Where to start with this one? The Fantastic Four are Marvel's first comic-book team created by Stan Lee with artist Jack Kirby. They debuted in 1961, and were comprised of Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic (he’s stretchy and a scientific genius/leader), Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman (she turns invisible, and can generate invisible forcefields and bubbles and eventually married Reed), Sue’s younger brother Johnny Storm, the Human Torch (he’s a hothead, literally and figuratively – he can shoot fireballs and fly) and Ben Grimm, the Thing, (he’s a big rock man with superhuman strength and a cheesy tagline - also a former college football star and good pilot). They each gained these different superpowers after exposure to cosmic rays during a mission to outer space. The thing that makes them different than other superhero groups is the family dynamic. They don’t really have secret identities (everyone knows who they are – they live in the Baxter Building in New York and it has a giant 4 on the top). They often squabble and hold grudges, but they love each other, and that is their greatest power.
There was a live action version in the 80s, it's hanging around places, but never really saw a big release - it's supposedly terrible.
The Fantastic Four made it to the big screen in 2005 in a movie directed by Tim Story starring Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic, Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, Chris Evans as the Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis as the Thing. It also brought in Charmed and Nip/Tuck star Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom.
The movie was averagely received – but honestly, I have always liked it. Having never really been a fan of the Fantastic Four in the comics, I thought the movie brought a lot of fun and silliness to these characters, and maintained that tone over a simple story of them needing to learn to work together.
That movie did have some issues, notably – Dr. Doom’s origin story was all weirdly wrong, and some of the casting was suspect. Okay – Jessica Alba’s casting was suspect – everyone else was pretty great. This was followed up by the sequel, also directed by Tim Story in 2007 – which introduced Doug Jones with Laurence Fishburne’s voice as the Silver Surfer. This one was not quite as good – and did something weird with Galactus, but I thought the Surfer looked amazing - and hey! the Fantasticar!
Both of these movies were Fox properties, and when Marvel studios got up and running they expressed interest in getting all their properties back. Fox decided they had better make another movie to keep the property – similar to why you suddenly had another Spiderman reboot when no one was really asking for it. So – they decided to reboot the franchise with an entirely new cast, and the result is this Fantastic Four.
The story begins by introducing us to young Reed Richards, a genius misunderstood by his classmates as he is working on a teleporter. He gets befriended by Ben Grimm, and the two of them stick together until Reed is recruited by Franklin Storm of the Baxter Institute. He moves into the institute that seems to be some sort of college? He gets friendly with Sue, Franklin’s daughter, and his son Johnny. Johnny is a bit of a hothead, and apparently a genius who would prefer to build and race cars. He crashes one, and so his father tells him he’s not getting the car back without coming to help work on their teleportation device. Franklin also re-recruits Victor von Doom – who apparently was on the project early, but was kicked out of the institute by the board – led by Dr. Allen.
Together, the four of them successfully build the teleportation device, realize it’s going to a different dimension (not really teleporting), and successfully test it with a CGI monkey. So of course, Dr. Allen then tells them thanks, and asks them step down while some full trained astronauts make the first trip. Well, this upsets the three guys, who respond by getting drunk – then deciding to go that night on their own (never drink and teleport!). Reed calls Ben, and they suit up to go to this other dimension. Johnny, Ben, Reed, and Victor all head through the device – with Susan realizing they left. The other place is super weird and looks a bit like the asteroid in Armageddon but with green glowing stuff under the rocks. Things go bad, they lose Victor, and then Sue is able to pull them back – but gets caught in an explosion.
The story jump cuts to the four being kept in a secret military base as we see how they have all been affected – Sue is phasing in and out of visibility, Reed is stretchy, Ben is a big pile of rocks, and Johnny is on fire. Reed hears Ben calling for help and sneaks out of his cage to go for him, but can’t do anything, so ends up escaping. Dr. Allen approaches Ben to work with the military in exchange for them helping to ‘cure’ him and the others.
Then – for some inexplicable reason – a year passes. We learn that Reed has been in hiding – Ben is working with the military, Johnny and Sue have begun to master their powers. Johnny is about to begin working with the military which terrifies Franklin, so he asks Sue to help him find Reed. They track him down in Panama where he is still attempting to find a cure for all of them – but apparently hasn’t tried to contact any of them in the year he’s been off the grid? This pisses Ben off, of course, but they bring Reed back, and he’s able to finish off their rebuilt machine almost immediately – so Dr. Allen (who has suddenly developed a gum chewing thing) sends some expendable military personnel to the other dimension (which they are now calling Planet Zero). Once there, they are approached by a limping figure, who turns out to be Victor – and they bring him back with them. Apparently there’s no thought to whether or not a year in this place would have been detrimental to him – they bring him back no questions asked. His containment suit has melded with his flesh – and he suddenly has some sort of telekinesis – which he promptly uses to explode heads. As it turns out – he’s not really angry at being left behind, but he decides to sacrifice earth in order to assure that “his world” will survive.
