REVIEW: Fantastic Four (2015) – Failure by Compromise

Fantastic Four

I honestly don’t know where to start. Fantastic Four defies an introduction. I’m still digesting what I just saw, but I feel fairly confident in saying this: this movie is the product of one hundred tiny mistakes and one catastrophic error.

See, the original vision for this film comes from writer director Josh Trank, a small time indie film maker with only one other film to his name. Trank’s vision was for something more grounded, intellectual even. If what’s hitting theaters this week is anything to go by though, Fox took one look at his version and started pushing and tweaking the thing to death.

As for the story, our hero is Miles Teller’s Reed Richards, a mild mannered but obsessive scientific genius who forms a close childhood bond with Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm. This is mainly centred around Reed’s development of a teleporter thingy, which years later earns him a scholarship and a place on a super secret experimental project.

The project, run by Reg E. Cathey’s Franklin Storm and funded by some sinister military folks, is aimed at sending people to a new dimension. Without getting too spoilery things go wrong and superpowers get handed out.

One thing I should highlight at this point is that while I’m not a reader of the source material, any fans of the original comics should leave their nerd radars at the door. I get the strong impression that while the character names and superpowers remain the same, some extreme liberties may have been taken with character and tone. This is not a Fantastic Four movie. It’s barely even a superhero movie.

Fantastic Four trailer

My admittedly sketchy understanding is that Fantastic Four has always been about exploration and the joy of scientific discovery. What Trank aims for here is a kind of morality tale about how we approach and use science.

So, you ask, is this film good or bad? The answer is complicated, but can be fairly summed up thus: this thing is a monumental mess.

About halfway through the film we are told all of a sudden that a year of time has passed. This announcement is pivotal, because it’s basically the exact moment when it becomes a completely different movie. What comes before this point is stark, moody and heavy with theme, like an indie movie accidentally tumbled through a comic book store. What comes after is a movie that desperately tries and fails to be as bombastic and crowd pleasing as The Avengers.

Ultimately, this is what breaks the film beyond repair. It fills the entire story with shoddy character motivations and under-explained plot points, as it tries to bare the weight of too different versions of itself. The bad guy is shelved for the entire second act, only to return looking like some cheap 1980s robot covered in Christmas lights.


Honestly, what makes this unforgivable is that when I was supposed to be horrified by it, I was actually sniggering.

There’s more though. Characters make decisions that are hard to understand, and their attitudes change arbitrarily. Many of the relationships we’re supposed to assume are important are unexplored to the point that the movie loses any stakes when it comes to the big finale.

The most depressing thing though is that in between all this nearly every actor gives a descent performance. Miles Teller’s Reed is earnest but single minded, Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny is arrogant but likable. And it’s all wasted.

The biggest disappointment though is how wasted Kate Mara is as Susan Storm. Anyone who’s seen House of Cards knows what she’s capable of, but here she is practically redundant. The script seems to give her things to do only grudgingly. Which is sad, because her relationships with her adoptive father and brother could have been some of the most interesting moments of the film. If someone had bothered to put them in.

Does anyone get the feeling there were a lot of scenes in this thing that didn’t make the final cut?

In between all the errors there are a handful of things Fantastic Four does well. The tone for the first third of the film is quite consistent and full of quirkiness and subtlety. The musical queues and camera angles all hint at a potentially talented indie film maker playing with some interesting ideas. Although there are moments that feel slightly ham-fisted, it does feel like the story is building to something deep. Any hope that this might pay off though is squashed when we reach the second half.

Like I said, the second half is a different movie. Everything suddenly feels like it’s in a rush to get to an over-the-top finale that hasn’t even been built up. While this section of the film does a good job of showing us how each character’s superpowers work, it all falls flat with a sloppy special effects laden final boss battle.

Fantastic Four is not an action movie, even if its final twenty minutes want it to be. Outside the finale, there’s barely an action scene in it. Maybe this was Josh Trank’s vision of a more grounded comic book movie but something definitely went wrong along the way.

Fantastic Four

Perhaps Trank, who is still a pretty green director when all’s said and done, just didn’t have the experience and skills to pull it off. Maybe Fox didn’t get the action movie they wanted and decided to change it late in the day. If pushed, I’d say it was more the latter than the former.

I don’t want to be too critical of this thing, because there are parts that do work. There are fun moments and spurts of genuine inventiveness carried by a very solid cast. But none of it is enough to make up for its main flaw.

By trying to be two things at once Fantastic Four fails to be anything. It’s not thematically substantial enough to be an intellectual superhero flick and there’s too little action or spectacle for it to be considered a blockbuster. Meshing the two together doesn’t work.

In the end, this film could have been much more than it was. Maybe, just maybe, Josh Trank was right all along.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.