Fantastic Four review: subpar bore

Just give Marvel Studios the damned license back already.

That was my first thought after leaving the screening of “Fantastic Four,” a massive misfire on so many levels there’s just no way to justify 20th Century Fox’s continued stranglehold of Marvel Comics’ First Family.

This is an unmitigated disaster on every level. Rather than a different, but engaging twist on the cornerstones of the Marvel Universe, it’s a shoddy, sloppy effort that seems to serve one purpose — keeping the Fantastic Four license under the Fox banner until it can be done properly.

Fantastic Four trailer - Reed RichardsWhile Iron Man and Captain America while force fans to pick a side next year in “Captain America: Civil War,” I’ll firmly be on Team Marvel Studios if this is the best Fantastic Four that Fox can present.

If this latest effort accomplishes anything, it’s making fans reconsider any animosity toward the Tim Story-directed “Fantastic Four” and “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Those films had problems, but there was clearly a love of the source material and actual effort to do right by fans. This update spectacularly fails at Relaunch Rule No. 1 — being better than its predecessor.

Poor Miles Teller (“Whiplash”), Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”) and Jamie Bell (“Snowpiercer”) have no chance here, which is a shame as they’re talented performers. They get little chance to shine instead stuck going through the motions of a film with little purpose and less heart.

Director Josh Trank, who previously thrilled audiences with “Chronicle,” didn’t set out to make a typical comic book movie, but this isn’t a compelling sci-fi or character study either.

THE FANTASTIC FOURThe film clocks in at 100 minutes, which isn’t nearly enough time to restart a franchise and establish the characters. Instead of character development, the bulk of the film is dedicated to the group along with tech whiz Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell, “Wrath of the Titans”) trying to cross over into another realm. Maybe for extreme science geeks these scenes are fascinating, but for most of us, this endless sequence is the stuff that montages are made of to skip to the good part.

To the film’s credit, the event that leads to the team gaining their powers is a smart modern update on the 1961 origin where the characters race to space to beat the Russians. The effects of Jordan’s Human Torch are the one well-executed throwback to the comic and is the best the character has been conveyed on screen yet. As far as positives go, that’s about all the film has going for it.

At the core of the team and what separates them from the Avengers and the X-Men is its family bond. The script, compiled by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Trank, offers little reason for this group to be associated let alone providing any sense of a family unit.

THE FANTASTIC FOURFor all the controversy over Mara’s Sue Storm and Jordan’s Johnny Storm being siblings, there’s hardly any effort to showcase that bond or show any closeness between Sue and Johnny. Good luck trying to find any trace of romantic sparks between Teller and Mara as well.

After the team gains their powers, the script inexplicably fast forwards a year and zooms past the typical power learning curve segment to show them working with the government.

In the best comic book movies there’s a spirit of fun, liveliness and excitement where you can easily envision yourself soaring through the clouds, shooting repulsor rays from your suit of armor or kicking butt with a talking raccoon. Making the heroes government lackeys is a quick way to keep audience interest low.

Trank’s take on the FF is so sterile and devoid of emotion that the characters come across as distant, cold and otherwise unlikeable. The actors don’t seem sold on their characters either and their performances either come off as flat or indifferent. It’s hard to blame them. Bell especially seems like he’d rather be anywhere but this movie and his take on The Thing is especially disappointing. Maybe it was due to the lack of pants?

20th Century Fox Film Corp.
20th Century Fox Film Corp.

Stan Lee didn’t even bother making his seemingly contractually obligated cameo. Sign No. 2 your Marvel movie is in trouble — Lee doesn’t want any part of it.

The final act fight with Doom, who’s now become a villain simply to give someone for the team to battle, reaches “Batman & Robin” levels of incompetence with terrible dialogue, effects and a nonsensical conflict.

It’s hard to pin down the most embarrassing moment, but the nods to the fans like The Thing yelling “It’s Clobbering Time!” as if that could somehow undo the rampant disregard for the comic would rank pretty high.Fantastic-Four-Dr-Doom

Like Richard Donner before him, Trank’s vision of this Fantastic Four movie seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way such as a deeper exploration on the psychological effect of gaining these weird powers.

There’s a slew of scenes from the trailers that didn’t make the final cut of the film. A longer cut of the film might not have saved it, but maybe it would help make more sense of everything.

