Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Run Time: 100 mins
‘Fantastic Four’ is Marvel’s fourth attempt at bringing these superheroes to the big screen, after the 1994 failure and the cheesy 2005 and 2007 outings directed by Tim Story. This time, young director Josh Trank is at the helm after impressing with his low-budget superhero film, ‘Chronicle’ in 2012 and 20th Century Fox decided to give him a shot with this respectable material. However, production of this version has been plagued with problems. Trank reportedly treated the film crew terribly, trashed his house and ultimately was unprofessional. Fox executives didn’t like the finished film and reshoots then had to be carried out, with some reports hinting that Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service) stepped in to direct the reshoots after Trank was allegedly deemed incompetent. All this bad news culminated in Trank leaving (more likely kicked off) an upcoming Star-Wars spin-off. Fox was so sceptical of the film that the critic embargo for the film lifted on the day of its release so bad word of mouth couldn’t get out. Unfortunately when the film was released, it tanked hard at the box office and has an abysmal 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the worst rating for a Marvel comic book film ever.
I realise I am in the vast minority here but I found ‘Fantastic Four’ to be a thoughtful, dark and entertaining reimagining of the iconic superheroes but unfortunately it is marred by a tonal shift in the film’s tacky and incoherent third act which undoes all the good work of the first two acts and culminates in an end battle which is utterly horrendous. It is by no means the best superhero film that has been released in recent year and with comic book films setting the bar so high, it is very hard to stand out in an already saturated market. But if someone were to ask me what the worst comic book film ever to be released was, this film wouldn’t even come into mind, not even close. When one reads between the lines during the film, it is quite clear to work out what scenes / ideas were who’s in this film (Trank or Fox) and this has culminated in what I believe another film where the studio has disowned their property – take a look at the development with Edgar Wright for ‘Ant-Man’ for example. There is a really good film absolutely screaming to be looked at here and unfortunately, it is undermined by the last minute reshoots which are so blatantly obvious – look at Kate Mara’s hair for example in different scenes and Miles Teller’s facial hair.
What has been salvaged in the final cut however, is still promising and shows off a spark of brilliance of what the film was meant to be. In early marketing for the film, Josh Trank cited inspiration from David Cronenberg filmography, most notably ‘The Fly’ and ‘Scanners’ – a sci-fi horror first, a superhero second just like last year’s ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ had many traits of a political thriller. This is something that has never been done before and sparks of these ideas have been left in the final product and it is beautiful to behold. When the Fantastic Four first wake up to discover their powers, it is chilling and they feel shock and disgust with themselves. When Doctor Doom walks through the facility and kills people, which is rather gory for a 12A I must add, again this is exactly what Trank had promised – a sci-fi horror. I also like the fact that Trank chose the film to be devoid of humour – too many comic-book films rely on cheap, dumb humour to entertain fans whereas this film cuts the humour out to make the film more dark and serious. There are still slight moments of comic relief but not consistently.
The casting here is very good. Miles Teller makes for a serious and emotional Reed Richards and Michael B. Jordan is tongue-in cheek as Johnny Storm. Kate Mara is competent as Sue Storm but doesn’t really advance the story anywhere. The only weak link out of the four is Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm who isn’t given a lot to work with and is missing from large portions of the film, surprisingly. The Fantastic Four themselves are miles ahead of the 2005 incarnations and now that they have been established, I’d be happy to watch them in future sequels. The cast is rounded off by Reg E. Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson as Franklin Storm and the sinister Dr Allen and a small cameo by the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta. Toby Kebbell plays the film’s villain which is horrendous. In human form, Kebbell shines but once he becomes the villain, he is a run-of-the-mill villain who unfortunately due to the reshoots is only a villain for about 10 minutes and then gets quickly killed off. With a year full of sinister comic book villains like Ultron and Yellowjacket, the iconic Doctor Doom is by far and away the worst. He lacks any motive and in terms of the CGI work is a total botch.
The first two thirds of the film are a pretty good build-up to what would appear to be a satisfying third act. The characters are fairly well established, with the exception of Ben Grimm and the pacing is suitably slow in order to set the scene but all of Trank’s good work is undone in the third act’s tonal shift which descends into a generic sub-par affair with poor visual effects and a terrible script. As mentioned, I suspect this is probably where the film was reshot as it doesn’t tie in with the dark, gritty tone of the first two thirds. The fact that the film is only 100 minutes in length is questionable as many comic book film nowadays are almost always comfortably at the two hour mark and with a good third-act, this is where it should have been. Instead it is 80 minutes set-up, 10 minutes fight, then credits. Even the score by horror-veteran Marco Beltrami and the wonderfully talented Philip Glass has a tonal shift in the film’s third act where it is awful and cluttered whereas in the first two thirds, it is quite melodic and brooding.
Overall, ‘Fantastic Four’ is a film where the first two acts suitably set up these superheroes but a tonal shift in the third act undoes all this good work. The hints of what was originally in Trank’s film are brilliant and it’s a real shame that Fox executives couldn’t allow him make the film he wanted to make. However, what is left is competent and definitely has potential that can be explored in future sequels, if a sequel will ever happen which is doubtful and even more doubtful that Trank would ever return to direct it. On the film’s release day, Trank publicly disowned his own film as he took to Twitter and tweeted:
“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
I will reiterate that it is a real shame that Trank wasn’t allowed to make his own film and like he himself is, I am confident that the film would’ve been excellent. There are moments of brilliance here and some fantastic concepts but they are ultimately watered down by last minute reshoots that Fox encouraged that allow the film to become a very standard and cliched affair. It’s a real shame.