Director: Josh Trank
Stars: Miles Teller, Kate Mara
1 Globe (out of 5)
Movies are hard. What seems like a slam dunk — a beloved source, a roster of overqualified actors, a hot, young director — may, due to an untold number of circumstances, fumble so badly you can see the seams of its undoing. Let’s semi-recklessly speculate that the new “Fantastic Four,” the third stab at Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic fave, crumbles as spectacularly as it does due to the equivalent of Murphy’s Law. Let’s say its filmmaker, “Chronicle”’s Josh Trank found himself in over his head. Let’s say everyone rushed, spastically, to meet a set-in-stone release date. Let’s say the studio gave up on it at a certain point, deciding just to dump a film that isn’t so much a disaster as a half-formed freak.
For the record, “Fantastic Four” is honestly merely inoffensively uninspired in its first half, then bad, and finally eye-bulgingly pathetic. It looks like someone gave up on it halfway through, namely when the special effects took over. For awhile there are the seeds of something there, whatever that is. It starts in ’80s Spielberg/Amblin mode, introducing future Mr. Fantastic Reed Richards and to-be-The Thing Ben Grimm as kids, brainiacs working on a teleportation gizmo to another dimension that resembles infant Earth. Instead of getting their powers the classic way — during a space trip — they acquire them by journeying to this other realm. Eventually Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), their more hotheaded colleague, gets around to a world-destroying plan that makes no sense and isn’t properly explained anyway.
The setup is slow, but that’s not a bad thing. Marvel movies are so cookie-cutter that an origin story that really takes its time is welcome counter-programming. But once everyone’s fitted with their powers the snail pace becomes a flurry of rushed activity. It doesn’t have time to flesh out some of its more intriguing ideas. The Thing (Jamie Bell) becomes a militarized weapon, but we maybe see one shot of him in action, and then from surveillance footage. (Presumably the killer set piece of him mucking up ISIS is trapped on a harddrive.) Trank name-dropped David Cronenberg and his body horror shtick as an influence, but that winds up manifesting itself as mere references: our heroes get plastered before teleporting themselves and come back spliced with other things; Doom’s assault on soldiers sports hard-PG-13 versions of “Scanners”’s bloody head implosions.