This is the third attempt to turn Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four superhero crew into Hollywood property as hot as X-Men and The Avengers. A low-budget 1994 indie film called The Fantastic Four was never officially released, while 20th Century Fox’s glossier 2005 offering Fantastic Four performed solidly enough to spawn a 2007 sequel, but has since been pretty much forgotten. One of its leads, Chris Evans, now stars in the far more successful Captain America franchise.
It would be gratifying to report that 20th Century Fox’s new Fantastic Four film finally gets it right. But sadly, this costly reboot from Chronicle director Josh Trank is an uncommonly dull summer blockbuster sunk by painfully misjudged pacing. Though it spends aeons on protracted backstory scenes introducing the callow quartet who will ultimately become the Fantastic Four – geeky genius Reed Richards (Whiplash‘s Miles Teller), his childhood pal Ben Grimm (Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell), teen rebel Johnny Storm (Chronicle‘s Michael B. Jordan) and his more focused sister Sue Storm (House Of Cards‘ Kate Mara) – it fails to make them engaging. When Sue reveals that she listens to Portishead to help her concentrate, it feels like a clumsy attempt to give a two-dimensional character a thin veneer of indie cred.
The quartet come together at the Baxter Institute, a government-sponsored facility for bright young things, but don’t acquire the abilities that make them “fantastic” until they teleport into a parallel dimension called Planet Zero with their shifty lab partner Victor von Doom (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes‘ Toby Kebbell). As they try to return from Planet Zero, an explosion in the teleportation device causes fundamental alterations to their DNA, and a terrified von Doom gets left behind.
Following this brief flurry of activity, Fantastic Four proceeds in the same sluggish fashion as before with one drab, drawn out scene offering small morsels of character development after another. The special effects are nifty, especially when Johnny Storm starts bursting into flames at will and Reed Richards gets to grips with his freakishly flexible limbs. But there’s no real drama until the final 15 minutes, when von Doom returns from Planet Zero thirsty for revenge. By this stage, it’s difficult to care what happens next: it’s simply little, too late.
Fans of the comic books are already speculating as to what went wrong during production. It’s been rumoured that Trank and 20th Century Fox clashed so catastrophically over the film’s content that X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn was drafted in for re-shoots, though Trank has denied this. Whoever’s to blame, Fantastic Four is a horribly botched remake that squanders a talented young cast. When the teleportation gizmo turns Ben Grimm into a hulking creature with ugly rock-like skin, it initially seems a shame that Jamie Bell will spend the rest of the film hidden behind a craggy CGI costume. By the end, it’s hard not to wonder if he was the lucky one.