So he sets up a black hole that will suck all of this earth into Planet Zero. Our newly reunited team quickly gets over their differences and works together to stop him. If that sounded like too quick a statement on how that happens, trust me – it’s still longer than how it happened in the movie. The epilogue is the Four being all buddy-buddy as Reed still promises he will find a way to cure them and they get a new headquarters (which is not the Baxter Building in New York – what?) and decide on a name.
Director Josh Trank (he also did Chronicle) recently tweeted that a year ago – he had a great version of this movie that you would have loved but you’ll never see it, due to the interference by the studio. To me – that’s more than a bit shady. He tweeted that on the opening weekend of this movie, and it seemed like a desperate move to distance himself from it. Also – I don’t care what version he had a year ago, it still wouldn’t have been good.
Let’s start with what I liked:
- Favorite thing in it: I thought Michael B. Jordan was an exceptional choice for Johnny Storm. The guy is crazy talented, and if you're not already on his badwagon - get on it before Creed comes out later this year. He's exceptional, and is already building a strong career and is only going to get better as time goes on. He did a great job with what he had here, but unfortunately, there just wasn’t much there for him. He tried to breathe some upbeat life into this very morose and somber movie.
- I thought Kate Mara did an okay job, really giving Sue some interesting talents in terms of pattern-recognition, and I liked the development of her powers. I also read that she had wanted to read the comics as research, but the filmmakers explained that it was unnecessary because the film was an original story not based on directly on the comics. Shame on them – and boo to her for not getting them and reading them anyway. She was a little flat – and definitely not any fun – but I liked her interactions with Jordan. Their relationship felt real and layered.
- I liked Reg E. Cathey as Franklin Storm as well – determined and hopeful when it came to the success of the kids. So I guess, my favorite parts of this movie were the Storm family.
- Some of the look of the movie was interesting, and I actually did not mind the shifting of the comic’s cosmic origin to an alternate dimension origin in this movie. I thought that made sense, and the early story of Reed’s genius and the project he was working on suddenly being in line with what the military/Baxter Institute was working on made for an interesting set up to the middle of the movie.
Okay – Let’s shift over to what I did not like.
- I love Jaime Bell, and I thought he was an interesting choice for Ben Grimm, however, why did Chiklis’s suit from 2005 look better than this 2015 CGI version? And the Thing is always supposed to be the heart of the group – yes, bitter and angry that he can’t go back to being human, but he’s usually the one with the most heart, the one the audience can root for the most. He was just angry and bitter here, and the heart was missing. And yes, he did say that it was clobberin’ time, but only once – and unfortunately, the tone of this move was completely wrong for a tagline that fun. Also – why was he not wearing pants?
- Tim Blake Nelson is always interesting, and while he was originally going to be someone who becomes Mole Man, they changed that because this movie had so little to do with the comics. However, what was with that sudden gum chewing habit? It was never explained, and it was so over-the-top and obvious that it became really distracting. Aside from that, he was an interesting villain – but I really would have preferred to see his character from the Hulk come back.
- I am not a Miles Tellar fan – if you read my review of Spectacular Now, you remember that. Listen, he may be a great actor, but was his one-note portrayal of Reed in this movie his choice or the director’s? In either case, it’s bad. He’s completely disinterested and distracted throughout the whole movie. At least Gruffudd’s Reed was distracted, but still really invested in helping his friends and mankind as a whole. He loved science and was passionate about it. In this version, Tellar seems to be half asleep, and the two flirting scenes with Sue have no feeling to them. Also – why in the hell would he abandon his friends for a year with no contact? Every version of Reed Richards I have seen puts his friends and family first above all else. Even if he escaped and felt really guilty – he still would have tried to contact them almost immediately to tell them he was working on something and would come back as soon as he could. Then, when they bring him back – he sits in a box with his head down – and even when telling Ben he’s sorry, it feels flat.
- I think the pacing of this movie was a bit wrong – the first two acts of this movie (Reed and Ben as kids and starting their project, then Reed recruited and working with the others on the big project = 1.5; The four going over to the other dimension then getting and developing their powers = 2) takes forever and really moves slow. When the climax finally shows up (Doom coming back and deciding to destroy the world as our heroes save it), it literally felt like the climax was five minutes long. Also, the amount of time we spent just watching characters sit around working without really getting to know them was crazy. There was almost no character development.
