Let’s get this out of the way right now…
I don’t care that Johnny Storm is black.
I don’t care the FF are all college-age kids, that they don’t get powers from ‘cosmic rays’ aboard a hijacked rocket ship, or that Victor Von Doom is not a malevolent dictator of a small Eastern European country.
I went into 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot without any preconceived notions about what a FF film has to be or requirements for its level of faithfulness to the Marvel Comics source material.
If those are the things you’re looking for from this new big screen iteration of Marvel’s first family, this film review is likely not for you.
My only criterion was this - did it entertain me for its relatively modest one hundred-minute running time.
So on that front did it succeed?
The simple answer is … meh.
Neither utterly boring nor particularly compelling, this somewhat small-in-scope and cheerless entry into the crowded comic book adaptation market tries to eschew superhero-dom for science-y gravitas, but gets betrayed by clunky dialogue that elicited chuckles from a Wednesday evening screening audience during its final act.
The screenplay, credited to Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg and under-fire director Josh Trank, plays like a Christopher Nolan-produced Saturday morning cartoon (maybe the idea?), mixing tacked-on life lessons about friendship and working together with a series of grizzly exploding heads courtesy the once-again faceplate-less Doom (Toby Kebbell).
Fox’s creative conceit here seems to be the Fantastic Four is a historically significant comic book, comic book movies are hot right now, they need to make a movie to retain its license, and well … here one is. Trank doesn’t seem to commit to any particular premise, other than youth and to treat the property more earnestly than Fox’s two previous FF films did.
The lack of commitment is exemplified in the opening sequence [spoiler warning] in which misunderstood grammar school-science geek Reed Richards meets grammar school wrong-side-of-the-tracks tough guy Ben Grimm while trying to steal a “power converter” from the Grimm family junkyard.
Reed and Ben are established as best friends from that day forward for seemingly no reason other than historical precedent. Similarly, the attraction between teenage wunderkinds Reed (Miles Teller) and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is given perfunctory screen time simply to satisfy expectations, and almost no relationships of significance are established between Ben (Jamie Bell) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) or Reed and Johnny. And if siblings-through-adoption Sue and Johnny have any sort of history other than the implication Johnny believes Dr. Franklin Storm favors his genius adoptive daughter, I missed it altogether. Whatever bond brother and sister share is entirely assumed.
Even more illustrative of the surprising lack of character dynamics - Ben and Sue don’t actually share any screen time until third act action set piece. The characters literally have no relationship at all. If they actually address one another directly at any time during the film, I don’t recall it.
None of this equates to the wholesale awfulness the film’s current single-digit Rotten Tomatoes approval rating suggests. The Fantastic Four is more lacking anything resembling a reason to recommend it than it’s an outright disaster - the actors are appealing enough, the production standards are acceptable if not groundbreaking, and the short running time serves holding audiences' interest.
A final sequence that unfortunately resembles the final minutes of Avengers: Age of Ultron way too closely (right down to literally the exact same ending beat) and a lack of a prerequisite credits scene (don’t wait around) only adds to the empty calories feel of the exercise.
Comic book fans that have long-anticipated hating Fantastic Four for its lack of faithfulness to the source material will almost certainly find enough here to justify their prejudice… loudly.
Most other moviegoers looking for a comic book movie with a unique vibe will likely walk away from what feels like a completely disposable experience.
Anyone looking for the start of a new ongoing movie franchise… well, that’s a topic for another day.
And anyone thinking this will result in Marvel Studios regaining and quickly reviving the property (presumably correctly), that’s also a topic for that other day, and you might not like the conclusion.