Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four — thanks to a tortured production — has become more a pop-culture curio than an actual piece of cinema. Tons of reshoots and rumors of a reckless director (and a little help from an avalanche of nasty reviews) has created all of the film’s interest, at least as a spectacle, and not a money-making proposition. The end result is certainly bad, but perhaps not the train wreck I was hoping to walk into (because if a movie has to be substandard, at least it should be spectacularly so). Instead, it’s just a sad, awkward piece of filmmaking — the wet blanket of superhero movies, one that’s totally sadsack and humorless.
A lot of this, of course, is due to the reshoots. But I’m not convinced — despite Trank’s claims that, unabated, his film would’ve gotten good reviews — that there’s a quality film truly buried underneath all the straight-faced, gray-hued self-seriousness. This is yet another very grim, somewhat gritty take on a story about a guy who can stretch his limbs really far and another guy covered in rocks. There’s no whimsy in Trank’s take, one that takes a straight-faced, hard science-fiction look at comic books and wants to over-explain every single detail. Instead of the comic book’s tale of a team of four going into space and acquiring powers thanks to some cosmic rays, our heroes — Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) — spend most of the movie building a teleportation device that will cause their transformation. It’s a tedious way to go about things, and one that makes nearly the entire film an origin story — until the climax just sort of pops up and things finally happen.
There are some interesting aspects that seem native to Trank’s vision for the film — mainly a sense of Cronenbergian body horror, which is fitting since so much of the film feels like a sourpuss version of The Fly (1986). But that’s a small benefit. There’s simply a lack of forward momentum for the bulk of the film, which is, presumably, why the reshoots were called in. It’s tricky to tell what was reshot (though Kate Mara’s wig helps things a bit), though there are definitely bursts of bad CGI that seem to highlight certain scenes. The big climax, which takes place on some primordial planet in another dimension, is both hokey and hackneyed — due to a mix of effects look like they had the budget of a TV movie, the usual wholesale CGI destruction that’s a prerequisite for these movies and cribbing the end of Ghostbusters (1984). But at least the group learns about teamwork (no, really, they stop to talk about teamwork).
This let’s Trank off the hook to some degree, but all this is really just a distraction from the film’s other problems. There’s the stilted dialogue. There’s Tim Blake Nelson chomping on gum in all of his scenes (OK, that’s nitpicky, but, good god, is it obnoxious). There’s a wasted Jamie Bell coated in a suit of cartoonish rocks (Michael Chiklis in a rubber suit in the 2005 Fantastic Four was more convincing). There’s Kate Mara’s thousand-yard stare. And, of course, there’s the wholly unlikable Miles Teller trying to play a nebbish super genius. While it’s impossible to guess, my assumption is that Trank’s film would’ve been watchable. It’s current iteration has more of a sideshow vibe to it, but that’s hardly a reason to pay it much attention. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and language.