Film Review: Fantastic Four

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Fantastic Four Plot Summary:

As a kid, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) vowed to unlock the secrets of inter-dimensional travel. When a renowned scientist (Reg E. Cathey) sees his work, Reed works with other gifted students, but the journey to another dimension has long lasting effects for Reed and his friends.

Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four.
Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein

First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way right now: Fantastic Four is not the worst movie ever made. It’s not the giant pile of crap that many are making it out to be. I’ve reviewed a lot of movies, but I’ve never seen such unfair vitriol and hatred towards a film that stems from critics who were influenced because they heard this was a troubled production, or it’s not what they selfishly wanted from a Fantastic Four movie, or it’s because they don’t like Josh Trank’s demeanor during press and interviews, or because there was a review embargo until the day before release. It’s these opinions that make the flaws of the film blown up to unfair proportions. This always happens with superhero movies. I’m so sick of this mentality that superhero movies have to either be the greatest movie ever made, or the worst. If this didn’t have the name “Fantastic Four” attached to it, the film would not be fighting to get to 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. The quality of this film has been completely over blown to absurd levels. I apologize for my rant, and now I’ll get to the actual review. While I’m personally disappointed with the film because I had high hopes, I still believe this is a very solid effort, but it blew a lot of opportunities, making the final result rather sad.

The first twenty minutes really grabbed me. I love the overall tone and feel. It’s small and personal, which we never get with these movies. The childhood bond between Reed Richards and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), played by Owen Judge and Evan Hannemann as kids respectfully, made it easy for me to instantly connect with the film. There are so many subtle touches that really endeared me to the story. This continues when Reed goes off to Franklin Storm’s school. There’s a great scene between him and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) in the library that gives us a true connection to these characters. It’s not cheap one-liners or manufactured clichés. They just act like regular people, but the actors play these intricacies perfectly.

First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way right now: Fantastic Four is not the worst movie ever made.

When the relationships are firing, that’s when the film shines brightest. I’ve already talked about Reed and Ben, and Jamie Bell gives a great reserved performance as Reed’s right hand man. He doesn’t say a lot, but whenever Grimm is annoyed, or playing it awkward, Bell flawlessly captures the emotions without over doing it. It’s Miles Teller though who really carries the first half hour. He’s both the awkward science geek, but also funny, just not in your face about it. He’s an exceptionally easy protagonist to latch onto.

Reed’s character is also fleshed out by the presence of Victor von Doom, played by Tobey Kebbell. I’ll just say this about Doom – you either buy him in the first scene, or you don’t. I did. This character could have easily come off as a goofy embarrassment, but Kebbell plays it just right. The first time you see him is disturbing. This is a much better version of what Peter Sarsgaard tried to do with Hector Hammond in Green Lantern. Doom was a fascinating character because he’s jealous, mouthy, unsettling, but also influential. You like him just enough, and despite his flaws, you enjoy watching the rivalry play out between him and Reed. When Kebbell becomes the full fledged Doom, it’s a mixed bag. Aside from a couple goofy shots where he walks around in the cape, the look of the character was very good. Doom is given one chilling sequence where he wrecks shit. This is how I imagined Ultron would have been if done right. Unfortunately, they completely toss Doom aside at the very end, but we’ll get there.

Hero shoot from Fantastic Four
Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

The other relationship I enjoyed was between Franklin Storm and his son, Johnny, played by Michael B. Jordan. After Johnny almost kills himself in a drag race, Cathey’s acting reaches another level in a tense conversation between the two. Jordan definitely has some great moments as Johnny Storm, but his character was way underdeveloped. This was a complete waste of Michael B. Jordan, who’s a fantastic actor. You’re glad he’s there, but they could have done so much more.

This is where my criticisms start to trickle in. As much as I’ve praised the character building, relationships and acting, the potential for this to soar was so much greater. It feels like something’s missing. They could have delved more into Reed and Doom. They could have delved more into Reed and Sue. It’s impressive how much you feel for these characters, despite how quickly the film goes by. The awkward pacing does hinder the film quite a bit. The dialogue also could have been better. I wish this script had more time to marinate.

While the pacing makes for an overall clunky movie, it’s infused with tons of great individual moments. The sequence where everyone discovers their powers is gut-wrenching. This isn’t “Yay, we have super powers,” but more like, “Holy crap, we’re scared shitless,” and that to me is more compelling. Johnny Storm’s fire effects were freaky, but the real highlight was seeing The Thing for the first time. This really hits you hard, as it perfectly conveys the tragic nature of what happens to this guy. The look of the character is very effective, as is the voice. This is the sequence where you could feel Josh Trank’s vision shine through. Much like his previous film (Chronicle), it’s very powerful.

Johnny and Sue Storm in Fantastic Four
Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein

That leads us to where Fantastic Four ultimately falls apart – the third act. It’s almost as if 900 studio executives came in and ripped it from Trank’s hands in the final twenty minutes. It goes too superhero movie, and it’s frustrating because the film was better than that. Not only is it too superhero, but it goes 2002 Spider-Man superhero. The last action sequence is nothing but a big dumb cartoon, and even lowered itself to a piece of dialogue that was forced beyond belief. I wish like hell the climax fit the tone of the previous hour, but someone got scared and forced a mediocre action scene. The last twenty minutes is a complete and utter disaster.

Fantastic Four is studio meddling at its core. All the elements were there to make this a great film, but they had to Marvel-ize it at the end. I would have been interested to see Josh Trank’s true version, but at the same time I have to lay the blame at his feet. Part of the process of making a big budget studio film is battling your vision through the studio mumbo-jumbo, and while other directors have achieved this, he wasn’t able to, and the result is a solid, but heavily flawed film. I suspect the next Fantastic Four movie that gets made will be under the Marvel Studios umbrella.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.
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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.