About four hours ago, I walked into the mall, up the escalator to the cinema, and passed the box office, having about ten seconds before I picked up the phone to call my buddy who was saving me a seat and had a ticket all ready for me. In those ten seconds, I looked up at the box office and saw all the good movies playing there tonight. I could have watched Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation for the third time, Ant-Man, Inside Out, or Southpaw for the second time. There was even Trainwreck, a comedy which I have not yet seen. But instead, I called my friend, who met me outside, and I proceeded to watch a movie that is an actual train wreck. Fantastic Four, or Fant4stic, is the third attempt by Fox to make this Marvel property click on the big screen. It is also by far the worst movie in theatres at the moment, and that’s saying something because Pixels is still playing. It is easily the worst film of the summer and one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Take my word for it when I say Batman & Robin is a better film than Fant4stic.
Now if Fox has any sense, they will hand the rights back over to Marvel with their tails between their legs, kind of like what Sony did with Spider-Man. Like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Fant4stic is a product, not a movie. It exists for no other reason than to keep the Fantastic Four rights away from Marvel Studios. Granted, Fant4stic has been a troubled production ever since it was announced, and Fox has had the very difficult task of trying to convince fans and audiences that this new version will do justice to the comics. Whatever happened on set between director Josh Trank and the studio, no matter who’s vision of the film is onscreen, the abomination that is Fant4stic is not just a hack job emerging from creative differences. Fundamentally, it is a collage of bad ideas served with sides of horrid CGI, disjointed acting, and topped with even more bad ideas. There has not been a director who has shown this much disrespect for basic filmmaking rules since Tommy Wiseau did for The Room. There has not been a writing team who has shown this much disrespect to the English language since E.L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey.
To describe the plot of this movie would require that this movie have a plot. It doesn’t. It is a bunch of scenes where exposition is thrown onto more exposition. Nothing happens throughout its entire 100 minutes, a runtime that feels more like 400 minutes. The “film” opens with a young Reed Richards testing out a machine he built that can transport objects from one place to another. We then fast forward seven years later to a scene where a teenaged Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is testing out a machine he built that can transport objects from one place to another. He is then recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) to come work for him, where for the next 30 minutes, they build a machine that can transport objects from one place to another. I’m not exaggerating. This film has three different scenes that tell you exactly the same thing – that Reed Richards can build a transport machine. Each could have each been a somewhat decent opening sequence but instead they’re piled one on top of the other.
If you haven’t guessed by the first act, you’ll know it by the second. Fant4stic has no idea where it’s going. It uses scenes to fill up screen time. It takes forever for the team to transport to Planet Zero where they’re all hit with a radioactive substance – some of the worst CGI since the 80s – and obtain their powers. One of the crew, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) is thought to have been killed in their escape. One year later, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Sue, Reed and his best friend Ben “The Thing” (Jamie Bell) are being contracted by the government to be used in combat missions. Then Doom shows up and causes shit to go down where the four must then learn that teamwork is the most important virtue and only through sticking together can they defeat evil, or something. Not only does this cause massive amounts of eye rolling, Dr. Doom looks like a black and green metallic version of Wade from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He looks nothing like the Doom from the comics and he does this weird Scanners thing where he looks at people and their head explodes. And this power creates a major inconsistency since he never seems to use it when he’s fighting the fantastic four.
Fant4stic moves like it’s the pilot episode for a series of movies that will come out, much like how The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was basically a set up for a Sinister Six movie. The fatal flaw with setting up all these narrative arcs and then waiting for future films to explore them is that the filmmakers assume that their film is good enough to warrant another. Fant4stic is so unbelievably bad that I would never want to pay money to see a sequel. And since so much of this movie utilizes awful CGI, such as a scene where Reed morphs from one face to another or a black hole that is sucking Earth into it, nothing in this movie is believable enough for me to want to know more about this world.
Now I haven’t forgotten what I said about Batman & Robin being a better movie than Fant4stic. The reason why I say that is because as bad as it is, there is some enjoyment to be had with Batman & Robin when viewed strictly as a Batman parody or as part of a drinking game where you take a shot every time Arnold makes an ice pun (seriously, don’t do that because you will die). But Fant4stic is filled with this over-arching sense of self-importance. It takes itself so seriously. The attempts at humour are few and far between, and they all fall flat. This is a dark, gritty take on a story about a guy who can stretch, a girl who can become invisible, a walking ball of fire, and a rock monster. But it’s a dark and gritty take that unlike The Dark Knight, Dredd, or even Watchmen, doesn’t earn its darkness. It plods along, meandering through needless scenes of dialogue that are atrociously written – “We are stronger together than we are apart,” “You put a lot of faith in these guys. I put all my faith in them,” or “’What if we say no?’ ‘Say yes’” – and never sets up any true conflict until the last twenty minutes, which is nothing more than awful CGI accompanied by unintentional campiness, and extremely lame fight scenes. Every one of these actors has proven their talents in previous films. Here, none of them seem even remotely interested in giving a good performance. They say their lines with as much enthusiasm as a child who has to explain to their parents why they got suspended. There is no enjoyment to be had anywhere here. It’s boring, tedious, ugly, and beyond stupid.
Not long ago, Josh Trank was a director to watch. His debut film, the found footage thriller Chronicle, was an excellent deconstruction of the superhero genre. That film must have got him the Fantastic Four gig as well as a chance to helm one of the Star Wars spin off films. Now that rumours of him being let go from Star Wars and with the controversy of his antics on the set of Fant4stic (showing up drunk, swearing at the cast and crew, destroying hotel rooms) being made public, Trank could very well suffer the same fate as Richard Kelly or Michael Cimino. No one in the general public will really know what happened on set between Trank and the studio. But one thing is for sure. Fant4stic is a truly awful film, and I’m using the word “film” here very loosely.