Review: Fantastic Four

This article was originally published to The Edge on 8th August 2015

Comic book movies are brilliant in part because they can be shaped to inhabit any genre, whilst still retaining comic book qualities. Captain America: The Winter Soldier took the form of a conspiracy thriller, while X-Men: Days Of Future Past was a time travelling adventure. Fantastic Four is perhaps the biggest departure from the superhero genre to be seen in recent years, because it has the tenacity to play the origins of these characters as a science-fiction in the vein of Interstellar: it’s about exploration and the daring side of science, and the consequences that has. It’s not a gritty film like The Dark Knight or the Daredevil TV show – they are crime stories. This is science-fiction.

Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a young scientific genius approached by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Carthy) to help him build an interdimensional travel device. Joining Reed is Franklin’s daughter Sue (Kate Mara), son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and the genius disestablishmentarian Victor (Toby Kebbell). But after successfully travelling to an alternate dimension, an accident leaves them all with unique and shocking physical conditions.

For the first half of the film, nearly everything is going well. Teller is geeky, driven, and kind as Reed. He’s a rejection of any and all stereotypes of nerds, without turning into Tony Stark. Bell says little and still impresses as Ben, who appears to be both sweet and potentially dangerous. Kebbell is brilliant as the soon-to-be supervillain Victor, layered and interesting. Jordan, who would have been expected to steal the show, is left with less to do than hoped however, and the same is true of Mara, whose portrayal of Sue is by no means uninteresting, but the film sidelines her in two rather galling ways, to its detriment.

There’s also an enthusiasm for science, and genuine wonder on display throughout. There are no science lessons delivered as exposition, though dialogue is devoted unfortunately to what’s happening. But when the trip to the alternate dimension is made, what is found is genuinely stunning. It’s part of a frequent display of imagination. Following the trip is the film’s best scene by far: we are reintroduced to each character in their now altered bodies, in horrific fashion.

And then things start to go wrong.

In a daring move, we jump ahead by a year, but with less than an hour to go until the credits roll, there is obvious pressure to wrap the film with the team united and fighting their enemy in a CGI wonderland, and so, the film struggles. At just 100 minutes, it is too short. These are interesting characters that we want to see more of, but they are often sidelined and brought back without the necessary space to make emotional beats and thematic meaning come fully to the surface. The treatment of Sue Storm continues to grate, especially as she is literally the only female character. The final battle makes for lots of CGI being thrown around – and it’s good CGI, and a good battle, but like everything else at this point it is too short. Yet even here there is daring – when Doom arrives, it comes in spectacular and slaughterous fashion.

With all those problems it would be easy to dismiss it all, but the truth is there is too much good here. The acting is good, the design is surprising and daring, as is the tone. Even when it doesn’t pay off as it needs to, the film (who knows how much of it is truly Josh Trank’s?) is still swinging for the fences.

Fantastic Four (2015), directed by Josh Trank, is distributed in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 12A.

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