At the heart of “Fantastic Four,” the latest big-screen reboot of Marvel Comics’ foundational superhero team, there is an important lesson: Don’t drink and teleport.
Seriously, kids, it leads to bad things — like this movie, which is perhaps the most ill-conceived and poorly executed superhero film of the modern era. (And I’ve seen the Ben Affleck “Daredevil” as well as both of Nicolas Cage’s “Ghost Rider” films.)
“Fantastic Four” — which, based on the odd marketing, you might think was actually titled “Fant4stic” — is a superhero film with very little superhero action, a $120 million blockbuster with spectacularly shoddy special effects, an ensemble piece starring promising young actors that wastes their talent on a cringeworthy script.
It is a failure in practically every way.
It all starts when some gifted young scientists make the mistake of drinking too much and deciding to venture to another realm in their newly created teleporter.
Granted, the machine they refer to as a teleporter is really more of an interdimensional gateway, but this just reinforces the main point: If you’re about to transmit your person through a tear in the fabric of reality, you should probably do it while sober.
This movie, on the other hand, may require a drink or three to numb the pain.
The film follows Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Susan Storm (Kate Mara) and Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), all of whom were recruited by Sue and Johnny’s father, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to work at a secret facility for young geniuses. Their project is to build a machine that will transport them to a mysterious alternate dimension, which the elder Storm keeps insisting, for no apparent reason, will lead to an energy revolution.
When they succeed, a sneering suit announces that they will be sending trained astronauts on the first manned mission. Out comes the flask, and soon the members of the group, along with Reed’s friend from school, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), are on their way to the world’s first interdimensional TUI — teleporting under the influence.
When they return, they’ve lost Victor, at least for the moment, and they’ve all developed strange powers: Reed can stretch his body to extreme lengths, Johnny is a human fireball, Susan can turn herself and other objects invisible, and Ben is grotesquely covered in orange rock, or at least a computer-generated simulation of the stuff.
The characters have the same names and essentially the same powers as in the comic books, which helped launch Marvel Comics in 1961, but otherwise the movie barely resembles the comics that inspired it.
At its best, the comic was a family-driven soap opera with the pulpy aesthetics of golden-age sci-fi. The visuals, as drawn by Jack Kirby, who helped define the Marvel style for decades, were feasts of spaced-out imagination. It was a story about the bonds of family, about crazy adventures in far-out space and science, about human struggle and cosmic wonder.
In contrast, the movie, as directed by Josh Trank and scripted by Mr. Trank, Simon Kinberg, and Jeremy Slater, is a glum, brooding affair that not only loses the appeal of the comics, but also actively rejects it.
It’s ugly, claustrophobic, and visually dull. When the effects do kick in, they sometimes look nearly as cheap as the ultra-low-budget “Fantastic Four” film produced by Roger Corman in the 1990s. The production was long-rumored to be troubled, and that may explain some of the film’s problems, but it’s hard to imagine that better execution could have rescued this grimy reconceptualization.
Why attempt to make this fantastic foursome something it’s not and never has been? Especially when the most successful superhero movies in recent years — Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man,” Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” and Joss Whedon’s “Avengers” — have all worked precisely because they captured the spirit of the source material so well?
The movie itself provides no hint of a rationale for its baffling decision to radically revamp the tone of the source material. The only explanation I can think of? Someone must have been drunk.
TITLE: “Fantastic Four”
CREDITS: Directed by Josh Trank; written by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank
RUNNING TIME: PG-13 for brooding, bloody superhero violence
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes