“With great power comes great responsibility” is probably the best line to describe everything about Fantastic Four. I could write lengthy articles about the turmoil behind-the-scenes of this directorial follow-up to Josh Trank’s Chronicle, but the film largely speaks for itself. Despite a cast of talented, younger actors, and a franchise with more than enough interesting elements to pull from its 50-plus year history, Fantastic Four is a movie that seems to have amnesia about what it wants to be midway through. Blame it on whatever you want, the film forgets what it is and sacrifices its characters for dumb action moments that disappoint more often than they amaze.
Broadly speaking, the movie is about people coming to terms with superpowers. It isn’t a new concept, or a particularly interesting one, but its what the film chooses to focus on. Opening scenes of Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) try to tell how the two became best friends, while also displaying Reed’s intelligent, dangerous side. An inability to take into account the world around him during his scientific experiments make’s Reed the dangerous scientist that is somewhat fascinating. Meanwhile, Grimm stands in the corner constantly bewildered.
The other side of the scientist coin is Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a man who refuses to be held back by regulations and safety. His ambition rivals that of Reed’s, but is more antagonistic. Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is a scientist that tries to counter the two others’ wanton recklessness. She falls in line with her adoptive father (Reg E. Cathey), who airs on the safe side of scientist while still craving progress. Inter-dimensional travel is what brings everyone together, including Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), who is smart but also extremely reckless. Teens will be teens, I guess.
What is disappointing is that while I can make broad strokes about what a character’s attributes are, there is no arc for anyone in this film except Reed. Unfortunately, his arc doesn’t really take off until the third act of the film (which can’t be longer than ten minutes) and is hastily resolved. The problem is that Fantastic Four is a film about teenagers and young adults coming to terms with superpowers – you just have to infer that from brief moments of characters freaking out by what they’ve become. Once they get their powers, the film commits the worst sin you could possibly perform: it skips the second act. Or rather, it minimizes it to such an unnoticeable length, that it might as well not exist.
A “One Year Later” appeared on the screen after so much build-up and a reasonably well-done horror sequence of our heroes recoiling from their new abilities. When that happens in a film, it’s usually near the end or beginning of a movie and is there because you can pick up the pieces of a character’s trajectory fairly easily. When it happened in this film, it was about an hour into the film, and I laughed uncomfortably. Was this really happening? The film then proceeds to try to fill you in on the progress each character has made with their newfound abilities. Instead of showing them contending with them, we only see them succeeding with them. The moment came when the movie forgot what it was about. Then comes the third act.
There are interesting concepts that could have been explored further, had the film tackled them. Reed runs away immediately after getting his powers, so we don’t see him learn to adapt with them. That’s not okay, but what is more interesting is that Reed is the reason everyone else is suffering with these new abilities. His ambition, and his disregard for safety is the reason his friends are all tormented. Yet, the most we ever get from the film is characters saying “I know its my fault!” in typical heavy-handed superhero fashion. Having subtlety is fine, but part of me wonders if the film even understands that that is an interesting complication to explore.
Fantastic Four is really, really not good. For some it will just be a boring movie with loud noises. For me, it was a movie that would probably never be anything more than boring. Even if it had a second act, it lacks character arcs. The dialogue is tacky and feels a decade old. Its attempts to modernize feel trite and boring. What hurts the film most though, is that it loses its characters in lieu of large explosions and bad CG. The final fight with Dr. Doom comes out of nowhere, the team learns to work together, and then the film leaves it open for a sequel. Good luck with that one.