Ever since Marvel’s rise to power with Iron Man, and their culmination of their expanded universe with The Avengers, studios have tried (and often failed) to recreate their success by copying their moves. Or if that wasn’t the case, they were desperately seeking to make more sequels, or simply rebooting their films, to hold onto their purchased rights like The Amazing Spider-Man.
So here we have Fox, who has actually done great work with Marvel’s own X-Men series and characters. However, their other attempts at launching franchises (ala Daredevil) have been less than successful. With that in mind, let us now discuss Fant4stic. I know it’s called Fantastic Four, but that’s what they put on the poster, and it’s my review, so I can call it anything I wish. I can call it Lee Daniels’ The Butler if I want.
Anyway, Fant4stic is a reboot to the Fantastic Four in film, which was first brought to life in 1994 with Roger Corman’s unreleased rights retainer, and then again in the silly but watchable 2005 rendition and its sequel. Now under the direction of Chronicle’s Josh Trank, this new film was meant to take the characters down a more serious route. However, all intentions backfired catastrophically, leading to the most universally reviled tentpole release since The Last Airbender. Bar none, Fant4stic is the worst superhero film I’ve ever seen, and simply one of the worst films I’ve ever suffered through.
Young scientist Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been working on and perfecting technology to make inter-dimensional travel possible since his childhood. When his invention grabs the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), Richards teams up with fellow technicians such as Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel) to construct the same technology on a larger scale. With the construction a success, the group, joined by Reed’s friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) takes the machine to a far off planet where they become mutated by the planet’s energy. With Reed going AWOL after the accident, the other three are militarized for global combat, but it’ll take all four of them combined to defeat Victor, who plans to annihilate earth.
Fant4stic has already been the subject of harsh criticism for its troubled production history. Made mainly as a ploy by the studio to hold onto the rights to the characters, the film has received a lot of notoriety for the appalling, childish, and unforgiveable behavior of hired gun director Josh Trank, having ridiculed fans and took to immature fits on Twitter, verbally harassing cast and crew on set (including bringing Kate Mara to tears), and continually missing out on days of production, and appearing under influence of drugs when he did show up. That said, if talent from the director actually managed to show in the finished film, that cocky spirit could be easy to ignore. But that’s just the thing with Fant4stic. There’s no talent to be seen.
The first half of the film is where most of Trank’s original ideas come through. When production had started, he’d wanted Fant4stic to carry influences from David Cronenberg’s The Fly mixed with the same thematic ideas he’d previously explored in his debut feature Chronicle, an interesting idea that did not pan out in execution. His writing feels completely detached from any realistic humanity, as all of his characters speak in awful exposition and half-hearted banter, and the very complex basic human emotion of joy completely eluding his grasp. He takes silly material like this so seriously that he forgets to have any fun along the way, always plastering the film with overwhelming dread in attempt to give itself pretentious self-importance. It’s similar to a case like Green Lantern, a DC property desperately trying to copy Marvel’s mindset, except now a Marvel property is trying to copy DC’s mindset with horrendous results.
He doesn’t have any grasp of the basic rules of subtlety, with all of his “character development” always established through talking, and not feeling. The film is littered with constant throwaway lines and inconsequential details that try to fool the audience into thinking these characters are deeper than they are. Details like Ben being abused as a child (and that abuse being the origin of his catchphrase “It’s clobbering time.”), Sue having been adopted and Victor having previously dated her, Johnny being a screw up that drag races by night, and Tim Blake Nelson’s government agent militarizing the four for field duty, all of them dropped just as quickly as they’re established. Trank also suffers in bringing his Cronenberg ideals to the screen, with the bodily horror segments too silly to be taken seriously, and bring all of the wrong horror roots to the forefront as well, with a supposedly intelligent group of characters making exclusively stupid decisions, such as the drunk team taking the unguarded teleporter (I’m serious, there’s no security guarding this thing) to Planet Zero because “Well, we built it. Screw leaving this to professionals! I want to go to space NOW! WAH!”
