It’s pretty clear from this website that I’m a big fan of superheroes. Both comics and movies, really anything with superheroes can usually get a look from me. And Marvel superheroes in particular? Gold for me. I just love that universe, and pretty much any character in that roster, and if a big screen adaptation is in the works, I’m going to be interested. Which makes it that much more shocking that I actively avoided the recent Fantastic Four movie in theaters. Now, this article is going to be pretty pointless, because who hasn’t already hated on this movie? This movie was a slow motion train-wreck that the internet began hating and picking apart basically from when it got green-lit. Now, the Fantastic Four have never been my favorite franchise. I love Dr. Doom, as evidenced by all the damn articles I write about him, and the Thing is one of the most interesting superheroes Marvel has. But the rest? Eh. They’re fine; they just don’t blow me away. But even as a casual fan of the property, I could tell that this movie was messing with the formula way too much. And I’m not talking about casting Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm. People complaining about a change in race for a character are stupid. Who cares if the Human Torch is black in this movie? It doesn’t make any difference, and honestly he’s the only likeable character, and the only actor who seemed to understand his character. Now this article is going to be weird, because I usually don’t talk about things I don’t like. I feel like it’s a better use of my time to talk about things I love rather than pick at the scabs of things I didn’t. But this movie. Holy crap this movie made me mad. So here’s a crazy rant!
First off, let’s talk about what can laughingly be called the “plot.” Now, just like every other superhero movie, they decide to start off with an origin movie, even though we saw these characters origins ten years ago…but I guess that’s just standard operating procedure at this point. Although unlike most other superhero origin movies, this one goes way back to when Reed Richards and Ben Grimm are children, because we apparently need to see that they were obsessed with making this matter transporter for years. They dink around with this teleportation machine for years, until they get to high school, and become a British actor trying his best to do a bad Brooklyn accent (Jamie Bell), and one of the worst actors working right now (Miles Teller). Reed and Ben show their dimensional transportation machine off at the school science fair, which angers Homer Simpson, but gets the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm and his weird emotionally blank daughter Sue (Kate Mara). They apparently troll around high school science fairs looking for matter transporters, and got super lucky this time, inviting Reed to come go to school at some fancy New York genius collective, the Baxter Institute. So Reed heads off, letting Ben stop being in the movie for a long time, and moves to New York. Apparently the only thing anyone in the Baxter Institute is working on is this matter transporter, and he ends up working with Sue, her hothead brother Johnny (Michael B Jordan) who has to weld science equipment as punishment, and douche-baggy European genius Victor Von Doom.
The four work together, kind of growing to tolerate each other while building the transporter. And finally they make the machine, only for the Moleman to show up and tell them that the scientist teenager who built the thing aren’t going to get to go to the new dimension, it’ll instead be trained experts who actually know what they’re doing. This infuriates the shitty teenagers, and the boys kick Sue out of their club so they can go drink. They get drunk enough that they think it’s a good idea to call Ben back into the movie, and take him on a field trip into the Negative Zone…I mean Planet Zero. So they suit up and drunkenly blast into another dimension, where they land on Planet Zero, a mysterious primordial planet. They start tooling around, wanting to investigate the evil, green, pulsating pools of ominous liquid. And surprise, that was a bad call. The whole planet starts spraying green goo around, and they flee back to the machine. Victor ends up getting dropped into a pool of goo, and they leave him for dead. Back in reality Sue finds out that they totally abandoned her and she’s able to bring the machine back, with the three idiots who made it back to the pod. So they get back, and now have horrible powers that hurt them. And Sue magically gets her invisibility powers, because the script would love her to go away.
The movie then gets even more unpleasant by showing the Four being experimented on by the military, dealing with their horrible powers. Reed is in constant pain from his stretching, Sue can’t control her visibility, Ben is basically just a mound of painful rocks, and Johnny has become that parody version of his character from Venture Bros that’s always on fire when in contact with air. They apparently need machines to control their powers, otherwise they’re just screaming piles of pain, and Reed escapes, fleeing from his friends. We then jump ahead some vague amount of time where Reed is tooling around in Central America, seemingly spending more time hiding from the government than fixing his condition. Since they have an illness. Meanwhile, the government is making the other Three use their powers as weapons, and they apparently don’t interact at all, because why would you establish that this movie about a family care about each other? The government catches Reed finally, and they drag him kicking and screaming back to the base to actually be a decent person. They make him rebuild the teleportation machine, because that’s a good idea, and then the movie gets even worse.