- The tone – oh my goodness – the tone is a huge issue. If the MCU has proven anything, it’s that you can successfully make a fun superhero movie! Ant-Man was hilarious, but also had great action and some quiet, touching moments too! You do not have to sacrifice humor to make a good movie. And this one just really missed the mark. It was so dark – literally and figuratively, you couldn't see anything in that military base. The scene of them all trapped there was creepy and probably terrifying for kids. There was no passion or fun in any of it, and for a story centered around characters whose first trait has always been that they are a family unit, there’s little to no chemistry between any of them. I get that this is the origin story, and that some of them are just meeting, but come on. The most relaxed they seem with each other is in the last 2 minutes when they are trying to think of a group name. The whole thing was just such a bummer. You should never feel bummed out after a superhero movie if it’s done right (still looking at you Man of Steel).
- And perhaps my biggest issue – why, oh why, can no one bring a good version of Dr. Doom to screen? He’s easily one of the most well-known and powerful of the Marvel Universe villains. He’s an amazing character, and really fascinating, but for some reason – they keep screwing him up onscreen. They blew it in this one. They were even going to call him Victor Domashev, but changed that at the last minute, thank goodness. Dr. Victor von Doom was created in 1962 and first appeared in The Fantastic Four #5. Victor was the son of a Romani witch who became leader of the fictional nation of Latveria. He is a genius inventor with some mystical powers due to his sorcery skills. Kirby designed him using death as a model – replacing the skeleton with the metal armor. After being raised in Latveria, he was offered the chance to go to school in the US at Empire University where he met Reed Ricahrds. Doom created a machine intended to communicate with the dead, however, he got the calculations just bit wrong, and did not listen when Reed attempted to warn him and there was an explosion that ruined Doom’s face. Doom got expelled, and traveled the world – ending up with a clan of Tibetan monks. He forged himself a mask and a suit of armor, and took the name Dr. Doom.
- He returned to Latveria – taking it over, and becoming the legal ruler of the country. As ruler, he has diplomatic immunity – which allows him to escape prosecution for most of his crimes – and has total control of the nation’s natural and technological resources, along with its manpower, economy, and military. He has created an army of Doombots – robots that look like him and that he is able to control telepathically. His only real weakness is his arrogance. He does have a code of honor, which will often make it possible to work with him when needed to fight a greater foe. He was done particularly well (everything was) on the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon (it’s streaming on Netflix). Watch the below clip, it pretty much illustrates how awesome Dr. Doom can be if done correctly.
- I love Toby Kebbel, he was great in Rock’n’Rolla and wonderful in Wrath of the Titans. Honestly, I think he as Doom was great casting. The issue is not with him, the issue once again is with the material he was given. This version seems to be an anti-government, earth-defending, anti-social computer programmer/hacker? I get that in the ‘ultimates’ version he was in the experiment with the Fantastic Four that made them Fantastic, but he wasn’t in the original origin story – and I think adding him to that takes something away from the character because his powers were really self-attained, either through studying his mother’s sorcery, or using his immense wealth and genius to build something technologically superior.
- Here, he’s a bit whiny – and pining a tiny bit over Sue. Both this version and the previous version make the same mistake of attempting to make Reed and Victor ‘fight’, or at the very least, clash over Sue – she’s not just some trophy, she’s a character on her own. Also – exactly what powers does he have in this version? Exploding peoples’ heads? Nonsense. And why is he bent on sucking Earth into Planet Zero? Really, he's usually only concerned about Latveria, and since that is on Earth, he's never about destroying Earth. Also - his suit bonded with his body? No. I miss seeing him in his castle demanding people leave because they are trespassing. This is one character I would really love the MCU to get back. He really would be amazing as an Avengers Villain (if done correctly) – or uneasy ally while fighting some mad titan or other.
Overall, it’s just a miss. It’s somehow too long and too short at the same time – no one in it seems to want to be there, and it’s just such a downer! Honestly, I hope they get the chance to do a sequel, the four actors playing the four seem to get along well everywhere except on-screen. I hope they get the chance to make a good movie together.
3 out of 10 – lost points for being such a bummer. Lost more points for having the potential for being better – lost points for Trank trying to distance himself instead of trying to help. Gained points for the scene of them moving together – Johnny flying and Ben and Reed in a bubble Sue is creating, very comic-y and very cool. Gained points for Tim Heidecker from Tim and Eric playing Reed’s stepfather at the beginning. Lost points for multiple scenes of people putting goggles on and taking goggles off.
Bonus Video 1: Everything wrong with the old ones (still better than this one!)
Bonus Video 2: The Honest Trailer for the old one.
Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews