This is a reboot of a series starring Chris Evans, Jessica Evans and Julian McMahon, among others that kicked off in cinematic form only 10 years ago. Filmmakers did the same thing with Spider-Man in 2012, a decade after it first hit cinemas. So, here we have another contemporary re-imagining of Marvel’s original and longest-running superhero team.
It centres on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, only to see their physical form altered in shocking ways. Their lives irrevocably upended, the team must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save earth from a former friend turned enemy. Set in contemporary New York, this retelling focuses on the quartet before they become a team – when they were idealistic adventurers making a headstrong leap into the unknown.
Fantastic Four stars Miles Teller (Whiplash) as Reed Richards, Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) as Johnny Storm, Kate Mara (Netflix’s House of Cards) as Sue Storm and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) as Ben Grimm. The film also features Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as Victor von Doom, a brilliant but rebellious computer programmer. Reg E Cathey (House of Cards) is the Storms’ father, Dr Franklin Storm, and the man charged with getting the teleport project off the ground. The movie is directed by Josh Trank, who was also partly responsible for the screenplay. He directed and co-wrote the story for the critically acclaimed science fiction dramatic-thriller Chronicle in 2012.
Like many modern day inventors and geniuses, Reed Richards has humble origins. At age 12, he toils countless hours in his mother and stepfather’s garage in Long Island, New York. There, the young inventor designs a unique matter transportation device that he cleverly cobbled together from parts scavenged from the salvage yard of his classmate, Ben Grimm. The tabletop-sized device, a “cymatic matter shuttle,” can move objects from one place to another. Several years later at his high school science fair, Reed’s innovation catches the interest of Dr Franklin Storm, Dean of the Baxter Institute, a school and think tank dedicated to incubating the best new ideas from high school and college students. Dr Storm asks the young visionary to be part of his elite group of brilliant pupils. Reed moves to New York City and joins the Baxter program, where he helps develop a shuttle that runs on the breakthrough technology he’s developed. Only things go dreadfully awry.
The Fantastic Four possess a unique position in Marvel Comics’ history. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, “The Fantastic Four” issue #1 debuted in November 1961, preceding other iconic characters such as Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men. In that historic period of creativity in the early 1960s, Lee and Kirby were inspired by the atomic bomb scares that were part of the zeitgeist of the Cold War. The speculative effects of radiation from these nuclear bombs became the root of the superpowers possessed by many of their iconic characters. The Fantastic Four stories are about characters who did not have to wear masks and who sometimes clashed with each other. A contemporary update, “Ultimate Fantastic Four,” a 60-issue series that arrived in 2004, reimagined the origins of the Four. Along with various stories and themes from the original Fantastic Four, the Ultimate series inspired the storyline of this new movie.
I was thoroughly entertained by the back-story and the way that came together on screen – a group of disparate youngsters, some motivated others recalcitrant. It was fun, humorous and engaging, with Miles Teller playing the nerd’s nerd, Reed Richards. Add the sexual tension for Sue Storm’s affection and you have the makings of a decent, if not original, superhero film. I even bought in, be it ever so reluctantly, to these kids morphing into superhero and villainous form when they were exposed to massive amounts of radiation. But if that is far-fetched, from that point on everything appeared to go south as the script totally lost its way and became more and more preposterous.
I’m sorry, but the actual battle to save the Earth was a joke. It was over in double quick time, although given how it played out, I can also say thank goodness for small mercies. I reckon the filmmakers would have been far better off leaving us with a cliffhanger and then revisiting the threat in a sequel. As it turned out, the reboot bombed and I can honestly say the studio needn’t have bothered.
Rated M, Fantastic Four scores a 4 out of 10.
Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell
Release Date: 6 August, 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television