Comic book fans know that the “modern” Marvel Universe started with Fantastic Four #1. Published in November 1961, the first issue appearance of “Marvel’s First Family” shows the relationship tensions that would drive the series for more than half a century.
Unfortunately, the story also shows its age more with each passing year. Americans no longer need to worry about beating the Russians to the Moon, and the “Father Knows Best” family dynamics seem antiquated to a 21st century audience. These challenges have made film adaptations of the classic comic series increasingly difficult, as viewers of the 2005 version will attest.
Director/co-writer Josh Trank (Chronicle), producer/co-writer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and co-writer Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect) went in a different direction. Their new Fantastic Four film attempts to bridge the high action of the Avengers films with the high-concept science fiction of Interstellar, while not quite fulfilling the expectations of either audience.
The film starts with young Reed Richards (Owen Judge) and his new best friend, Ben Grimm (Evan Hanneman) working together on Reed’s quantum teleportation device.
The teleporter brings back dirt from an unknown dimension, but not before blowing out most of the lights in his suburban New York town. As a high school senior, Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) rig up another teleporter for their school science fair. Their handiwork impresses Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara).
The Storms whisk Reed and Ben away to the Baxter Institute, an advanced scientific lab in the heart of New York City. Reed and Ben meet Dr. Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), a mechanical genius, and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), the former head of the Quantum Gate project. When Reed solves the problems that had stymied Victor for years, the project becomes a success.
Reed’s apparent brilliance, combined with his growing attraction to Sue, sparks both personal and professional jealousies in Victor.
Instead of waiting for NASA astronauts to explore the area, Reed, Johnny, Victor and Ben decide to go on an inter-dimensional joyride, with disastrous consequences. When Sue tries to rescue them, she also succumbs to the radiation from the other side. Each of them gains incredible powers, which brings them to the attention of Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson).
Allen promises to “cure” them, but not until he can use their abilities for the benefit of his patrons in the Pentagon. Reed escapes and goes into hiding as he attempts to find a cure on his own. The others, now working with the military, track him down and convince him to build a new Quantum Gate.
The new gate drops a squad of soldiers onto the strange world. The scientists must watch as the soldiers are slaughtered by the alien world’s powerful new king.
When the soldiers fail, the task of saving both worlds falls to the Questionable Quartet: the misunderstood genius, the rock monster, the transparent woman and her hothead brother.
At a running time of just under 100 minutes, the action starts slowly and accelerates quickly. The film spends most of its early moments establishing Reed as a troubled child genius. The opening scene even gives a shout-out to one of Reed’s classic inventions from the comics.
The final fight scene finishes quickly and anti-climatically: everyone knows who’ll win, but how they win seems less like the result of coordinated teamwork and more like a foregone conclusion.
The actors seem to go through the motions, rather than show genuine emotions.
The script never makes their motivations clear, so the characters feel like puppets pulled along with the story’s momentum, instead of pushing the action based on their choices.
Coming off the heels of the grandiose Avengers: Age of Ultron and the fun but understated Ant-Man, Disney/Marvel shows once again how it surpasses Fox/Marvel when it comes to building characters and creating compelling stories. While the new Fantastic Four is not entirely a “craptastic bore”, most of it falls flatter than a comic book page.
If you’re looking for a fun Fox/Marvel experience this weekend, watch the Deadpool red band trailer again and save your money.
Fantastic Four opens August 7th nationwide.