Ten years after Marvel’s longest-running superhero team made their disastrous big-screen début they’re back in this reboot, that makes the greatest attempt to distance itself from its predecessor since Batman Begins. Where 2005’s film was goofy, primary coloured and cartoony, this incarnation takes the navy blue colour palette that’s now the default of superheroes trying to look cool (see the X Men films and the latest Captain America) and re-imagines the story as an inter-dimensional sci-fi film.
While the main focus of an average superhero film, not least a Fantastic 4 film, should be the superpowers and what they do with them, in Fant4stic this feels like an afterthought. Most of the film is devoted to the team, Johnny and Sue Storm (Michael B Jordan and Kate Mara), Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), cracking interdimensional travel, meaning they don’t get their powers till fairly late on.
The production was reportedly plagued by problems, resulting in the studio taking control earlier this year, tacking on new scenes to deliver more action, and boy does it show. Victor isn’t revealed with his superpowers until about 20 minutes before the end, and then there’s a paltry single action sequence in the other dimension, then it ends. It feels like an hour and 20 minutes of a low-budget indie film about a group of scientists travelling somewhere, then coming to terms with the deformities/powers they acquire, with the finale of a Thor film shoehorned in. Neither of these aspects is done well – the first section needs to be character-driven but there’s no chemistry between the team and no-one that’s relateable; the second is just loud CGI mayhem we’re not invested in – but it would be improved if they’d had one idea and stuck to it. As it is it’s just bizarre to watch. When the final credits role you’re be thinking ‘Was that it?’, as it doesn’t even have all the bits that were shown in the trailer.
In an effort to be as different as possible from 2005’s film and its sequel all the fun has been sucked out of the characters. A stretchy rubber man is not something that works as a serious drama, and the fact it was tried shows a serious error of judgement. The problem with the other two films wasn’t that they went for a fun action film, it’s that it was executed poorly.
There are good things about this new film. It looks better with effects that are less cartoony and have less of a plasticy sheen to them. I also really liked rising star Michael B Jordan as the Human Torch, who gives the film’s most naturalistic performance and is the only one who looks like he’s enjoying himself. They also managed to cast someone as the Invisible Woman who is slightly more convincing as a scientist than Jessica Alba, but unfortunately has fewer facial expressions than The Thing.
Who knows what this film would have been without studio interference? I suspect it still wouldn’t have been great, and would have disappointed fans of the comics, but it also would have been a single vision of the story that was followed through. Instead Fox have created the worst of both worlds. Ah well, they’ll probably have another go in a couple of years.