Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online for over fifteen years.
What's the big deal?
Fantastic Four (also known as Fant4stic) is a sci-fi superhero film released in 2015 and is loosely based on the Marvel comic characters of the same name created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It is a reboot of the previous Fantastic Four series that started in 2005 although the film is seperate from the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Josh Trank, the film reimagines their origin story as a team of scientists who unlock mysterious powers after a trip to an alternate dimension goes disastrously wrong. The film stars Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell. The film was the subject of studio interference after dissatisfaction with the initial product as well as costly reshoots. Despite this, the film bombed on release - critics savaged the film's tone and atmosphere, its screenplay, casting, pacing and other aspects while audiences turned away, resulting in global takings of just under $168 million. It's estimated that after production and marketing costs, the film lost more than $100 million and was so reviled that plans for a sequel were immediately cancelled. In 2019, the rights to the characters reverted back to Marvel Studios who are now planning their own reboot in the near future.
What's it about?
Science nerd Reed Richards and bully deterrent Ben Grimm have been childhood friends for years, working on a secret prototype teleporter before unveiling it at their high school science fair. After a demonstration goes awry, they nonetheless attract the interest of Professor Franklin Storm who works as a project leader at the prestigious Baxter Institute. Professor Storm recruits Reed to work for him, finalising their own prototype machine which acts as a portal to an alternate dimension conceived by Storm's protege, Victor Von Doom. Reed soon finds himself working alongside Doom together with Storm's children, Sue and Johnny, and eventually, they successfully construct the dimension gate.
After being dismissed by Government representative Dr Harvey Allen on the first official trip through the portal, the team decide to take matters into their own hands and agree to an unsanctioned trip to the other side for themselves. Reed, Victor, Johnny and Ben journey to a strange alien landscape, devoid of anything other than rocks and a mysterious green lava-like energy. As Victor investigates this energy, it begins a cascade of chaos that has huge ramifications for everyone...
Reed Richards / Mr Fantastic
Sue Storm / Invisible Woman
Michael B. Jordan
Johnny Storm / Human Torch
Ben Grimm / Thing
Victor Von Doom / Dr Doom
Reg E. Cathey
Dr Franklin Storm
Tim Blake Nelson
Dr Harvey Allen
Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg & Josh Trank*
Release Date (UK)
6th August, 2015
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Superhero
Worst Film, Worst Director, Worst Remake, Rip-Off Or Sequel
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Screenplay, Worst On-Screen Combo (Teller, Mara, Bell and Jordan)
What's to like?
On first impressions, Fant4stic doesn't appear too bad. Bell and Teller have surprising chemistry as Grimm and Richards while the film has a grittier and less comic-book vibe than the two earlier films although the early scenes at the school science fair still harken back to the light-hearted comics of yore. It's clear that the film wants to distance itself from the earlier films and this is a wise decision, given how much weaker they are compared to the quality of movies seen within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that came out a few short years later. This film is a proper attempt at making a serious Fantastic 4 film, reimagining it to bring it some much needed realism and bringing the characters up to date.
Alas, the problems quickly come to the surface. The young leads are mostly underwhelming besides Bell (who feels significantly older than his co-stars) who is tragically buried under a literal tonne of CG. Having said that, I will say that this appearance of The Thing is the best seen so far - gone are the clunky prosthetics that hampered poor old Michael Chiklis and they have been replaced with some pretty decent CG that accurately represents the Thing's rocky exterior. A pity, then, that The Thing is the least shown character on screen. It smacks of trying to keep the film's budget down although I am aware of the numerous scenes cut from the final edit so maybe he is in most of those.
- Trank took much of the blame for the film's failure at the box office, partly due to a tweet he posted the day before the film came out. In it, he bemoaned the finished product and stated that the film he wanted to make will probably never be seen and would have won rave reviews. It was swiftly deleted soon after.
- Studio interference also affected the film's casting - Fox insisted that Mara be cast as Sue Storm, leading to Trank mistreating and bullying her on set. Multiple sources also accuse Trank of erratic behavior on the set as well as numerous disagreements between the director and the studio.
- In the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic series on which this film is based, Ben Grimm and Sue Storm eventually marry. In a happy coincidence, Jamie Bell and Kate Mara (who play Thing and Invisible Woman) met on set and eventually married in 2017.