Moleman sends a team of professionals to Planet Zero, and they immediately come across Victor, who just like the shitty movies from ten years ago has weird metal skin, and powers. Ugh. I’ll talk about that later. They bring Victor back to Earth, and he is immediately evil. He apparently really liked being stranded on that horrible planet, and wanted to be alone, not subjugating people and showing them he’s the best, you know, like in the comics? He starts killing people with his Scanners powers, and says that he’s going to go back to Planet Zero, and doesn’t want anyone to follow him, and just let him stay on his own. This would be a logical thing to do, but he then sets a black hole on Earth to destroy it, so the Fantastic Four finally spend screen-time together in the last fifteen minutes so they can go to Earth Zero to fight Victor. And it’s dumb. Victor whoops their asses, and then they let Reed, the idiot who abandoned them and hasn’t done a smart thing in the whole movie, become the leader, and his plan is to just all punch Victor together. That works, and Victor is killed apparently, letting them shut down the black hole and return to Earth. The movie ends with them becoming a team, even though they only spent time together as all Four of them for like, half an hour, and then taunts us with the threat of more of these.
Man this movie is a mess. I had heard it was bad, and stayed away from it, but I was stunned to sit there, finally watching this turd, and find that it just kept getting worse. I feel like I couldn’t make a worse Fantastic Four movie if I tried. So now that I explained the plot, let’s get to why I can’t stand it. Now, I’m going to divide my complaints into two categories. First, whiny geek complaints. Stuff that don’t really matter in the larger scheme of stuff, and are more just me complaining about stuff they changed and how I didn’t like that. And then things that are narritivally or structurally wrong with it. But before that I would like to mention some stuff that I actually enjoyed about this. Now, as needless as I thought it was, I kind of liked the opening. It felt kind of Spielbergy in the way that it had children versions of Ben and Reed doing magical things, and it was kind of fun. It was useless, but I enjoyed it, maybe because the two kids who played the roles gave way more of a damn than the ones who played them as marginally older. And second, I really liked Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm. He seemed to play the character just like I would like him to be played, and I did like the character idea of him being kind of jealous of Sue’s intelligence. And third…oh. That was it. Let’s get on to the hate!
Okay! Stupid fanboy complaints! I hate the idea that their powers give them physical pain, and that they’re treated like diseases. Yeah, in the real world I’m sure things wouldn’t be good for the Fantastic Four, but that’s just stupid. It’s just a bad excuse for making the desire to use their abilities an even harder decision. I also can’t stand that they’re young. Now, I believe they were all kids in the Ultimate Fantastic Four, which I never read, but have heard nothing but terrible things about. It just felt like an excuse to have younger actors, and either it was the director not wanting to cast anyone in his movie but his buddies, like Adam Sandler does, or some terrible studio note as if the only way to get shitty Millennials to watch the movie is to make the characters shitty Millenials. And man did I hate the idea that Victor doesn’t like Reed because he has a crush on Sue. Yeah, they kind of mention the idea that Victor is intimidated by Reed’s intelligence, but that’s completely brushed off, and it seems like their main problem with each other is when Reed and Sue kind of awkwardly flirt, and that infuriates Victor, who kind of has a crush on Sue. That’s stupid. Victor Von Doom is one of the most vain and arrogant people in the world, and I love that his main beef with Reed is that he’s worried Reed may be as smart, or smarter, than him. It’s an interesting dynamic. Now, making a weird love triangle is more what the comics have done with Namor, and that’s always terrible. It makes Sue an object, something for the two men to fight over and prove they’re the best by winning her. Not that this movie wanted Sue to be a character anyway. And speaking of Victor! He’s the worst in this movie. I will never understand these Fantastic Four movie’s insane fixation on giving Dr. Doom superpowers. It’s so strange. Yeah, Doom knows magic in the comics, but for the most part, he fights these four ridiculously powerful people with his wits. He builds this amazing set of armor that can withstand assaults from the Fantastic Four, and outsmarts them. But in this thing? Nah, he has crazy mind powers and telekinesis. It’s just an incredibly irritating thing to me, and I have no idea why they think giving Dr. Doom powers makes sense. Plus, it’s baffling to me that they have him want to be alone in the Negative Zone. Victor Von Doom is all about showing other people he’s the best, and ruling them. Pretty much everything he does is either to save his dead mom, or rule the world. But here they make him this weird anti-social loner who wants to live by himself on another planet and have people forget him. That’s literally the opposite of what Dr. Doom does. And Victor? If you had just gone back to the Negative Zone after killing everyone I bet they would have left you alone. But instead he makes the black hole trap, insuring that the Fantastic Four follow him to stop him. He’s such an idiot in this movie, which is probably the biggest insult to the majesty of Doom. And then there’s the thing that pissed me off more than anything in this movie. I love the Thing. He’s great. And yeah, “It’s Clobberin’ Time,” isn’t a particularly meaningful line, but making that the thing his older brother says to him before abusing him? Holy shit did that make me mad. I can’t even talk about this anymore, I’m getting so mad. It’s a spit in the face of one of the strongest, bravest characters in comics.
