You know the score already: There’s a group of people with superpowers that must overcome insurmountable odds by learning to work together and ridding themselves of past grudges. What you’re probably unaware of is that this commonplace narrative arc can be passed off in such a humdrum way, lacking any emotional stakes, tension or development of characters and their universe. Fantastic Four is the battle-worn and weary version of superhero fare, subscribing to the belief that putting a slightly different spin on a normalized plot is the way to success. If the film were a person, it’d be someone who thinks Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre needed a darker color palette and more CGI.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is the boy-wonder scientist who holds the key to interdimensional travel. Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) sees the potential in him and brings him on to develop a machine that can take a team to the other dimension. On that team are Storm’s children, Sue and Johnny (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan), and an angry misanthrope scientist, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). After a horrible accident in the other dimension causes the team to develop special powers, they must learn to harness and work together when their world becomes threatened.
Fantastic Four is very simply structured: There’s the introduction to the team, the inciting incident, the breaking of pseudo-familial bonds and the rebuilding of morale through fighting a common foe. The problem is that those individual parts don’t add up to anything. The juice is most certainly not worth the squeeze.
What do we look for in this kind of run-of-the-mill superhero fare? Is it the charm exuding off of the heroes? Is it the well-staged action that will resonate with you far after the credits roll? Or is it the euphoria caused by seeing characters jump off of the page of your favorite comic books? Fantastic Four has none of these things, not even close. The actors are forced to recite dialogue mined from the deepest depths of generality. “No more Victor; only Doom,” the cynic says before opening a portal between dimensions and trying to destroy Earth. The viewer is forced to take everything at face value because there is nothing of worth beyond the lines spoken, only despair. The words written in the script are nothing beyond the ink that put them there.
The same goes for the aesthetics and action that steep everything in a brooding reality. The alternate dimension the quintet travels to gives the film an opportunity to create something otherworldly—something that could separate this story from the pack. Instead, it’s a bunch of jagged rocks and green power-changing goop, like a CGI-rendered version of the Badlands in The Lion King with half of the creativity put into it. Director Josh Trank—best known for his last project Chronicle—has no grasp on the material, shooting every scene through a dark graphite-hinted filter and never being able to find the irony and playfulness in the most outrageous of circumstances.
Fantastic Four is unimaginative and indiscernible from every other blow-’em-up blockbuster and does nothing to make you think otherwise. Kate Mara, Miles Teller, Toby Kebbell, Michael B. Jordan and Reg E. Cathey: These are the names of the people wasted in the name of franchise whoring and world-building. May their future projects have mercy.