The only question that the new Fantastic Four manages to answer is, “Does The Thing have private parts?” The answer is no. I—and everyone who saw the movie—knows this because here the hero does not wear pants, and being that to cover up certain areas is a primary function of pants, they would seem pointless. That is this movie’s one glimmer of some kind of thought process.
There are many other questions that arise out of this movie like, “Why?” and “How?” and “Where are the exits?” and “Why are my eyes bleeding?”
To these questions, I have no answer.
But they are all questions that can be asked the second the film starts. We go back to the exciting time of the year 2007, when No Country for Old Men was sweeping the nation and a young Reed Richards tells his class he wants to be the first human to teleport. A young Ben Grimm stares at Richards as if he sees a hit a broccoli in his teeth and their teacher proves what’s wrong with the education system by basically telling him his idea was stupid and that he should think of a real career choice, like a pop star or reality TV star.
Grimm later goes home—located in a junk yard—where we discover that his soon-to-be catch phrase, “Its clobbering time” was formed out of traumatic sibling abuse. Isn’t it fun to learn where such delightful sayings came to be? No matter. Grimm finds Reed in a junked car and now they’re friends.
Fast forward seven years and the two young boys are have aged seven years to become men who look 29. Reed (Miles Teller), who is nerdy because he has to occasionally push up his glasses, and Grimm (Jaime Bell), who is tough because he chews gum and wears cool clothes, have just successfully (lasers and all) teleported a miniature plane to God-knows-where but are disqualified because, uh-oh, they also broke the basketball nets backboard. “This is a science fair, not a magic show! And you’re paying for that hoop!” screams the same teacher from memories past. Yes, because Houdini would often escape from a straight-jacket that was teleported from another realm.
Moments later they are recruited by Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue (Reg E. Cathey and Kate Mara) to join their super school of science. There they are making what just so happens to be the same kind of device Reed has made, but have had no idea how to complete it until they happened upon Reeds booth at the science fair. It’s never said what Reed has done different, maybe the writers didn’t want him to seem too smart because, you know, nerds aren’t cool heroes. I at least would’ve accepted love as the secret to his success.
But alas those writers (Josh Trank with “help” from Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater) don’t give us that kind of reasoning in this movie. Instead they gave us a movie that, from this point onwards, is nothing but a series of “and-then” scenarios (and then this happened, and then this…). Nothing has any rhyme, reason or style to what’s happening.
Even when we are introduced to Johnny Storm (Sue’s brother) it’s only to make the point that he’s a rebel because he likes to drive fast. Oh I should also like to mention that he also becomes a member of the science team so he can get his car back. These are teenagers we’re talking about, after all.
Along with Victor Von Doom (who is in this movie is a hacker, and not an ageless, eternal Nazi) the gang creates inter-dimensional time travel after many scenes of writing on white boards, typing on computers really, really fast and welding things to other things.
They then go to some rock world later called Planet Zero and after getting attacked by radioactive sludge they all get powers (except for Sue, who didn’t get to go on the away team because the script wrote that there were four pods, not five. What’re they gonna do, a rewrite? No, she just gets smacked in that face by residual energy).
Sue can now make stuff invisible and float around in a bubble, Johnny can fly around on fire, Grimm becomes the Hulks more earthly brother and Reed can now reach the cookies on the top shelf.
You’d think teens getting these powers would finally lead to fun and shenanigans, but no, because nothing happens in this movie. Ever.
Trank must’ve thought it would be better to just advance through all the important bits of an origin story—the playing with powers and exploring how those characters would react to them—and jumps one year in advance where Reed has escaped Area 51 via the vents (as you do), is now living in a barn in some hot country and the others are being used by the government to do whatever, adjusted to their powers, and are still boring to watch. In doing this the story seems to jump from simple origin story all the way to the sequel, where the team is torn up and dealing with whatever has happened a year after the first movie.
Instead, there is simply a massive gap where a bevy of information of character information missing, but seems to have been combed over in the script by continuing to make the characters one-dimensional. Sue continues to be vacant and emotionless about everything, even as she debates with Johnny over their duties now that they have powers. Johnny embraces the lifestyle as scientists swarm him to tinker with his suit and Grimm sits alone and ponders his new life as a walking mountain, but never speaks his mind.
They then capture Reed for whatever reason and then they re-encounter Doom, now looking like Destro from G.I. Joe, where now all of a sudden he wants to destroy the world…because. This leads to the most rushed and silly finale ever (and movie’s only real action scene) where the villain, capable of unlimited powers, attacks the team with rocks and is finally beaten with one punch. End movie. Where’s my cellphone?
Throughout all this, I had one more question I had to ask myself: “Why do all non-Disney-Marvel movies have to be such a serious bore?” The problem with many superhero movies in a post-Nolan’s Batman series is that too many of them are trying to aim for brooding and serious. Sadly, many of them simply come of drab, awkward messes where the characters look like they’re trying to adjust the sticks up their asses without anyone noticing. Fantastic Four is a perfect example of this at its worst.
The characters aren’t people but blobs that say nothing of value, and even in the few moments of fun banter between them, are completely indistinguishable amongst each other. They stare at each other and drag through their lines as if their inspiration was “Be Keanu Reeves from The Day the Earth Stood Still.” They all behave this way, dry and half-hearted as if trying to get through their lines of dialogue as fast as they can, maybe they have no idea what they’re talking about. What comes to mind are scenes with Reed and Sue trying to flirt, but the looks on their face are “let’s just get on with this.” Jordan as Johnny has his moments of charisma, but those are mostly in the beginning when the team is sitting around during their “Let’s get to work!” montage, albeit when the banter does get a few laughs.
Not to mention their story is about nothing, not even teamwork, so they can’t even pretend to exist in a world that cares about them. At the end, when Reed must give his rousing speech to get everyone to save the day, he claims “This is who we are now…may who its meant to be” as if to convince the team to get over problems they’ve had with having powers. But no one, other than Grimm who stomps around and seems mopey, seems to mind. Reed and Sue sort of deal with it with stoic, glazed looks when the topic of their powers come up, and Johnny deals with it like a rock star. It’s not even a fun world to live in because all of the movie takes place in a colorless science lab and the action only graces itself when rocks need throwing.
It wasn’t just that Nolan made a serious superhero movie; it’s that he took the material seriously. He knew what was needed to make the films work and used his talent and imagination to bring them to life. What was needed with Four was a sense of fun done with compassion and attention to the diverse band of characters. Instead we got four teens who look like 30-year-olds either whining or doing nothing is a bleak world with all the joy sucked into another dimension. At least have Johnny Storm throw a pie at The Thing. Something! Anything!