With film franchises rebooting every few years, it’s surprising that this series took so long to take the plunge. The first version, “Fantastic Four,” was released by 20th Century Fox in the summer of 2005, when critics called it, “’Spider-Man’ times four,” although at the time, I described it as “Spider-Man” *divided* by four, since it takes that Marvel Comic and slices it up, dividing not only the drama, but the action and interest, as well. Rabid fans of the graphic novel may have loved it, but the casual movie fan watched, reacted on a very low level, left the theater and then thought about where to grab a bite to eat.
The movie (starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis as the famed superheroes) didn’t stick around very long. That’s not to say it was a bad film, it wasn’t. It just never held up. (The sequel, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” was a bad film and even less well-received). Now, with Fantastic Four we get a whole new origin and a revamp of the series (directed by Josh Trank, “Chronicle”) which adds some amazing CGI and other effects, but leaves the viewer still wanting more from the script.
Recycled material can sometimes produce some wonderful products, but not so in Fantastic Four. Compared to recent successes such as “The Avengers,” “Iron Man,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and others, this fits somewhere between “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” It’s not exactly the best place to be in the Marvel universe, friends.
Like most Marvel storylines, people conduct scientific experiments, experiment goes horribly wrong; people become infected with some kind of radioactivity; instead of dying of cancer, though, they gain super strength, speed or some other kind of amazing power. In this one, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, “St. Vincent”) recruits super-smart young people, such as Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell, “Wrath of the Titans”), Reed Richards (Miles Teller, “Whiplash”) and his adopted daughter, Sue (Kate Mara, “Transcendence”) to work on a teleportation project to allow inter-dimensional travel. Think of this organization as sort of a bulked-up X-Men, with the fatherly Franklin taking the Patrick Stewart role.
The effort, which would take literally years to achieve is here completed in less than a few jump cuts and after a chimp is successfully sent and retrieved from the dark, primordial world, the group (sans Sue) decide they should get the glory by being the first humans to journey there (by the way, Reed will not go without Ben, who helped him with the original idea when they were kids).
Of course, as in all films of this ilk, things go horribly wrong as the energy in the strange world erupts violently, causing Von Doom to fall into a crevasse and the rest to barely escape with their lives. They now have amazing powers: Richards becomes as flexible as a rubberband; Susan (who was not on the trip, but affected nevertheless when the shuttle craft returned) has the power to become invisible and create a force field of some kind, while her adopted brother becomes a human flying torch; and Grimm turns into a rock-like thing graced with incredible power.
Kept in a secret government facility (like Area 51, only different), three of the four are angry at Richards for supposedly abandoning them in the hour of need. When he is captured, though, he maintains he was only trying to find a cure. Meanwhile, the evil Dr. Harvey Allen (Tim Blake Nelson, “The Homesman”) plans to use the group as indestructible weapons for the military, but Von Doom’s return (as Dr. Doom now) puts the kibosh on that particular arrangement.
To save his new world, Doom decides to extract the power form Earth and divert it to the alien dimension (why this is necessary isn’t exactly explained, but it does bring about the final conflict between former friends and colleagues). The four have to travel to the villain’s lair and join forces to try and defeat him (as Richards says, “Doom is stronger than each of them, but not stronger than ALL of them.”) That being understood, they use their combined powers and wrap up the concluding fight in almost record time, leaving most viewers wondering what just happened and why did it happen so quickly.
And while the FX are seamless and wonderful, like most Marvel/Disney efforts, the characters are mostly under-developed and the backstory (before they became super heroes) is really the most interesting part. In fact, the only character that brings about any empathy whatsoever is Ben/The Thing who has the most difficult job acclimating to his rock-like personae. Another in a long line of mid-level features designed to kill time between the next and bigger Marvel release. And, as if to label this a mere throwaway, Fantastic Four did not even bother to feature a Stan Lee cameo or even a tease after the ending credits. Talk about a dead giveaway.