Fantastically dull

Fox’s reboot of the superhero series takes too long to get to the action — and when it does, it’s a damp squib

As an avid and passionate follower of geek culture, I generally give superhero movies a chance. Despite all their numerous faults, I have always been able to enjoy a superhero flick based on the flair and larger-than-life action sequences that one has come to expect from films of the genre.

 Fantastic Four, however, was a superhero movie that I could not like.

Starring Miles Teller as Reed Richards (aka Mr Fantastic), Fox’s reboot of the Fantastic Four series immediately sets itself apart by ageing back the characters to their teen years. Reed is no longer a Nasa scientist; he’s a genius high school student who figured out teleportation in his garage as a child with his buddy, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). Several years later, they present their improved device at a high school science fair, where they are noticed by Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara). Dr Storm then recruits Reed to work in his laboratory, which is confusingly also some kind of academy for teen geniuses, and part of a shady organisation that creates weapons for the government. The film doesn’t do a very good job of elaborating on that.

Anyway, Dr Storm recruits Reed to work on his project: travelling to another dimension in order to harvest the energy and resources found on the other side. Comments about the obvious political commentary aside, Dr Storm also recruits Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) — the arrogant protégé that started the dimension-travelling project — and his (also) genius-but-hot-headed son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan). Together with Sue and Reed, they successfully create the dimension hopper, pleasing the board members of the Baxter Organization (aka the shady guys who fund the lab). The board members then try to sell the project to the government, which prompts our genius teens including Ben, who Reed called over, to sneak in and give their creation a whirl before they lose it forever to the government. As you can guess, that’s when things go terribly wrong (or right?), giving our heroes their powers; Reed becomes stretchy, Sue becomes invisible, Johnny catches fire and Ben becomes a big, angry-looking rock.

If you think I took my sweet time telling you the beginning of the story, that’s because this is exactly how it happened in the film. For the first 45 minutes or so, you are shown what is essentially montage after montage of the Fantastic teens putting together the dimension-hopping machine, littered with some mandatory Reed-Sue flirting to remind us that, yes, these two are supposed to become a couple someday. It’s puzzling that, somehow, in the entire eternity it took to show us the first act, none of the characters received any kind of meaningful characterisation. In fact, Reed himself disappears at the end of the first act, only to reappear out of the blue a completely different character. The characters do hint at complex pasts that can potentially become excellent story beats; Reed’s feelings of alienation from his family, or Victor’s troubled past with Dr Storm, but these beats are all mostly mentioned in conversations, then never touched upon again in the film’s two-hour duration.

My greatest issue with this film is that the character of Ben Grimm had so much potential to be good; he goes through some of the film’s most intense emotional beats with Reed, but, like most things in this film, this never gets any real development and is just magically resolved with stern looks and one-liners.

The third act, which is when our heroes finally get together to do something, was over before we got the chance to even warm to them. Victor, who disappears after the first act only to reappear as some sort of evil robot with psychic powers bent on world destruction, had all our heroes essentially beaten right from the get-go. To call the whole 10-minute sequence — one of two real action sequences in the film — a fight would be exaggerating it, as Victor, with his weird godlike powers, was clearly too powerful for any of the heroes. But, like all supervillains, he just had to make the mistake of keeping the heroes alive to witness the destruction he’s wreaking, only for them to have the cliched “he’s stronger than any of us, but not all of us together” speech and basically beat him in one punch. The film then closes out with an ending sequence that unabashedly sets the audience up for a sequel; one whose arrival is doubtful, given the utterly dull opening feature. As flawed as it was when it was first released in the 2005, the original film still stuck to the tried-and-true formula of quickly getting the origin story out of the way to get to the good stuff: the characters and the action. This film, however, seems to only be focused on setting up story beats for a sequel, as nothing is ever really explained or fleshed out. Trust me and sit this one out. Wait for the sequel, if it ever comes out; it’s at least bound to be more interesting than this one, though even that’s not saying much.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kanin Srimaneekulroj
Position: Reporter