And now to the big stuff. This movie was structured and paced like a 50’s B movie. And I mean that in the worst way possible. A shocking amount of this movie was set indoor in laboratories, with people looking at computer screens and talking about fake science. They barely go outside in this movie! I accept the fact that this movie was going to be an origin story. That was unavoidable. But the idea to make literally the entire movie the Four sitting around, not having powers and now being heroes was a fascinatingly weird call. They don’t get their powers for a ridiculous amount of time, and then, as I mentioned earlier, they only spend time together as the Four for the last fifteen minutes. They barely even speak to each other! The Fantastic Four are a family. That’s one of the most interesting things about them, the family dynamic and how the story can vacillate between superhero antics and family drama. But here? They seem to hate each other and barely spend time together.
Plus there’s the shocking decision of how they treat the Four. Ben gets kicked out of the movie once they get to the Baxter Institute, and only bring him back because he needs to become the Thing. Most of the movie you would think the Fantastic Four are Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Victor. They awkwardly pal around and build the stupid transporter and seem to be the heroes of the story. And then, out of nowhere, they call Ben in to replace Sue to have a fun boy’s trip, because girls are icky, and go off to get their powers. Sue then magically gets powers because the script says so, and apparently now these four are team members. This decision is so strange; I can’t even wrap my mind around it. Things would have been so much simpler if they found some reason to have Ben come to the Baxter Institute, and help out with the machine. Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben could then pal around, and become friends while working on the teleported, all while Victor is being arrogant and anti-social, thinking he’s too good for them. Then, they could go to the Negative Zone, maybe because Victor ratted them out, and then they get their powers. Victor could them be jealous of them taking what he thought was his destiny, only to try it himself and get wounded. He could then make his armor, trying to make himself Fantastic with his own mind and fight the people he thinks stole his idea. I don’t know, just makes more sense to me.
This movie is just a mess. The direction is incredibly lazy, the script make no sense, the visuals are lackluster, and none of the actors, besides Michael B Jordan, give a crap about anything. I really can’t stand Miles Teller. When I first saw Whiplash I had never heard of him, and assumed he was a drummer that they taught to kind of act, and was stunned to find out he was an “actor” they kind of taught to drum. He’s so bland and lifeless, as if his acting hero was Shia LeBeuf. Jamie Bell is usually good, but I really didn’t like him in this, and his voice just doesn’t work with the Thing at all. And Kate Mara felt like she wasn’t even in the movie. It was like they were filming her when she wasn’t aware, she was so vacant and checked out. No one wanted to be in this mess, and they just act like they think it’s ridiculous. I understand that this movie was made more for contractual reasons that anything else. Fox needed to make a Fantastic Four movie or else they’d lose the license. So this is really in the same boat as the terrible Roger Corman version from the 90’s, only this one got released. But did this have to be so spitefully made? It was like a Fantastic Four movie made by people who hate the Fantastic Four and everything they stand for. It’ll never make sense to me that Marvel Studios are raking in money by making movies that embrace the light-hearted fun of the comics, and Fox decided to do the exact opposite and make a dour, cynical movie that seems to be ashamed it’s based on a comic.
I thought about the Fantastic Four a lot after I watched this movie, and I think I’ve decided something about the franchise. They’re fun comics, but they’ll never work as a movie. Because at its core, the Fantastic Four aren’t really superheroes. They’re explorers. They don’t fight crime, they explore the cosmos. Yeah, sometimes they run across Dr. Doom and other villains in their travels, but I feel like most of the time it’s about the Fantastic Four trying to learn things. They travel through time, to other planets, and other dimensions. Yeah, they run into problems along the way, but they don’t usually go and fight bad-guys who are like, doing crime. The Fantastic Four would honestly work best like Dr. Who. A show where they went on crazy serialized adventures and solved mysteries. The standard superhero movie structure requires a lot of fight scenes and action set-pieces, and that just will never work for the Fantastic Four. We should just let Victor Von Doom destroy this world and never come back.
Fantastic Four was written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, and Josh Trank, directed by Josh Trank, Released by 20th Century Fox, 2015.