Here’s the thing about this Fantastic Four movie: it was supposed to be horrible. This movie has been riding an almost unprecedented level of bad buzz since earlier this year. Strangely, it seems to have started over literally nothing. Fans were upset they hadn’t seen anything official from the movie and began to suspect it stunk. Then, depending on who you talk to, the director was fired, the actors were upset and the script was a mess. But, those days of speculation are over and none of that bad buzz matters any more; there’s an actual film now that can be judged on its own merits. Sadly, Fantastic Four, on its own merits, is still horrible.

The film at least has a promising start, or at least a start where you can kid yourself by saying, “OK, let’s wait and see where this is going...” We meet a dorky pre-teen Reed Richards scribbling early designs for his Quantum Gate, a sort of trans-dimensional portal, during class. This is the kind of behavior that gets middle-schoolers an atomic wedgie, but there’s at least one kid who doesn’t think Richards is a complete goober: Ben Grimm. He’s the street-tough kid from the other side of the tracks who might not have as much in the smarts department, but he’s the only one who believes in Reed. The two make an unlikely pair and are soon collaborating on making Matchbox cars disappear into thin air.

We flash-forward seven years to a high school science fair (we’re supposed to believe, I guess, that the characters in this movie are 17-18 years old even though the average age of the actors is 29), where Reed and Ben are recruited by Sue Storm and her father Franklin who are impressed these two goofballs have finally cracked inter-dimensional travel when their team of well-funded scientists have come up empty handed. Ahh, this is where the film is going to get better! Things are going to start happening now! Uh, no. The film actually gets worse and things definitely do not happen, unless you count sitting around in labs and typing on computers while listening to Portishead as “things happening”.

Eventually (after a lot of talking), Ben, Reed, Storm’s son Johnny and a troubled computer whiz named Victor Von Doom, actually do make it to The Negative Zone, sorry, Planet Zero, where they’re bombarded with cosmic rays and mutated into the heroes we know and love. (That’s right. Sue Storm, the only female of the group, doesn’t even get to go on the journey. She stays behind and — wait for it — types on a computer while listening to Portishead. Her powers are collateral damage as the boys return from their journey and bring a wave of Planet Zone energy with them.) Again, you might be tempted to think, this is where the film is going to get better, but this is actually about the point where you’ll start to give up on this film.

The movie flashes forward one year after their return, and there’s an interesting sequence where we find out the government has been using The Thing as a military weapon on covert operations. It’s a novel idea and it sounds like fun, except all we really see of this potentially exciting plot point is security footage on a computer screen while military officers talk about what he’s doing. The Thing is ripping apart a tank and instead of letting the audience watch this play out in what would be an thrilling setpiece, we just listen to people talk.

Which is a big part of this film’s problem — everyone sits around talking about potentially exciting stuff, without actually doing it. It’s feels like a crummy prequel to a movie I’m not even sure I would want to see in the first place. So much of the film takes place indoors, you begin to feel claustrophobic. You can start to feel the soundstage and the greenscreen (the cheap visual effects don’t help much). Even the climactic battle at the end of the film — the one you sat through about 90 minutes of exposition to get to — lasts about five minutes and features little in the way of action. But, hey at least Doctor Doom has finally arrived, right?

Well, yes, but this is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. Once Victor Von Doom goes full on Doom (his introduction, I kid you not, is announced with the line, “There is no Victor, only DOOM” without a tongue anywhere near a cheek), he’s just full-on crazy and immediately exploding the heads of innocent people and destroying the world with his newfound powers. At least Ant-Man gave us the cockamamie explanation that the Pym Particles were turning Darren Cross insane. Here, he’s just DOOM. And, his plan is to create a giant portal in the sky (because what’s a superhero movie with a giant portal in the sky?). Why? I don’t know, so Doom can suck up Earth. Why does Doom want to suck up Earth? Because, he hates humanity. Yeah, then what? He just walks around Planet Zero by himself? That seems like a boring existence, even for a supervillain, but then again this is a boring movie.

Despite Doom looking dumb and acting even dumber, star Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) seems to be the only one who knows what kind of movie he’s working on, and that includes director Josh Trank (who is throwing out David Cronenberg, Akira and even Big Hero 6 influences to see if something, anything, will stick). The movie’s at its best when Kebbell as Victor is on-screen and then robs itself of its best asset by hiding him behind a goofy CGI mask that doesn’t move and can’t emote.

Of the Four, Michael B. Jordan seems to be having the most fun, but Teller and Mara are so wooden they make Groot look like Gumby. It’s hard to fault these talented actors though, considering the material given to them. You’re supposed to be rooting for Reed to get himself together (literally) to become a leader, but why should we care? We’re never given any real motivation to root for him, especially when any one of the other members of the team have proven themselves to be better equipped to take on this fight. Reed is the de facto leader of the team, because comic book canon deems it so, never because he earns it.

I have no idea if any of the alleged drama surrounding the film’s production of this movie are true, nor do I care. “Bad buzz” isn’t what made Fantastic Four a complete bore; the movie itself more than earned that on its own. This movie is cheap, dull and barely an improvement over the films it’s rebooting.

Additional Notes

- I’m not a huge proponent of post-credits scenes, but Fantastic Four was practically begging for one, and had nothing. There are so many plot points left dangling, you’ll wonder why they didn’t include at least one brief scene explaining something.

- The origins of the “It’s clobberin’ time” line is groan-worthy.

- For a PG-13 movie, there’s a surprising amount of gore, especially when Doctor Doom goes all Scanners on people’s heads.


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