What's not to like?
Ok, where do we start?
I've already mentioned the casting which failed to engage or interest me in the slightest. Kebbell is woeful as the baddie of the piece - dull as Victor Von Doom and just wrong as Dr Doom, hidden behind another CG disguise that has nothing whatsoever to do with the character's actual appearance. In fact, none of the principal characters (besides Thing) look good - the Human Torch is a nightmarish parody and even Mr Fantastic becomes a dream-haunting horror trope, the likes of which wouldn't look out of place in An American Werewolf In London. The movie overall is dark, depressing and devoid of any of the colour and lightness that made the original comics so popular. Tonally, the film is completely wrong for the subject matter - it would be like making a lavish Jane Austen adaptation into a Rambo-style action film. It should never have gotten off the drawing board.
So the film is drab, miscast and misunderstands its concept material - what else? The film's pacing is glacial, again utterly incompatible with other superhero films of this type. The narration drags on so slowly that the film feels like its own pre-credits sequence - Dr Doom doesn't even appear until the start of the final act and massively disappoints when he does show up. It doesn't help that the story itself isn't that great to begin with - however 'reimagined' the characters are, there should at least be some elements left so we can recognise them. Their distinctive blue uniforms have been replaced by black jumpsuits, the characters are much younger than their comic counterparts and even their personalities don't match. For the record, I'm not including the decision to cast Jordan as Johnny Storm as needless change - while I can fully appreciate and get behind a black Human Torch, I'd have liked to see a bit more exploration of the relationship between such a character and his white sister besides a quick clumsy line of dialogue about adoption.
So it's drab, miscast, confused, slow, disappointing, poorly written, directed by someone trying to reinvent the wheel, visually uninteresting and conceptually dreadful. It's a film that sounded much better on paper than it does on film and no amount of studio intervention could have saved this, I fear. Perhaps Trank's vision might have been a great film but I have my doubts. This gloomy sort of atmosphere is more suited to the Batman than the Fantastic Four so regardless of how many cuts the studio demanded, I suspect that Fant4stic would have been dead on arrival.
Should I watch it?
Aside from a more impressive looking Thing, the best thing that can be said about Fant4stic is that it makes you appreciate the earlier films, flawed as they are. This film is probably the worst superhero film I've seen so far - it's so completely misguided that it should have been obvious to anyone working on the film that the film wasn't going to work. Hopefully, Marvel will be able to make the first decent film adaption of these characters in the future because they deserve much better treatment than this.
Great For: improving your opinion on the first two films, anyone who has never heard of the Fantastic Four, the clinically stupid
Not So Great For: fans of the characters, anyone who paid to see this film, people gifted with sight
What else should I watch?
I reckoned that the days of superhero films being low budget turkeys were far behind us after the box office busting success of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Kicking off in 2008 with Iron Man, the MCU has produced a series of hugely enjoyable movies that cover numerous characters and genres from the groundbreaking Black Panther, the subversive sci-fi space opera Guardians Of The Galaxy and the billion-dollar mega smash that was Avengers Assemble and more recently, Avengers: Endgame. With so many characters brought onto the screen, it would appear as though they aren't running out of franchises any time soon - the long awaited Black Widow is due for release before the end of the year while other films in the pipeline include another ensemble flick with Eternals and a complete reinvention of Thor in the fourth film, Thor: Love And Thunder.
But back in the day, superhero films dwelled in the sort of purgatory normally reserved for adaptations of video games. With the possible exception of Blade and Sam Raimi's trilogy of Spider-Man films, most films were disappointing outings for so much loved characters - Ghost Rider is an excuse for Nicolas Cage to go full-on crazy, The Punisher is a generic shooter with little to recommend and the less said about Howard The Duck, the better. As for the two earlier Fantastic Four films, they weren't that well received but look considerably better in hindsight. Fantastic Four is a featherweight action outing that manages to at least try to capture the spirit of the comics and it also at least had a Dr Doom that looked like Dr Doom - kinda. The follow-up, Rise Of The Silver Surfer, was even more slated by critics and lost more money than the Kree Preservation Society's charity drive.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox