychological horror film about teenagers gaining powers and the studio had other ideas.
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