Since it was announced in 2009, production for Fantastic Four has been plagued. Rumours of script rewrites, studio interference and production issues have been regular, and since its release nothing has changed. Director Josh Trank has effectively disowned the film, saying the finished product is not what he originally intended, and it has bombed ridiculously at the box office, currently only making $102 million worldwide, making it the 35th highest-grossing Marvel movie of all time. When considering that there’s only been a total of 39, it speaks volumes. Even Blade: Trinity made more than this. Blade: Trinity. But is Fantastic Four all that bad? Let’s find out.
Fantastic Four starts off following Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) as they develop a machine that can transport matter from one dimension to another, and back again. Reed is offered a scholarship at the prestigious Baxter Foundation, where with the help of Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), he managed to create a fully-fledged inter-dimensional transporter. After the transporter’s first usage, they are all given mysterious powers. Doom goes rogue and burns in the other dimension while the remaining four work out a way to save him. However, Doom certainly doesn’t want there help – in fact he has an entirely different agenda.
The film’s plot isn’t as bad as the rest of the very shot 100-minute flick, but it certainly has its issues. While it remains quite faithful to the Ultimates Universe comic-book continuity, I found there to be lots of conveniences sprinkled throughout, and some genuinely laugh-out-loud scenes. I’m not going to list them all, but I definitely took issue with their origin both on the other planet and on Earth. They are initially given their powers on a shuttle, where different spurts of liquid hit each of the characters (expect Sue, who stayed on Earth). This is not only contrived and unrealistic but downright lazy, and to be honest I prefer the explanation from Tim Story’s films to this. Sue also then receives these powers, although it’s yet again incredibly vague as to how she got them, or more to the point, how they all got different powers despite being in such close proximity. That aside, the plot is incredibly generic, borrowing lots of elements from Spider-Man with some of the high-school scenes, but most notably Man of Steel once Doom’s plan materialises. When his scheme becomes clear, I’ll admit that I laughed in the cinema due to the contrivances of it, even down to the execution of his plan, which borrows directly from Zack Snyder’s far superior 2013 Superman film.
The characterisation is issue as well. We aren’t given enough time to learn about these characters, so to be honest we don’t care about them at all, and at no point did I feel worried about them because they simply weren’t developed enough to consider three-dimensional. The only two characters who are given any backstory are Teller’s Reed and Bell’s Grimm, although this is only through hammily-acted scenes in the film’s beginning that still barely scratch the surface. Other characters are given throwaway expository lines of dialogue to attempt to give us a reason to attach ourselves emotionally, but Simon Kinberg’s scrip just isn’t up to that standard. In other ensemble superhero films, such as X-Men: First Class or Watchmen, we are effectively put in the same situation, insofar as we are introduced to a team that we haven’t seen before, but in those films time is spent fleshing out the characters, so when the more impactful moments come about, such as Rorschach’s death or Magneto shooting Professor X, we actually give a damn, but not here. I haven’t even mentioned Toby Kebbell’s disastrous portrayal of Dr. Doom, which is ultimately not his fault, it’s all in the design. The performances here aren’t the issue, aside from a couple of wooden performances, most notably from Reg E. Cathey, who plays Johnny and Sue’s father Franklin, who is very monotonous in his delivery.
The film’s design doesn’t helps its cause much either. It is very murky aside from a few establishing shots of the (unspecified) city that the four inhabit. From Reed’s childhood lab, to the Baxter Foundation, to ‘Planet Zero’, the mysterious planet where they got their powers, everything appears to have the same dull colour scheme, mostly greys and blacks, but even films very bleak in tone such as The Dark Knight has enough sprinklings of colour to set it out – but that did also do dark a lot better. It’s no surprise that Marvel Comics actually axed its Fantastic Four scripts, because what we see here deviates very far from the source material. The four don’t have their trademark blue and white costumes, and the bleak tone of the film is a far cry from the fun, playful tone of the cosmic-based comics. Dr. Doom is dreadful too, also taking from the Ultimates universe insofar as he looks nothing like Dr. Doom, just a man covered in metal. His powers are unspecified and his costume is simply horrendous – they even managed to ruin his trademark hood. Although it doesn’t look like melted bin bags as it did in leaked set photos, it doesn’t look a whole lot better.
From a technical standpoint, Fantastic Four isn’t quite as bad as elsewhere. The CGI is very hit-or-miss, with some shots looking fantastic, particularly The Thing, which is by far the best incarnation we’ve seen so far, and Sue’s invisibility is done quite well too. That said, when Reed uses his powers of stretching it looks awful, not too much better than the dreadful CGI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the worst part is by far when he uses his abilities to stretch his face to look like someone else. Not only does that make no damn sense, but it looks even worse than CGI Arnie in Terminator: Salvation. Trank’s direction is okay, with a few nice shots here and there, but he never gets the chance to shine due to constraints laid upon him by the studio. The music doesn’t stand out either, and like the film itself, is just quite generic. In fact, I can’t remember it at all, and I only saw this film 5 hours ago.
It’s hard to decide who’s to blame for one of 2015’s biggest bombs so far. You could argue that it was director Josh Trank, who was reportedly argumentative and abusive towards his cast on set, or the studio, who clearly forced Trank into a corner, causing multiple reshoots and drastic eleventh-hour changes. It’s unfortunate to think that unless Marvel Studios buy this property back, the worst will still be yet to come, since a Fantastic Four film needs to be made every seven years so Fox retain the rights. Rumours have been circulating of an crossover with the X-Men, but I certainly don’t want that to happen, because the X-Men universe is too great to be desecrated by bringing in the continuity of this shameful cash-grab. Aside from a few glimmers of hope and wishful thinking, it’s not a surprise that Fantastic Four tanked, because unfortunately it was simply plagued from the start.