Movie Review: Fantastic Four
By Ben Gruchow
August 13, 2015
For a good hour or so into Fantastic Four, I was honestly wondering how the movie was pulling such an absurdly low critical reaction. Even the best moments of Fox and Marvel’s second reboot of the franchise never really arrive at a point where you’d call them “good”, but you can’t call them bad, either. It beats the stuffing out of Tim Story’s insipid 2005 take on the series, for one thing, and there were enough of these perilously-close-to-good moments for me to consider the beginning of the movie fairly strong.
Then, it begins to fall apart - slowly at first, and then with startling velocity. Its greatest mercy is that it’s fairly slight at 100 minutes including credits; the asterisk there is that the really bad stuff lands with the force of a bomb at the end, and the resulting shockwave reaches all the way back through the film and demolishes the entire thing.
The movie’s problems turn up pretty early in those 100 minutes, but they’re mostly problems that I did my best to inoculate myself against going in. This is a movie about superpowers, obtained from extra-dimensional planets made of green energy; science has already taken a header out of a high window. You pretty much spot the movie its premise, and hope that the story and characters are engaging enough to suppress the eye-rolling reflex at plot machinations. On this front, Fantastic Four gives off the appearance of delivering.
Its first act is mostly about introductions, chemistry, camaraderie. Miles Teller’s Reed is acquired out of high school by the Baxter Foundation, owing to his successful teleportation of matter using a homemade device. Aided by fellow Baxter scientists Sue Storm (Kate Mara), her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan, underused), childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and a sort of kindred spirit in Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), he is tasked with building a human-sized version of the device, hoping to transport people to a strange planet known as "Zero" that contains enough energy to potentially meet our own planet’s needs.
The visit to Zero doesn’t go well, for either the story or the movie: a character makes a mistake, the energy that’s been detected displays some sort of sentience, and everything begins to go awry. One of the team members is lost, while the others are bombarded with varying types and degrees of the energy covering the planet. What happens after this is interesting. Remember the dippy introduction to the Four’s powers from the 2005 film, how it was played for light comedy? Not so here. The fallout from the accident is here played for traumatic value, with the characters involved in either a comatose or half-aware state, unknowing and not in control of what’s happening to them. The reveal of Reed’s limb-stretching capability, in particular, is a nicely unsettling bit of body horror that made me blink and sit upright; it’s the first of two incidences of the movie exhibiting a significant tonal shift that points in a vastly different storytelling direction.