“There’s nothing at the end,” said the cleaning crew as the credits rolled; how right they were.
Cribbing the look and feel of the movie Explorers, fifth-grader Reed Richards befriends Ben Grimm for the parts to build a teleportation device. Years later at a high school science fair, Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) impresses Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) with the solution to a problem they had been working on: how to bring something back again after being teleported. Dr. Storm recruits Reed to work alongside Sue and himself at New York’s Baxter Building to complete the project with its creator, Victor (Toby Kebbell), a brilliant competitive loner with a bad reputation. They finish the quantum gateway with the help of Dr. Franklin’s underachieving son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), but the financiers want to turn the project over to NASA following a successful test. Determined to be the first humans to cross dimensions using the technology they created, Reed calls Ben to go with him, Johnny and Victor into another world (cue theme music and a giant hourglass).
After the unreleased 1994 Roger Corman version and two previous movies with Julian McMahon pissing away the character of the Dr. Doom, 20th Century Fox has launched a new Fantastic Four film to desperately hold onto the Marvel franchise movie rights…and rushing it into ruination once more. The first act is actually solid with a few hiccups until the words “one year later” gut the momentum and kill any actual drama. Instead of seeing the heroes deal with their powers, we get a montage minus one: our villain. By the time everything comes full circle, the ending happens so quick that viewers should wear neck braces to prevent whiplash. Worse yet, the story could have been saved with a couple of tweaks and little more time spent with what the bad guy might be up to, but instead we get repeated cold shoulders and little if any meaningful interaction. By the time the credits roll, it feels like a cheat: “Meh, the Movie.”
So, let’s talk villainy, shall we? Toby Kebbell makes a decent Von Doom when he’s not channeling James Franco in jerk mode minus the buzz. The film already paints him (Victor, not Franco) as a man who feels above everyone, wallowing in self-pity because he couldn’t solve the problem Reed Richards could (that’s actually comics canon, folks). He sees himself as a supreme creator, only mildly interested in Sue Storm because he believes she’s smart enough to see him for a worthy genius. Fortunately, there’s little pursuit of Sue by Victor (he considers that beneath him), but there is significant evidence that (let’s call it “Dimension X”) is EXACTLY where someone like Doom would want to be…and yet this goes relatively unexplored, a mere afterthought during the quick climax and denouement. Attention all writers: there’s this literary device called foreshadowing that’s awesome for storytelling, but it only works if you use it! Also, why didn’t the heroes need environmental suits returning to Dimension X? Does getting elemental superpowers also enable you to acclimatize to an environment unsuitable to human physiology? “These are POOR scientists, Dr. Venkman.”
Director Josh Trank of Chronicles fame reportedly distanced himself from the initial bad reviews of a supposed reworked final cut, hinting on Twitter that he had a better version a year ago…one that audiences would never see. Countering that reaction are reports that Trank was difficult to work with and fired from an announced Boba Fett movie for Lucasfilm due to a lack of professionalism or being overwhelmed by the studio process. Whatever the truth, there may have been a better story in the script phase, one suggested here that got sidelined by studio middle management insisting money spent appear on-screen rather than a story that worked. Sadly, audiences tend to judge an entire film based on their feelings after seeing the ending…and in this case, those feelings are right on the money.
(a one skull recommendation out of four)