The "Fantastic Four" Marvel comic book series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby has had a rocky cinematic history. A 1994 adaptation ran out of money and was never properly completed. A big-budget 2005 version
starring Jessica Alba and a pre-"Captain America
" Chris Evans did well enough to spawn a sequel, 2007's "Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
," but neither one was positively received and audiences were left lukewarm by their homogenized blandness. If a promising up-and-coming director could turn things around with a lavish, $150-million summertime reboot, it would have seemed to be Josh Trank, he of 2012's ingeniously written, ambitiously crafted found-footage superhero saga "Chronicle
." Alas, someoneor, more probably, a lot of someonesat 20th Century Fox have seen fit to botch the results. To watch this 2015 edition of "Fantastic Four" is to witness before one's very eyes a once-hopeful vision being eviscerated by simply too many cooks in the kitchen. Starting strong, losing its way at the midpoint, and finally collapsing in a haze of rushed plotting, garish effects work, and the kind of desperately bad dialogue for which not even the actors can withhold their contempt, the film very likely will be following the lead of 2011's "Green Lantern
" by destroying its franchise aspirations in one fell swoop.
Since the age of ten, Oyster Bay native Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been determined to crack the scientific code for teleportation. Seven years later, he and best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) seem to do just that with a prototype they invent for their high-school science fair, in the process catching the attention of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), visionary director of research facility and school Baxter Institute. When Reed is offered a full scholarship to assist in the development of Quantum Gate, a portal to a parallel dimension begun by recently ousted prodigy Victor von Doom (Tony Kebbell), he jumps at the chance. After a rogue journey to alternate plane Planet Zero ends in tragedy, however, the survivorsReed and Ben, as well as Franklin's children, Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan)return infected with extraordinary abilities. With the government seeking to exploit the group as Reed and Sue search for a way to reverse their powers, a shocking discovery lurking on Planet Zero paves the way for a battle to protect the world from being sucked into another dimension.
"Fantastic Four" is yet another superhero origin tale, particularly glum and humorless until everything goes haywire in the third act and the film starts to morph into the second coming of 1997's cartoonish, pun-heavy "Batman and Robin." The picture is at its best during a prologue that introduces the friendship between Reed and Ben and their early (failed) attempts with teleportation. Once the narrative shoots forward to find them now teenagers, it still appears to be on solid footing. The gradual buildup as Reed enters Baxter and meets the studious Sue and rebellious Johnny is promisingly written by co-scribes Simon Kinberg (2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past
") and Jeremy Slater (2015's "The Lazarus Effect
"), hinting that this initial character development and the bond that forms between them will continue to deepen in the second hour. Not so. Around the time they make their way to the Land of Blatant Greenscreen (a.k.a. Planet Zero) and come back with their powersReed can stretch his body like a rubber band; Sue can shift in and out of the visibility spectrum; Johnny is a human torch; Ben is physically powerful and made of stonea very noticeable shift occurs from which it never recovers.
The second half plays as if it was either made by a different person, or is simply the section where the plentiful reshoots mostly took place. The pacing becomes languid, drained of detectable energy and passion. The story hits a brick wall and starts spinning its wheels, weighted down by a dreary pall of self-seriousness. The scope is claustrophobic, with precious few exterior scenes outside of the ones set on the fakey, computer-generated Planet Zero. The characters become rote pawns to the plot and lack satisfactory arcs and personalities. As for the actors, the optimism they display at the onset is hauntingly replaced with dead eyes and defeated expressions. By the end, Miles Teller (2014's "Whiplash
") cannot even be bothered to hide how fed up he is, reciting his hideous lines ("We opened this door, we're gonna close it!") with all the life and conviction of a bored robot. Meanwhile, Kate Mara (2014's "Transcendence
") and Michael B. Jordan (2013's "Fruitvale Station
") look on, and Jamie Bell (2014's "Snowpiercer
") is lucky to be buried under CG rocks as he grumbles his lines. As eventual villain Victor/Dr. Doom, Toby Kebbell (2014's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
") is better at posing a malicious threat than what the gravely undernourished script asks of him. When he finally enters back into the proceedings, the movie gives him nothing to do as it makes a mad dash toward the end credits.
"It's clobberin' time!" Ben Grimm/The Thing cringe-inducingly utters as he tosses a character like a rag doll during the embarrassing climax of "Fantastic Four." If the bulk of the film is straight-faced almost to a fault, the final fifteen minutes give up and turn toward all-out camp, complete with stilted, groan-worthy one-liners and choppy, undistinguished editing. In place of detectable joy is the visual equivalent of putting on a smile while gritting through one's teeth. Even the special effects artists appear to have headed home early. There are specks of promise hidden amidst the muck of "Fantastic Four"the music score co-composed by Marco Beltrami (2014's "The Giver
") and Philip Glass (2014's "Visitors
"), for example, is far better than the images that accompany itbut what disturbingly permeates the surface is director Josh Trank's creative anguish over seeing his movie get viciously stripped of its soul.