It’s pretty much agreed among fans of superhero movies that the two Tim Story “Fantastic Four” flicks based on the long-running Marvel quartet, dating from 2005 and 2007, were among the worst in the recent explosion of the genre. (How things changed for Chris Evans when he graduated from the Human Torch to Captain America!) So it comes as no surprise that the studio decided what was needed wasn’t another sequel, but a full-scale reboot—or is it reset? Whatever the proper term, the new “Fantastic Four” goes back to the drawing board and emerges no better than before. Perhaps this quartet is simply a hopeless case.
What director John Trank and his co-writers Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg serve up is yet another origins episode, one that spends literally two-thirds of its running-time in endless exposition setting up a final battle that’s curiously brief, sloppy and dull. Its opens with cute little Reed Reynolds (Owen Judge), a pint-sized science nerd, building a prototype of a matter teleporter in his garage with the help of Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann), a tough kid whose family owns the scrapyard where Reed gets the final component. Seven years later the two—now played by Miles Teller and Jamie Bell, both way too old to be remotely convincing high school students—show off the improved but still not perfect device at the local science fair, where it catches the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), a computer whiz. Their foundation is working on a similar project, and though officious head honcho Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) is getting anxious about the probable success of the venture, Storm offers Reed a scholarship to join his team, which eventually includes not only Sue but Franklin’s reckless, drag-racing son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and surly but brilliant genius Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).
Reed’s presence proves the catalyst, and soon their gigantic machine transports a chimp to an alternative dimension, a barren place of rocks and bubbling energy, and brings the critter back safely—at which point Allen connives to bring in NASA and turn things over to the government. Reed, Johnny and Victor feel betrayed that they’ll not be the first humans to teleport, so they decide to do so unofficially, bringing along Ben as Reed’s wingman. This turns out to be a very bad idea as their decision to plant an American flag on the extra-dimensional landscape, thereby earning everlasting fame, releases a burst of energy that seems to consume Victor and sends the other three guys back home much changed: Reed has developed elastic limbs, Johnny bursts into flame, and Ben becomes a humongous rock monster. Sue, who’s thrown for a loop in the lab in the melee of their return, is endowed with the power of invisibility.
Reed escapes guinea pig confinement, but Johnny, Ben and Sue remain and a year later are being trained to employ their abilities as instruments of the military under Allen’s heavy hand. The fugitive Reed is eventually tracked down and returned as well, just in time to be part of the inauguration of a new teleporter, which sends a crew back to the alternate dimension. There they discover Victor, transformed into a grisly bundle of unearthly energy, who aims to destroy earth because—well, apparently because he’s a misanthrope. After trashing Storm’s lab he returns to his own dimension, where he gathers the power to wipe out his old planet. But our newly-minted heroes follow him there and, in a remarkably unexciting fight, finally stop trying to act alone and work in unison to defeat him by pushing him into his own billowing energy ray. Then they get their own research facility and decide to call themselves the Fantastic Four. The end.
The problems with the movie are numerous. A full hour is devoted to dull exposition, which is then followed by thirty minutes of even duller battle. The effects (supervised by James E. Price) are subpar by today’s standards. The central characters are tissue-paper thin, and even the able young cast can’t give them any heft. Cathey is a bland father figure and Nelson a dreary bore as his malevolent counterpart, while Kebbell exudes little more than a bored sneer as Doom. The dialogue is limp, with little humor beyond a few juvenile lines, and Trank’s direction is flaccid. Even on the purely visual level the picture is mediocre, with a cheap-looking production design by Chris Seagers and cinematography by Matthew Jensen that’s barely workmanlike. Add to the drab images a score that promises something usual, coming as it does from a weirdly matched duo—Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass—but turns out to be utterly generic.
The result is a tedious bargain-basement Marvel movie that’s sure to disappoint an audience accustomed to the blockbuster-sized action of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers. You might call it “Fantastic Bore” or “Fantastic Snore,” but whatever moniker you hang on it, by the time the final credits roll (conspicuously without word of a sequel), you’ll probably be ready to quote Reed’s words after he and his partners have defeated Doom: “Let’s get the hell outta here!”