Marvel’s First Family return…
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey
Directed by: Josh Trank / Written by: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater & Josh Trank / 100 minutes
What’s it about?
A group of young pioneers build a machine that will allow them to transport to other dimensions, the results of which change them all forever…
By now it’s well known how badly Fox’s new big screen iteration of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four has been received (some may say it was even predicted), both from a critical and commercial perspective. It’s a shame because in the opinion of this reviewer, it’s not the disaster it’s made out to be, sure there are flaws and rumour is rife that much of the blame may rest with studio 20th Century Fox, who reportedly hijacked the production in a frantic effort to rework the film’s third act into something more commercially viable.
Serving as a reboot of the Marvel franchise, director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is a darker, more realistic and cerebral take on the titular superhero team – this is certainly not Guardians of the Galaxy and far removed from Fox’s previous lighter and more colourful efforts from director Tim Story (2005’s Fantastic Four and 2007 sequel 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer). It’s actually a welcome reinvention of the FF universe and works much better than initial trepidations suggest, given the overall lighter tone of the comics. Although largely lacking the humour of the source material, much of the imaginative science fiction and pioneer elements reminiscent of the earliest runs of the Fantastic Four comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are present and neatly melded with character drama and some Cronenberg-lite body horror that juxtaposes the fantasy of the future super team’s transformations (which proves particularly effective in the case of The Thing).
Taking its lead from Marvel’s Ultimate Fantastic Four line of comics, we are presented with younger versions of the iconic superhero team and the reimagined origin of their abilities (resulting from trans-dimensional teleportation instead of the bombardment of cosmic rays as depicted in the original comics and the 2005 Fantastic Four film). As Reed Richards, Miles Teller embodies the right mix of nerdy awkwardness and wide-eyed enthusiasm and is arguably the best of the cast, while Kate Mara (House of Cards) provides an interestingly subtle and introspective interpretation of Sue Storm, adoptive daughter of scientist Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) who seems slightly at odds with his reckless son Johnny Storm (played by Michael B. Jordan, whose casting was the source of much controversy). Given less focus is Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm who doesn’t get enough screen time before his transformation into the rock creature eventually known as ‘The Thing’ (now brought to life in CGI), which is a shame as the friendship between Richards and Grimm forms part of the FF’s family dynamic, which we only just see beginning to blossom by the closing credits. Tim Blake Nelson’s gum chewing Dr. Allen aside, the villainy of Fantastic Four is unleashed via Victor Von Doom (aka Dr. Doom) played by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Toby Kebbell. Kebbell is perhaps not as well served by the script as he could have been but non-the-less provides enough danger and high stakes for the heroes to unite against.
Going back to those aforementioned rumours of studio meddling, this becomes evident as Fantastic Four approaches its climax and shifts from modestly paced character drama and coming of age origin story to something more reminiscent of a straightforward comic book action vehicle. It does make the overall production feel a little disjointed but despite some hasty studio implemented reshoots, Fantastic Four ultimately delivers a suitable finale.
There are some decent ideas in Fantastic Four, as I’ve cited it channels those SF/pioneer elements of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original concept and the U.S. government’s exploitation of the team’s newfound abilities, although not wholly original, adds some interesting dramatic layers (most significantly in the case of The Thing). Perhaps not enough time is taken to establish the key family dynamic of Marvel’s ‘First Family’, yet this is after all an origin story and there is certainly some foundation that could be built on with any sequels (which now seem unlikely, given disappointing opening weekend box office returns). Despite a relatively short running time, there are moments when the film’s pacing feels a little sluggish, it’s been suggested that Fox cut three proposed action set-pieces as Fantastic Four began production and had they committed to their inclusion and allowed Trank (who had already previously delivered an excitingly fresh take on the superhero concept in Chronicle) to fulfil his original vision it could have received a much more positive reception and any kinks worked out with subsequent instalments.
The bottom line: Fantastic Four has its flaws but for those who prefer a more cerebral take on the genre, it certainly has something to offer.
Fantastic Four is in cinemas now.