Action: A quartet of young people must contend with interdimensional travel molecularly modifying their bodies and giving them and a cohort turned villain extreme powers.
Reed Richards (MILES TELLER) is a high school student who's long been experimenting with making teleportation a reality. While everyone else has long thought he's out of his mind, his classmate and friend, Ben Grimm (JAMIE BELL), has supported him since elementary school. When they prove they've succeeded, that draws the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (REG E. CATHEY) and his adopted daughter, Sue (KATE MARA). They both work for the Baxter Foundation, unlike Franklin's biological son, Johnny (MICHAEL B. JORDAN), who'd rather be drag racing street cars than doing anything with his father.
Franklin and Sue have tried to continue a similar line of work first started by brilliant but moody scientist Victor Von Doom (TOBY KEBBELL), and they realize Reed can help them finalize their Quantum Gate Project and allow for interdimensional travel. Johnny, in need of money to fix his wrecked car, joins the team, as does a reluctant Victor, the latter against the objections of Baxter board chairman Harvey Elder (TIM BLAKE NELSON).
The team eventually succeeds, but when Harvey announces they'll be bringing in NASA to take over the project, Victor doesn't want to lose claim to the invention. Accordingly, he, Johnny and Reed, along with Ben, decide to take an unauthorized trip in the device, and they're teleported to Planet Zero, a barren place teaming with odd currents of energy. When those start erupting, Victor is seemingly killed and the other three race to return to Earth. But that return trip and their explosive arrival changes their molecular structures, as it also does to Sue in the control room.
Reed finds that he can stretch his body into various lengths and shapes, Johnny can engulf his body in flames at will and not be harmed, Sue can turn invisible and create force fields, and Ben has been turned into an enormous rock creature with superhuman powers. Harvey and his team end up experimenting on them -- although Reed manages to escape and go on the lam -- all while using Ben for military purposes due to his indestructible nature. When another interdimensional travel team heads for Planet Zero, they're shocked to find and return Victor, a.k.a. Dr. Doom, to Earth, unaware of his similarly supercharged powers and desire to rid the planet of its resources, including all humans. It's then up to Reed (Mr. Fantastic) Sue (The Invisible Woman), Johnny (The Human Torch), and Ben (The Thing) to stop him.
OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Back in the old days, Hollywood operated in a predictable, calendar-based fashion. Oscar caliber films would hit theaters in November and December, romantic dramas and romantic comedies would arrive around Valentine's Day, horror flicks would show up around Halloween, and big studio tentpoles would dominate the early to mid summer offerings. The rest of the year was filled with lesser films that didn't fit squarely into any such time period or were so bad they were dumped into specific periods, such as January and August, when people simply don't go to movies that much.
Then things started changing. "Summer" movies started showing up in May and then April, and horror films soon played well in months not traditionally associated with being scary. And with the arrival of "Inglourious Basterds" in 2009 and then last year's "Guardians of the Galaxy," August quickly lost a lot of its dumping ground reputation. Accordingly, critics and others covering the movie industry no longer can automatically assume a film will be good or bad based on its release date.
All of which brings us to the August 7th opening of "Fantastic Four." No, not the Roger Corman version that never saw the light of day (or a projector) back in 1994, or the 2005 version that gave Marvel's superhero quartet the big budget treatment after forty-plus years of existing in comic book form.
No, I'm talking about the new reboot that, just a decade later, has jettisoned the "old" cast of Ioan Gruffudd (as Reed Richards / Mr. Fantastic) Jessica Alba (Susan Storm / Invisible Woman), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm / Human Torch), and Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm / The Thing) in favor of Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell playing younger versions of those respective characters.
In the old days, a big budget superhero movie being released in August more than certainly spelled doom (and I'm not meaning Dr. Doom who's played by Toby Kebbell here). But with "Guardians" bucking that formerly reliable trend, could this new version of "FF" do the same? Alas, the answer is no, as this might be one of the more boring and dramatically inert superhero movies to fly off the comics page and onto the big screen in a long time.
Director Josh Trank, working from a script he co-penned with screenwriters Simon Kinberg & Jeremy Slater, goes the to-be-expected "fresh" origins story route, and thus we see the quartet of characters in their early years before they became "fantastic." The introductory scenes where we see Reed and Ben as 5th graders engaged in wild teleportation experiments in the garage have sort of a fun "The Explorers" vibe to them and thus the film starts off promisingly enough.
Unfortunately, that's quickly abandoned in favor of jumping forward seven years and then more as high school graduate Reed ends up working alongside Sue and her adoptive father (Reg E. Cathey). The later brings his teen rebel son, Johnny, into the fold, along with the young scientist who started the project, Victor (Kebbell).
The issue, among many, is that it takes forever for the story to lumber forward, and even when it does get moving, it barely ever leaves the introductory part of its origins tale. All part one installments of such films go through that cycle, but they still have plenty of story to unleash once the setup is over, the superheroes have their new powers, and the villain is introduced. Here, there's little of the characters "playing" with their new abilities, while the bad guy shows up quite late in the film.
To make matters worse, the conflict and related action between him and our titular gang is far too tepid for this genre. It doesn't help that things, particularly regarding the dialogue, become overly melodramatic (to the point of being silly), and that the special effects, well, aren't that special (especially considering the reported budget north of $100 million). In fact, they have sort of a cheap look to them (in today's world of more realistic looking visuals in films of this ilk) and I've seen the same and sometimes better from what some kids have produced on their home computers.
Overall, the flick is a mess that starts off promisingly enough, but keeps getting worse as it progresses and collapses in what's arguably the worst third act of any superhero movie in recent memory. "Fantastic Four" might get the number of superheroes in it correct, but the movie is anything but fantastic. Fully supporting the old August dumping ground belief, the film rates as a 3 out of 10.