For Marvel die-hards, “Fantastic Four” exceeds every terrible expectation and there’s little reason to hope that going forward Fox is even capable of making the adventures of this foursome remotely fantastic. At this rate, I’d just settle for entertaining.THE FANTASTIC FOUR

Rating: 1.5 out of 10

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  • fred

    Ouch that bad my friend, so you tell us what you really thought about the movie haha. Reviews have been absolutely horrible on this film, it’s currently at 10% on RT I believe. Jeff I’ve come to know you pretty well and like you’re a big CBM fan and you’ve always been as straight, honest and fair as any film critic I’ve ever seen. To hear you say it’s this bad definitely convinces me lol. The only way i’ll even give this a look is if after I see “Straight Outta Compton” next Friday and have some free time to waste, I might slip in another theater and give this a look. But after seeing you’re review and hearing so many bad thing about this film, there’s no way i’m wasting my money on this lol. I’m going to see “Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F” Monday, will you be doing a review on that film by any chance. Thank god I have DBZ and SOC to look to, if FF was all I had to look forward to this month August would probably be a total wash for me haha.

  • Yeah man, I still feel like I could have added more but by that point it was nuff said.

    The FF have so many great stories that now with available technology could be done in amazing fashion. Kirby & Lee, Byrne and Waid/Weirngo literally did all the work so I’m baffled why so often with the FF the wheel is constantly trying to be reinvented.

    Not sure about DBZ. Never got into it so I’d be going into the movie really cold and doubt I could do it justice.
    I’m stoked for SOC though!

  • fred

    Fair enough, DBZ is an acquired taste and I’ve been a big fan of it for a while. Even though you’re not really into DBZ I have a feeling you would probably come out of it more entertained than you was for FF and maybe by a long shot lol. It’s only showing one time per day in limited theaters and it’s already made over 3.5 million, that’s insane to me. And like you i’m super stoked to see SOC and i’m just as excited about Dre’s new album that’s dropping tomorrow, I hear it’s really good.

  • Jace

    I wonder if this movie bombs will Fox decide maybe it’s time to give Disney a call.

  • IF? My you’re optimistic.
    I’m ready to fund the Kickstarter to help the upstart company Disney the money to buy the rights back.

  • 100% agree with you. It’s just a complete failure, and it bummed me out because I liked the cast so much. I guess we can only hope that it bombs and Fox doesn’t try to make another one. If we’re lucky, maybe in a few years it will finally revert back to Marvel.

  • From what I understand money is not the issue – the contract Marvel bitterly regrets signing allows Fox to keep the rights more or less forever as long as they try to make a “serious” (as in not Direct-to-DVD) film every few years.

    If returns cant justify a sequel then I imagine Fox will make Marvel/Disney wait right up until the last minute given that the two studios apparently detest one another so much.

  • keith

    Sadly jeff I figured a year ago when they kept leaking crap kept telling us ahead of time how crappy the story will be how dark and gloomy the still were how the team look like they just met in each still. And they messed up the ultimate story line past the point of stupidity. I only feel bad for mike b Jordan. He can still come out of this to be a megs star I believe. Or at least with young or ladies.. I hear they like him.. with a good comedy or drama. I never like teller. He seemed annoying and too chubby to be Reed Richards. He can be funny so to take away his strength as an actor seems stupid. He seem like a sane Shia lebouef to me or in that line of actor. I was done once I saw the thing was so big that he look like a bad special effect. The girl.. meh.. I picked all this from fox shoddy pissed leaks.. thank god I didn’t suffer and won’t through it. Well at least Sony spider verse sounds better. Disney better get to work soon on getting this back. They don’t even need they own movie when they or if they get it.. they let them cameo and let the ish stank blow off for a min lol

  • keith

    Or just pre fantastic reed as a throw away in iron man to re set up the accident for the ff

  • One wishes Warners would enter the fray with a film adaptation of the original “Doom Patrol.” It might not beat Disney/Marvel at its own game, but done with some deftness and minus the darkness, it could be more fun than what Fox is putting out.

  • Oh man, you know Marvel wished they’d never signed off on any of those contracts now! They have seven years so Fox pushed to get this out this year otherwise they’d lose it. I just figure eventually Fox would see more money from a partnership deal with Marvel or just making them pay out the whazoo for it. Seems like the only way we’ll get a great FF movie

  • I’d love to see a Doom Patrol movie! You’re right it would fit in nicely with Warner’s darker take

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  • Thanks Erik!
    The cast is so much better, but you could tell they didn’t know how they could fix it either.
    I’d love to see Marvel take a crack at it so we could see once and for all the team get its due on the big screen.

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