Even the four are an utterly weak point in the film. In hindsight, casting great actors in these roles like Teller, Mara, Jordan, and Bell seems like a goldmine of talent, but the quartet are saddled with weak material, and simply don’t have any spark or chemistry with each other. We are constantly *told* that they have a connection, we’re *told* they have chemistry, but never once do we actually *feel* it. At least the 2005 rendition’s characters felt like a genuine family that clicked with each other, but in this version, they don’t even appear to like each other, and with them spending so much time apart from one another, it doesn’t give you much to root for. They’re all reduced to simple, single notes, with Reed personifying naïve, Johnny simply existing to be “cool”, Ben is merely tough, Sue is sensitive, and I don’t even know how to describe Victor. It feels like extended blank-filling chunks of the film have been erased, with Trank becoming so interested in his characters talking rather than letting imagery simply speak for itself, resulting in an ungodly boring, talky, sluggish, thoroughly drab first half.
In fact, continuing on from the issue of the notorious production issues, Trank’s initial edit of Fant4stic was reportedly so lifeless and unentertaining that in a last ditch effort, the studio had ordered reshoots to salvage the film into something at least semi-watchable. In actuality, they just made things even worse. The film takes on an entirely new tone like complete whiplash, attempting to liven things up and make things more exciting, but actually infuriates you with its complete incomprehensiveness. Obvious seams in the production rear their ugly head, including Sue’s hair repeatedly changing colors between scenes, and the CGI used to bring Human Torch and The Thing (whose mannequin-like motion capture makes the cheesy 2005 suit look incredible by comparison) obviously rushed in order to meet deadlines, none more embarrassing than when Reed shifts facial construct and skin tone to disguise himself.
It’s only in the final twenty minutes that we get any actual conflict, where we see the four all banding together at last, as Victor makes his way back into the picture, having survived a grim fate forty-odd minutes into the film. To even reveal Doom playing such a huge part in this film is practically a spoiler given his late appearance and part in what is only the film’s second major action sequence well past the 75 minute mark, by which point it’s too late for the movie to give us any reason to be in suspense for the four leads. Often considered one of the greatest comic book villains of all time, Doom’s appearance here is both insulting and unintentionally comical, looking like a rusted, life size Oscar statuette with Christmas lights stuffed inside of it, and his world domination motivations hastily exposited with clear disinterest. He’s not even entertaining to watch as he has no personality, and isn’t even all that intimidating. It’s also strange seeing him with powers akin to the title character from Lucy, in that he can instantly kill soldiers and background stand-ins with merely his mind, yet because of the main character immunity of the Four, he can’t just as easily destroy them the same way. In fact, I actually timed his appearance, and found that he’s quickly in and out of the movie in only fifteen minutes. It’s actually kind of pathetic that he’s so minimally used and dispatched so easily. Bearing all of this in mind, why are we even meant to consider him a real threat? And if you thought all of that sounded terrible, this is before the final scene blatantly rips off the final scene from Age of Ultron, complete with one character getting cut off mid-sentence.
With all of this in mind, one would be forgiven for scraping the bottom of the barrel to say anything positive. For a film of this sizable a budget, one would at least expect the technical qualities to be top notch, which is absolutely not the case. Editing and pace; sloppy. The visual effects; cartoonish and disenchanting. Oh, and Phillip Glass just happens to write the music… Completely random and I have no idea why he would, but whatever. At this point I’m just getting furious.
But as for my honest opinion, and you’re going to call me insane… It's actually worth watching. Not because it’s good or even because it’s so bad that it’s entertaining. In actuality, Fant4stic should be an educational example of not only how not to make a superhero film, but how not to make a movie in general. Its mistakes should be studied and analyzed and then re-studied and re-analyzed to the point that the decisions made on this film simply become unthinkable in scripting and pre-production. It’s irredeemable boredom and insulting last minute hacking is a prime example of everything that the Hollywood system should not be, and only highlights just how desperate the studio was that this was how they intended to hold onto the rights.
Most of the people involved with this film would surely like you to forget it exists, and those same people will likely go on to do better things, but Trank’s days as a director seem to be numbered. It’s clear he hit a fluke victory with Chronicle, and with how repulsive his behavior has been, as well as Disney having fired him from one of the Star Wars Anthology films, I don’t see him recovering. I know a lot of hard work goes into making movies like this, and it’s hard to take criticism, but that gives you no right to treat your cast, producers, and fans (You know, the people you’re trying to sell your movie to) like disobedient mutts and condescending and abusing them. This is the kind of filmmaker that deserves no support, and that should be given no right to make a movie ever again by spreading word on their actions and never looking at another one of their films.
Bottom line, I do hope that many involved with Fant4stic eventually recover, but that still won’t distract from the unfortunate fact that they’ve garnered themselves infamy for years to come.
Zero Stars! / *****