D: Josh Trank. DP: Matthew Jensen. W: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg & Josh Trank (based on Marvel comics by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby). Starring: Miles Teller/Michael B. Jordan/Kate Mara/Jamie Bell/Toby Kebbell/Reg E. Cathy/Tim Blake Nelson.
This summer’s comic book installments are ending on a rather low and controversial note. The release of Twentieth Century Fox’s new version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four has sparked twitter declarations from young director Josh Trank, claiming he’ll never work on a comic book movie again. Despite the hoopla I think it safe to say that regardless of creative intent some comic books are just not cinematic material. The Fantastic Four is one of them for me.
This Fantastic Four immediately segregates itself from Tim Story’s 2005 predecessor Fantastic Four and 2007’s Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer in its realistic intent. This makes creative and marketing sense as the remake’s purpose is to allow Twentieth Century Fox to retain the rights to the Fantastic Four and not let them revert back to Marvel, now owned by Disney. This is the same reason Sony remade its Spider-Man franchise. Searching for a new direction hiring young director Trank seemed ambitious and exciting. Trank’s first directorial effort was 2012’s Chronicle. A feature about a group of friends who discover something supernatural underground that gives them all superpowers to disastrous effects. This cast includes Michael B. Jordan who appears as Johnny Storm here. A great memorable little film that resided on character rather than effects, Trank’s footing is surely gone in Fantastic Four.
The film runs through a brief original story of Reed Richards (Miles Teller) as he puts together a teleporter in his garage and befriends Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) whose family owns the junk yard Reed steals from. Discovered at a science fair, smelling a lot like Spider-Man here, Reed is invited to attend a prestigious institute run by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathy). Dr. Storm’s children Johnny (Jordan) and Sue (Kate Mara) help Reed to develop his transporter with the guidance of misguided genius man child Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebball). The band of geniuses decide once their project works to send themselves to the new dimension they have discovered and voila, weird powers.
With only a few moments of humor and not a lot of charm Fantastic Four cannot save itself from its boring plot. Hard not to suspect a character named Von Doom, Kebball might be the best thing about the film. When he gazes at Mara’s Sue he looks like he might want to eat her viciously while everyone else is off playing scientist. When he returns it’s rather magnificent, his voice sinister without a mouth hearkening back to some sort of Star Wars nightmare I had as a child. Teller is alright, but better is other things he has done, same with Jordan. Bell is lost in his Thing, but it is digitally rendered very admirably. What makes the kids likable ultimately is Dr. Storm and the cheesy, but momentarily effective performance by Reg E. Cathy. His efforts to connect all of his children for a common purpose does eventually ring true, if not just in his anguishing discovery scenes of each kid’s powers.
Fantastic Four only runs about one hundred minutes, but feels vastly longer. Sadly the studio apparently meddled so much with Trank’s original cut that they demanded re-shoots. Even if unaware of this it is not hard to miss Mara’s wig she wears in the added scenes, a sad reflection of a dispute that has clearly upset Trank and ultimately the project. All in all the film is watchable, but rather lousy something I think I’d feel reading these comic books.