‘Fantastic Four’ Review: This Movie, This Monster

For decades, the cover of every Fantastic Four comic featured the promise that it was “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” and nobody had any reason to question that. Of course it was the world’s greatest comic magazine. It was the perfect blend of smartly written characters, mind-blowing science fiction and exciting action.

Such a mix should have made adapting The Fantastic Four into a movie a fairly easy process, except we’re now four films into that process and the closest anyone’s come to getting it right is b-movie schlockmeister Roger Corman, whose film was so embarrassingly cheap that it has still never been officially released after more than 20 years. For all of its faults – lousy effects, bad acting and more bad acting – at least that version had a fun plot and a rudimentary awareness of what Doctor Doom was about.

Would that Fantastic Four, 20th Century Fox’s latest attempt to jump-start a franchise, had that much going for it. The film has impressive effects, very good acting and more very good acting, but its story flatlines so hard it could be used as a drafting ruler. The film is all set up until a rushed and pointless payoff that dares to ask the age-old question “What if our heroes worked together?” and then demand a cookie afterwards.

Directed and co-written by Josh Trank, whose previous film Chronicle is still one of the best original superhero films ever made, Fantastic Four begins quite nicely. The world has been ruined by adults and our only hope for the future lies in another dimension that only young wunderkind Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been able to successfully access. In his garage, using leftover vehicle and video game parts. 

Richards and his new pals Susan Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) set about building a bridge to another dimension full of scientific wonders and precious resources. But then the government steps in and takes over and they all get ripping drunk. They invite Reed’s childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) over for a playdate and then go for an interdimensional joyride, and come back covered in fire, rocks, invisible energy and whatever the heck it is that lets Reed Richards stretch his body like Play-Doh.

It takes a while to get to this important point, in which the thrill of exploration is cut short by the horrors of transmogrification, but so far it seems well worth the journey. We have come to like these characters, and come to understand their drive. Scientific breakthroughs and the hope for a better tomorrow motivate our heroes to achieve great things, and youthful cockiness gets in the way. So far, so Fantastic Four, and then… nothing really happens.

Fantastic Four is only one hundred minutes long but it moves like study hall. The plot simply never kicks in. It’s all inciting incident and then morose faces and a last minute glowing MacGuffin Spire of Absolute Destruction that can only be defused by punches. Every single other one of the Fantastic Four movies had more action than this, even Tim Story’s cheeky conversational entries. Any awe is soon abandoned in favor of brief training sequences in warehouse rooms.

And any semblance of plot is tossed aside as uneventfully as possible. Ben Grimm works for the government, but his missions are all off-screen. Reed Richards flees captivity but is recaptured before he accomplishes anything and resumes his work as if nothing happened. Susan Storm listens to Portishead and stares at computer screens until she gets to say she did something, and Johnny Storm whines to his dad about wanting to be a soldier but then he never actually does it.

All the while a great cast is forced to mope helplessly through a script that’s all nuts and bolts and never properly assembles. This isn’t “the world’s greatest” anything. It’s barely even a superhero movie, and ultimately fails to entertain on the most fundamental levels unless your affection for these characters is righteous and strong. 

What Fantastic Four fails to grasp, at its own depressing peril, is that taking the source material seriously didn’t mean the movie couldn’t be fun. There was joy to be found in the Fantastic Four comic books: family squabbles and high adventure and way-out inventions and dastardly villains and the everyday nonsense that comes with being a celebrity superhero. This movie has none of that and, what’s worse, it has only replaced those winning elements with the last-minute promise that next time, maybe, in the sequel, it won’t suck.

And we have every reason to question that.

Images via 20th Century Fox

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.