A troubled past doesn’t guarantee failure. Films like “Titanic,” “Jaws” and perhaps most famously “Apocalypse Now” are just a few films that were created in turbulent environments. Whether the trouble was a conflict between the cast and the director, the director and the studio, between cast members or some other configuration, good work still came from what could have potentially been a disaster; however, some productions, like “Alien 3,” “Cop Out” and “Waterworld” are doomed to failure when egos and power struggles get in the way of making an enjoyable bit of entertainment. The latter appears to be what happened to Fox Studios’ “Fantastic Four” reboot.
As a child, Reed Richards (played as an adult by Miles Teller) dreamed of building a matter transporter…and he actually succeeded thanks to parts provided by his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) from his family’s junk and salvage yard. Reed considers Ben his best friend and good luck charm. Reed is discovered at a high school science fair by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) and invited to attend is institute of gifted young people in the Baxter Tower in New York City. Ben stays home to work in the family business. Dr. Storm also has a son named Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) who is a brilliant mechanic that prefers to spend his time tinkering with his car and running in illegal street races than in a lab. A crash that totals his car forces him to work for his father in the lab. Dr. Storm is working on an interdimensional transporter and believes Reed can push his research over the edge. The project was started by Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a brilliant but troubled scientist who has some less than pleasant history with Dr. Storm and they no longer work together. Dr. Storm gets his funding from a shadowy board of directors with ties to the government led by Harvey Elder (Tim Blake Nelson). With Reed on board and Victor back in the fold largely because he loves Sue, the interdimensional transporter is perfected. Elder wants to turn the project over the NASA and the government but Dr. Storm wants to keep the project in house and under his control. After a few rounds of drinks, Reed, Victor and Johnny decide to take the transporter for a test spin on their own and Reed calls Ben because he was there for the earliest experiments in the garage and wants his good luck charm to come along. Ben agrees and they are soon teleported to another dimension. It’s a barren world with storm clouds overhead and pools of glowing green liquid. Victor puts his hand in the fluid and can feel the energy coursing through it; but it also causes a chain reaction that is causing the ground beneath their feet to come apart. Victor is engulfed in green flames and falls down a cliff. The others run to the transporter pod to go home where Sue is trying to initiate the return sequence. Fire engulfs Johnny, Ben is encased in rock, Reed is bathed in unknown energy and Sue is hit with a blast from the other dimension when the pod reappears. Each is endowed with unique powers and abilities.
While far from being a great movie “Fantastic Four” isn’t as bad as the Rotten Tomatoes score of 9% might imply. The introduction to the group, their transformation and dealing with their powers is actually pretty good. You get a good idea of the personality of each main player and the conflict between Victor and Reed gets an understandable foundation. It is the part of the story where the four put their powers to use where the train goes off the rails.
The whole structure of the film feels flimsy and unfinished. The set up to what should be the super showdown is incredibly long when compared to the finale which feels like it plays out in about 10 minutes, if that. What appears to have been planned as a two hour plus film is over in an hour-40. While many comic book movies are too long, “Fantastic Four” isn’t long enough as we are shown huge amounts of history and preparation leading to an ending that is anti-climactic. Granted, I think everyone knows the good guys are always going to win in the end of a superhero movie but it shouldn’t feel like the kind of role-playing game I used to participate in as a child with my friends when, after one of us had been shot with the death ray or whatever the evil scheme entailed, we popped right up, saved the damsel in distress and put the villain in his place.
“Fantastic Four” director Josh Trank made an impressive debut with his first studio film “Chronicle.” The story of three high school kids who gain powers from a mysterious alien artifact was a low-budget, found-footage gem. The story was great, the effects were good and the whole thing worked together for a wonderfully enjoyable time at the movies. That film got him the “Fantastic Four” gig but something happened that turned what should have been a dream into a nightmare. Trank can be heard on the Kevin Smith podcast “Fatman on Batman” giving a thorough history of his early life, how he became a filmmaker and the process of making “Fantastic Four.” It takes, coincidentally, four episodes to tell the whole story. Nowhere in those four episodes, about six hours of content, does Trank complain about the making of “Fantastic Four” or Fox executives; however, on Thursday, August 6, Trank tweeted the following: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.” Trank quickly deleted the tweet but it was of course screen captured. While vague, this tweet seems to be saying the film was interfered with by Fox executives and turned into something other than his original vision. There is of course another side to the story that suggests Trank may have been in over his head and/or was difficult to work with. The truth lies somewhere in the middle with enough blame to go around for both sides. The product of this middle ground is a movie with an odd structure, average at best special effects, a villain that doesn’t make much sense, has odd motivations for his evil plan and a story that starts out fine then turns into a mess at the conclusion.
“Fantastic Four” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and language. We see a couple of characters engulfed in flames. One character causes people’s heads to kind of explode. We see a splash of blood on the wall behind them. There is a fight where giant boulders are used as weapons. Foul language is scattered and mild.
Josh Trank’s tweet, the troubled production and the poor box office showing of “Fantastic Four” may put the director in movie jail for a period of time. Movie jail is when filmmakers can’t get a job after what is perceived to be a failure on their part. Trank will likely survive just fine in the wilderness of independent filmmaking where he can be fully in charge of the production with little to no interference. But that leaves us to wonder just what kind of “Fantastic Four” the director had in mind. Will we ever see it? Will there ever be an entertaining version of Marvel’s first super team that isn’t a cartoon? Are Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch and The Thing just too tough a nut to crack? Should Fox make a deal with Marvel like Sony did with Spider-Man and share the movie rights? Speculating about all this is far more entertaining than watching the movie, as this “Fantastic Four” may actually be worse than the dayglow colored version we got a decade ago.