I started off writing a review of The Fantastic Four, but it got away from me. Needless to say I wasn’t a fan of the end product, but I fear the problems that plagued Fantastic Four is a symptom of a growing problem with studio control over its big-ticket properties.
The standard for superhero movies has improved for the most part since Marvel put Robert Downey Jr in a suit of armour. We can debate that X-Men relaunched the superhero franchise, and Christopher Nolan did the genre a massive solid in 2005 with his reboot of Batman. I’m also in the small minority of people that genuinely liked Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, but that’s an argument for another day.
Ever since Marvel cracked the combination on how to make a superhero movie fun and thrilling, all the major studios have been struggling to catch up. After two creatively bankrupt attempts at the Fantastic Four (and the infamously shelved Roger Corman version), a reboot was surprisingly welcome news. Add to that fresh talent Josh Trank, who wowed us with Chronicle, and you have a potentially awesome reimagined Fantastic Four. Who could have predicted it could have gone so horribly wrong.
In the age of the internet, plenty of smarty-pants bloggers claim they always knew it was going to turn out to be a hot mess. To their credit, the lack of early marketing, extensive reshoots and even the cast sounding less than impressed with the end results, do support the doom mongers mongering. The more bad reviews I read, the more I had to see it, and then Josh Trank took to Twitter to slam the cut that was now showing in cinemas. Surely it couldn’t be THAT bad, right?
I’m not entirely sure where to start; ordinarily this is the part of the review where I would offer some backwards compliments, perhaps focus on a few things that worked. The grittier world is there in part and hints at a more foreboding tone, but for every gamble it takes, the lack of conviction causes the bright sparks to fizzle.
Unlike most superhero movies of late, Fantastic Four has a brief 95-minute running time and is oddly hurried for an origins story. I feel strange complaining that a superhero movie isn’t two and half hours, but the Fantastic Four comes across as though a whole third act is missing. Most superhero movies will go to great lengths to make the audience care about the characters, make them relatable and likeable. After all, if we can’t identify with their struggle how are we meant to forge an emotional connection.
Part of the lack of emotional investment here comes from heavy cuts of what Trank had already assembled. Footage shown in trailers that don’t feature in the finished product is nothing new, but Fantastic Four is missing an alarming amount of scenes we saw in the promos. Most of the character backstory glimpsed with Ben playing baseball or Johnny tinkering with his car, gone. The Thing looking cool dropping from an aircraft that was used as the end shot for the recent trailers, gone. Reed Richards by the bedside of Victor Von Doom after he returns from the alternate universe, gone. In fact, it feels like all the heart of the movie has been gutted and replaced with functional set pieces that merely happen. If you can’t tell what was originally shot and what was part of the reshoots, just look out for the terrible wig they stapled on poor Kate Mara.
The truth about what went on behind the scenes may never be known, and speculation will only get us so far. In place of a detailed account, we can only look at the facts. Trank and the studio clearly had different visions for what the movie should be, the filmmaker’s recent Twitter outburst all but confirms that. We can’t ignore the alleged ‘erratic’ behaviour Trank was reported to be displaying during the shoot. Wouldn’t you be a bit miffed if the studio that hired you to make your vision of the movie was taking it away? Then again, was Trank out of his depth on such a big production? All of this is hearsay until the facts come out, but I think we can rule out a director’s cut release anytime soon.
Apologies if you thought you were going to get a cohesive well-structured review, but as the movie itself is neither of those things I’m sure you can forgive me.I never thought I would say this, but the two Tim Story directed FF movies are better than this. Movie Gods! I know not what I say!