Movie review: Fantastic Four– an incomplete picture
– It takes a lot to make a good film. There is so much that goes into the filmmaking process that, often, it feels unfair to simply judge the finished project. That’s what makes films that feel like failures fascinating.
One of my favorite behind-the-scenes documentaries is the making of “Jaws.” Steven Spielberg, at the time, was a young, unproven filmmaker. He was handed this mammoth undertaking and put under incredible pressure. The film had to be finished before a looming writers’ strike, among other obstacles.
Nearly from the start, nothing went right. So Spielberg and his cast improvised. Forty years later, “Jaws” stands as an iconic cinematic achievement, and Spielberg is revered. But when you watch the making of the film, you come to see that most of the moments and decisions that made it a classic were born of failure.
I couldn’t help but think of that when watching “Fantastic Four.” This film — a re-boot of the franchise that originally bowed in 2005 — isn’t good. In fact, it’s been trashed by critics and audiences alike. Part of that is due to director Josh Trank, who tweeted his frustration with this film before it was even released.
When you watch the finished product, it would be easy to just dismiss it as misguided or a failure. But if you watch it through a different lens, it merely feels incomplete.
The film centers on a young scientist, Reed Richards (Miles Teller), who is ambitious in his work despite the fact no one believes in him; well, no one but his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). Ben isn’t a science whiz, but he knows how to build things and he recognizes his friends’ brilliance.
Soon, Reed’s brilliance is recognized by someone else, too. Seeing his teleportation device at a high school science fair, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg Cathey) recruits Reed to his school to work on a special project.
Soon, Reed finds himself working alongside Dr. Storm’s children — Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) — as well as his former protégé, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). They are working to build a larger version of Reed’s teleportation machine to visit an alternate world.
The group succeeds in building the machine, and soon Reed, Victor, Johnny and Ben use the machine to head to the alternate world. Something goes wrong during the trip, and all four of the travelers — as well as Sue in the lab — are impacted in the accident.
Soon, Reed, Ben, Johnny and Sue have to use their new gifts to help save the world from Victor, who’s been darkly affected by the accident.
When you watch “Fantastic Four” it’s impossible not to analyze it. Rarely does a movie get picked apart from within and outside prior to its release. So it’s natural to watch it with a curiosity about what went wrong. And if you watch it through that lens, you can see where the film abruptly changes.
Reports indicate the studio did re-shoots to give a more action-oriented conclusion, and that’s obvious when watching the film. It’s also obvious that part of the film doesn’t work at all. It’s abrupt, inconsistent in terms of tone and poorly conceived.
The majority of this film feels like a slow burn that’s a re-imagining of these characters. In fact, it feels like the kind of take on this story that would have worked better as a 10-episode cable series — similar to what was done with “Daredevil” on Netflix. The film is called “Fantastic Four” but these characters don’t really ever become the Fantastic Four until the credits roll at the end of the film.
Instead, it feels like this film was moving toward an interesting exploration of who these young scientists are and a bit of an exploration on how our government might treat people with these kind of abilities. Just about the point you’re invested in what might happen with these characters, the film jumps to an abbreviated resolution.
The conclusion has its own problems. One of the biggest problems with the abbreviated conclusion — the film is only 100 minutes, far shorter than recent superhero films — is the lack of character construction for Kebbell’s Doom. He needs to be a strong villain, but his arc is nearly non-existent. When he shows up again at the end, it doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, and the final showdown consequently lacks drama.
“Fantastic Four” isn’t a terrible film, it just feels like an incomplete film. I was somewhat drawn to the early part and curious to see what it would be, but confused by the re-shaped finish. It’s just a swing-and-a-miss and a chance to wonder what might have been.
“Fantastic Four” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for sci-fi action violence, and language. Two stars out of four.