Written by: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey
Properties that have built up so much equity in one medium does not guarantee they can translate to another even with the finest efforts. Whether it be a missing ingredient making the transition difficult or a recontextualization being necessary, the First Family of Marvel has struggled to properly appear in feature films. In the most recent effort, Fantastic Four battles sheer incompetence in creating a compelling narrative and reason to gather these characters.
Young and ambitious scientists Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) join a group composed of Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) as they work on new teleporting technology. When experimenting with the device itself, they get sent to Planet Zero, where they interact with a dangerous substance that gives them all powers. Now with government interests in their powers, they must decide on how they plan to wield it.
I understand Marvel’s insistence in trying to make the Fantastic Four work on the big screen. Serving as some of their most popular and iconic characters, it cannot be possible to make someone like Thor work but not the group comprising their First Family. A big reason behind this failure certainly comes from Marvel Studios’ handling of the characters as compared to what Fox tried to conjure, which appears to be light years apart in regard to quality. This iteration serves as the start of something bigger but fails to launch simply due to its lack of good storytelling.
As compared to the Tim Story version of this film, Fantastic Four decided to skew younger with its protagonists in making them budding scientists rather than veterans in the field. It provides the cover as to why they would break protocol and test out the teleporter to Planet Zero. A mix of youthful arrogance and yearning for discovery leads them there and the process of them attaining these powers feels like a horror film. In this moment, the film showed plenty of promise as to what it could accomplish with this story but then it just fell off the cliff.
Once these characters get back to Earth, it becomes about this struggle for what these powers could be and how the government could potentially use them for. A premise utilized with almost every contemporary superhero film, but what would define its success comes from the villain and they whiffed badly with Dr. Doom. I keep being told by Marvel comics readers that Dr. Doom remains one of the most potent and admirable villains within the catalog available but seeing the two iterations of this character on the big screen makes me question what fundamentally makes this character interesting in the slightest. His origin story begins with being left on Planet Zero as the rest of the crew figured he died when Victor fell into some pit of despair. Then once we come back to him, he suddenly wants to take over the world. With not much building up this villain, his presentation and look just looks completely non-threatening and he poses no meaningful threat to the heroes.
The makings of a good villain come from them not only being a physical threat to the heroes but also one on an intellectual level. Dr. Doom becomes this figure made up of fragments who does damage with no discernible purpose other than being angry. It lacks any sort of emotional weight when they establish such a slim relationship between him and the heroes. Believing Dr. Doom would turn into the person he does in the second half without spending much time with him requires mental gymnastics and feels incredibly basic. The villain does not present any real threat and the heroes additionally feel incredibly bland as well. It makes for a collision of nothing remotely interesting and just makes it an insufferable slog to get through.
Even with the assemblage of young talented actors brought together for this feature, it all feels empty and a product made solely for 20th Century Fox to hold onto this property. It has an unfortunate history of studio meddling, which required extensive reshoots so this lies in the hands of the director and the studio. We may never know what this would have looked like as a pure vision, but based on what the final product turned out to be, I’m not sure any of this could be salvageable. The trek for a good Fantastic Four movie continues as we know Marvel will not stop until one eventually hits the mark.