The Comic book iterations of the Fantastic Four are often called Marvel’s First Family. Their stories take place in a bright four-color world where the heroes are a band of endlessly squabbling world-famous celebrities, sort of a Hard Day’s Night with pop superscience, where a man who can stretch really far feuds with his rock monster best friend one minute and in the next they battle a Mole Man. The basic skeleton of Josh Trank’s new film Fantastic Four is the same: an experiment gone wrong transforms a team of scientists into superheroes. But the tone is entirely opposite, a dour story of headstrong youths learning to harness their extraordinary, dangerous abilities in the face of adult systems that only wish to exploit them. Unfortunately it abandons those concerns to devolve into what feels like a studio-mandated completely generic CGI light show in its final third, complete with ubiquitous stupid laser beam pointing straight into the sky.
maybe we should take idiosyncrasy in these films where we can get it.
The film works best when it pits its characters against each other emotionally. Leader Reed Richards (Miles Teller) flees in crippling guilt over his inability to protect his friends, who in turn are furious with him for seemingly abandoning them in fear. Human Torch Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) doesn’t understand why his adopted sister Sue (Kate Mara) sees their new powers as a curse and not a call to destiny. As in his first movie Chronicle (also a spin on superhero tales), Trank effectively harnesses the skills of a very talented young cast, and makes the heart of his story the conflict between people terrified to varying degrees of what they might be transforming into. To that end you get an undeniably sad would-be summer blockbuster hinging on the broken bonds of an already tenuous trust, coated in a dingy haze of dirt browns and metallic grays, and packed with scenes like aforementioned rock man Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) being wracked with existential angst after willingly becoming a living weapon for the American military. Fantastic Four may have actually been the property to benefit the most from the more faithful translations and the bright house style of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, but every departure from that shiny pop canon, every miscalculated choice (and there are a lot of them) has the simultaneous effect of making this distinctive, of separating it from its MCU brethren. This movie ultimately doesn’t work at all; it’s way too much of a bummer and isn’t remotely exciting enough to compensate. But maybe we should take idiosyncrasy in these films where we can get it.