The latest film adaptation of Marvel’s Fantastic Four has been making the news for the past few days based on angry tweets and horrifically bad reviews. I checked it out on Friday, but wanted time to process before writing this review. This is not as bad as the Rotten Tomatoes scores and other news would indicate. Don’t get me wrong: we’re three buses, a long walk and eight quid in a taxi from good, but it’s not as bad as you may have heard. This review will have more spoilers than usual, because I’m including some spoilerish analysis about what I think went wrong.
Cast and Crew Information
Miles Teller as Reed Richards
Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm
Kate Mara as Sue Storm
Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm
Toby Kebbell as Victor Von Doom
Reg E. Cathey as Dr. Franklin Storm
Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Allen
Written by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, and Josh Trank
Directed by Josh Trank
In an origin story based primarily off of the Ultimate version of Marvel continuity, we see the results of the first experiments in teleporting human life.
Once the smoke has cleared and Reed speaks for the team when meeting government officials, we finally get a hint of the team these guys should be.
The third act destroys the entire movie by its complete lack of logic and emotion.
For originality, this gets credit for doing something different with a property that has been adapted more than once before. Mark Millar, writer of the first few issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four, is on the 20th Century Fox payroll as a consultant on their superhero movies, so that’s no surprise. His run on the main continuity FF title wasn’t nearly as well received, partly because the family aspect of the character dynamics was virtually non-existant. That carries through to this film: Sue is Johnny’s adopted sister, and the Storm family is the only family she’s ever known, but Johnny is somewhat estranged so the emotional meaning does not translate to the screen. I give it 4 out of 6.
The effects were very well done from start to finish. This is one part that nobody seems to mention in their reviews, perhaps because it’s more fun to dump on this movie and this aspect cannot be dumped on. From Reed using his powers to disguise his identity to the 100% CGI incarnation of the Thing interacting with physical props to the final battle. I give it 6 out of 6.
The story has its greatest problems transitioning between acts. The first act truly works, although the pace is very slow and plodding. Unfortunately, the entire first act is about working towards being the first to teleport. There is no race or competitor, so the knowledge of their eventual inevitable success eliminates the possibility of real tension. As with the original 1961 origin, government agencies are going to prevent the experiment at the last possible second, so Reed arranges for a small group to illegally complete the work, which I liked to see. Stretching it out that long, though, means that the second act has to start clean. Sure, there’s Storm family tension and a primative love triangle between Reed, Victor, and Sue, but Reed and Sue share a mutual interest and Victor appears to be dead, so that has no emotional resonance that carries through into the second act. The second act itself is focused on how the four deal with their newfound abilities. They do not come together as a team in any way, shape or form at this point. Ben does some things that didn’t happen in the comics, but which the Ben Grimm seen in the early issues of the 1960s would probably do. The second act ends with a group (not including any of the four heading through) the rebuilt teleporter and discovering Victor Von Doom is alive. At this point, the goals of the second act are abandoned, and Victor is brought back through. The third act is about learning that Doom believes that the Earth needs to be destroyed and he wants to go back to the lifeless planet. The team finally becomes a team well after the fight against Doom with his ill-defined power set has begun, and they only really come together after he easily defeats them all as individuals. Even in the end, Reed declares that they are a team, and Ben questions his statement along with the audience; there is no compelling evidence of a bond between these teammates. There should be, as there was by the end of the first act when three of them had worked together towards the common goal of teleportation, but it vanished throughout the second act. I will give them credit for Reed’s focus on curing Ben, but when Ben is ready and willing to accept who he is after yet another fight, undermining the entire second act, we just feel more disjointed as an audience. Broadly speaking, a great third act could have salvaged the disjointed and slow nature of the first two, but the incredibly weak final act we got instead ruined that possibility. I give it 2 out of 6.
The acting works. These actors are a good fit for the characters as they were represented by this script. The lack of connection between the scripted characters and the source material is not the fault of the performers. I give it 5 out of 6.
The production is well done. The production design fits the director’s vision. It is not the comic vision, which tends to be the brightest and most vibrant book on shelves at any given time, but is instead a better fit for the world of the Punisher or a similar dark and gritty hero, but the world feels complete and well defined throughout. Reed’s ability to single handedly develop technology similar to that of the entire think tank is well represented by the props and costumes as well. Sure, the pacing is slow, but that’s not because the editing was poor, but because that’s the way it was written and performed. There are also rumours that director Josh Trank was removed from the set and production before the final act was filmed and the final edit was completed. I give it 5 out of 6.
The emotional response should have been better. I spent three years working at a movie theatre, two of which were as both usher and projectionist, and I’ve learned to “feel out” an audience. (A disengaged audience is a disruptive, potentially vandalous audience.) Anyone over the age of 10 was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt through the first act, it started losing people throughout the second act, and we were collecting just waiting for the third act to end. When the battle was over and we had an overly long wrap up making the team status official, it just worked against the audience engagement. The five minute finale feels longer than the string of finales to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I give it 2 out of 6.
Overall, this is not a good movie, but it isn’t the atrocity that you’d think it would be based on the online press. The problem with a Rotten Tomatoes system is that it reports overall consensus rather than any “objective” criteria. There are movies that are poorly made from start to finish with higher scores than this, while only portions of this are flawed. It is, however, flawed in ways that everyone agrees ruin the film rather than those that are debateable as they are with other movies. There are portions that really work, but the script is not one of them, so the film cannot recover. I give it 3 out of 6.
In total, Fantastic Four (2015) receives 27 out of 42.