The new Fantastic 4 reboot is embarrassed by its own existence. It is not embarrassing; the first half is a pretty solid set up for a second half that face plants as hard as any movie I remember. Still, this isn’t a Ninja Turtles or Transformers level train wreck. The biggest problem with Fantastic 4 is that is seems to be mortified anytime the makers remembered it was based on a comic book. It is an adaptation of that Fantastic 4 that shows nothing but contempt for the concept of the Fantastic 4. So it tries to morph it into something else and it just doesn’t work.
The movie starts off fine. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it works introducing Reed and Ben. Ben’s set up does have the first of many cringe inducing call backs to comics. The Thing’s famous catchphrase “It’s clobbering time,” can’t just be something goofy the rock man says before he punches somebody, it has to be gritted up. Now is what his older brother would say before he beat him up. It takes something fun and familiar and makes it bleak and sad. That is what this movie excels at. Eventually Reed’s genius is noticed and he goes to school/work at the Baxter building, working on interdimensional travel with a handful of other geniuses. One is the anti-social Victor von Doom, an anti-government computer guy and Sue Storm, who is amazing with pattern recognition. Though they work together, they rarely actually work together. There are a few fleeting scenes that show them interacting, but mostly they are together but isolated. They are soon joined by Sue’s bother Johnny, who is an engineer. When they finally crack interdimensional travel, Reed calls up Ben and they go through to the other dimension.
This is when the movie, which until this point had been fine, if dull, goes completely off the rails. This is when the superpowers are acquired. It started with the feeling of a horror movie; that it was about science that is going to go horribly wrong. It is a bad choice for the Fantastic 4, which is much more about adventure and exploration, but removed from the context of the team it is a good premise for a movie. After they come back, the movie has no idea how to deal with them. The first infuriating change is that Sue doesn’t go with them. For some reason, she is excluded in favor of including Doom. That is something even the previous movies go right. The team has to go through the traumatic events together; there is no reason to leave Sue behind. While the viewer doesn’t get to see it other than on a monitor that someone else is watching, they force the Thing to be a government killer while they train Sue and Johnny to do the same. Reed, meanwhile, managed to escape. His friends, that he barely knows other than Ben, think he’s abandoned them. After he is retrieved, they get to work recreating the teleporter. Then Dr. Doom arrives and the final battle happens.
It rushes through all of the interesting stuff, instead focusing on character building that is never exploited. They supposedly form a team at the end, but they have barely interacted before that. Much of is either based on the kind of terrible Ultimate Fantastic Four or created from whole cloth. Anytime the movie must reference the Fantastic Four that formed the backbone of the Marvel Universe, it does so with such an air of mortification that you can almost feel everyone making it cringe. Victor is called Dr. Doom only ironically, codenames are referenced fleetingly and jokingly and Johnny almost grumbles his one time saying “Flame on.” This movie seems scared that the viewers might crack a smile or enjoy the subject matter. It makes the somber Man of Steel feel almost jubilant. It is kind of crazy. This is how superhero movies were before Spider-Man just gleefully went with the comic feeling and even it couched some it in realism. X-Men tried to avoid a lot of its superhero trappings. I had thought we’d grown out of that, for better or worse. Marvel’s movies generally celebrate their comic roots, even if they do so with an ironic wink that they aren’t taking it that seriously. Even the more recent X-Men movies seemed to embrace the comics. This one rejects that connection completely. It sucks all the joy out of the concept and tries to sell as seriousness and it just doesn’t work. For all they were goofy and sloppy, at least the previous two Fantastic Four movies has their heart in the right place. This one is wrongheaded at every turn.
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