20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and for language.
Running time: 106 minutes.
One star out of four.
So we just got back from a two-week East Coast sweep — Montreal, Vermont, New Hampshire, Boston and back up again — wherein I believe I ate all of the lobster. All of it. There’s none left. (Sorry for that.) And I promised myself I wouldn’t work at all while we were away, to the extent that I actually made the bold decision to leave my laptop at home — hence, you haven’t seen anything new on here in a couple of weeks. (Sorry for that, too.)
But it was impossible to avoid the developing debacle that was “Fantastic Four.” Watching the reviews pop up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds and seeing the number steadily drop on Rotten Tomatoes (where it’s currently hovering above the ground around 9 percent) provided a morbid fascination. How bad could this movie possibly be? The cavalcade of criticism actually made me want to see it more — so much so that I tried to persuade Nicolas, who’s almost 6 and obsessed with all things Marvel, to come with me to a matinee in Montreal. Seeing it in French and not understanding it could only be an improvement, right?
He wouldn’t bite — but playing catch-up once we returned to Los Angeles was one of our top priorities yesterday, alongside grocery shopping and laundry. I hate to pile on at this point because that just seems needless. Clearly, this movie is terrible on multiple fronts and a case study of soulless summer spectacle gone wrong. But I wanted to share a few thoughts:
— The beginning holds promise. When young, nerdy Reed Richards (Owen Judge) and young, scruffy Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann) are tooling around in Reed’s garage back in 2007, making a teleportation device out of scraps from Ben’s family’s junk heap, there’s a youthful sense of wonder and possibility that’s intriguing — not unlike the one that infused director Josh Trank’s high-school sci-fi flick “Chronicle.” You get the feeling this is what Trank was talking about in that ill-advised, now-deleted tweet in which he criticized 20th Century Fox for not releasing the movie he’d envisioned.
— But then the script is really flimsy. (Trank shares credit with Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg.) You never get a firm grasp on who these four characters are, either before or after they get zapped by whatever it is they come into contact with in another dimension. Even trying to describe them in the most basic terms proves difficult. Reed (Miles Teller) is smart and … socially awkward? Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is smart and … likes music? Her brother, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), is smart and … reckless? Grown-up Ben (Jamie Bell) is even tougher to pin down. He might be smart. He’s basically just Reed’s best friend, who makes the mistake of answering the phone in the middle of the night when Reed calls and says: “Hey, let’s go jump into this machine I made with some pals from school.”
— And the actors don’t get to do much. Just as elusive as who these people are is how they feel about their new-found superpowers. Thrilled? Scared? Angry? They’re changed eternally — which, in theory, is kind of a big deal — and they never take a moment to work through that. Hell, Ben is now a walking, talking, 500-pound pile of rocks known as The Thing, but it’s not even clear whether the actor playing him also provides his voice. (Poor Bell really fares the worst of the four.) Jordan, the “Fruitvale Station” star who could not be more charismatic, turns ironically cold and flat once he becomes the Human Torch. Teller has shown daring and range in a variety of roles in recent years, most notably the Oscar-winning “Whiplash,” but he gets saddled with some of the clunkiest expository lines once he turns into the twisty Mr. Fantastic. And Mara truly is relegated to playing The Girl. After designing the team’s clothing, her primary function as the Invisible Woman is to stand there with her hands outstretched in a bubble, looking as if she’s straining to break free, and do you blame her?
— Which brings us to the special effects. Which aren’t exactly special. They’re actually laughably cheesy, bordering on “Zardoz” levels of low-tech simplicity. This is especially true during the big, climactic. battle between the Fantastic Four and the possessed Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell), their former colleague turned glowing, green goon. That battle, by the way, provides not the slightest thrill or bit of suspense; it’s an action sequences that feels tacked on and slapped together. The fate of the world is at stake, we are told, but it’s totally unclear what’s happening, how the characters got here or how they fix it. This is the moment that’s supposed to send us all out with a bang, but it’s more of a shrug.
Even my kid — who was all excited about the “Fantastic Four,” having played the Lego Marvel Superheroes video game — knew he’d seen something empty and unsatisfying. As we were walking through the lobby afterward, I asked him:
“Did you like it?”
“Yeah,” Nic said, rather unconvincingly.
“Was it scary?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“‘Cause they defeated Dr. Doom really easily.”
Maybe we should have seen it in French after all.