Reed Richards (Miles Teller) proved his brilliant mind at a very young age and, now a teenager, he has developed his cymatic matter shuttle – a teleportation machine – for a science fair. His invention is disqualified but it comes to the attention of the Baxter Foundation, a think tank experimenting in teleportation. When Reed, his best buddy Ben (Jamie Bell), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and his adopted sister, Susan (Kate Mara), and renegade scientist Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) take the experiment into their own hands, things go wrong for what will become the “Fantastic Four.”
The screenplay, written by a battery of writers, has a formulaic structure – first quarter develops the characters so we get to know their qualities and quirks; the second quarter is given over to preparing for the mission to get to the fourth-dimension; quarter three focuses on the mission and it going awry; last quarter is about cleaning up the mess from quarter three. All of this is done for the sole reason of setting up the sequel where, we can assume, the real action gets under way.
Though time is spent introducing the characters, none of them have any real dimension and do not evoke anything approaching sympathy. The talented young cast is wasted with corny dialog and a ho-hum story that follows an anticipated path. There are no surprises in store for the fans and not much of one for the uninitiated to the Marvel comics world, like me. I do not know how closely this story adheres to its source material and I am sure there will be a howl of protests from the fans expecting more. I give it a C.
On career day, young Reed Richards (Owen Judge) says he wants to be the first human to teleport himself. His teacher Mr. Kenny (Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson) dismisses him, telling him to come back with a real career the next day, but Reed's caught the attention of Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann), who goes to Reed's garage to witness the elaborate machine he's built. When the same teacher remains unimpressed years later at the high school science fair, Reed's (Miles Teller, "Whiplash") offered a position at the Baxter Institute by its Dean, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, "St. Vincent"), who tells him he's accomplished what they've been working towards in "Fantastic Four."
Cowriter (with Simon Kinberg ("X-Men: Days of Future Past") & "The Lazarus Effect's" Jeremy Slater)/Josh Trank's ("Chronicle") origin story starts off well enough, the smart but lonely genius pairing up with the under-privileged son of salvage yard. The film continues to cook as a team is pulled together - Storm's adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara, "We Are Marshall," "127 Hours") who's working on protective suits, his recalcitrant son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan, "Chronicle," "Fruitvale Station") whose need for speed is rechanneled and Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell, "Control"), who hadn't quite cracked shuffling matter. Victor obviously has eyes for 'Susan' and isn't happy with her easy repartee with Reed, but they get the job done. They're all thrown into a panic when Dr. Harvey Allen (Tim Blake Nelson, "The Incredible Hulk") decrees their successful demo 'ready for NASA,' and so, after a night of celebratory boozing, decide to make their names by taking the first human trip. Reed insists his old friend Ben (Jamie Bell, "Snowpiercer") must accompany them. But the primordial world they find themselves in proves unstable. Doom is lost and the three who make it back are severely injured in a reentry explosion which also impacts the waiting Sue. The four are transported to Area 54.
So far so good, but there are already a few problems, mostly the film's ugly production design which renders Baxter a drab and dreary place and the alternate world a cheap looking brown/black swath of CGI. Teller, who acquits himself better here than in the "Divergent" movies, is nonetheless odd casting for such a nerdy character and Kebbel is in his mid-30's. Cathey delivers his lines like Morgan Freeman crossed with late 'In a World...' voice over artist Don LaFontaine. Reed's transformation into an elasta-man is pretty freaky looking, and we join in his horror when we see what's happened to Ben, the blast of rocks which hit his open pod door now his defining physical characteristic. Johnny is a ball of flame while Sue flickers in and out of visibility.
There's never any discussion of why they've suffered such different fates. Instead Harvey exploits their military potential with Ben's Thing deployed into the field. He's kept in a mud gray basement room in Area 54, brooding over Reed's abandonment (his friend escaped in order to save them). Johnny's reveling in his ability to flit about while his sister learns to control her ability to create force fields. Of course we know Doom'll be back and when he returns he's not very impressive looking. Neither is the big final battle. There are video games which blow these visuals away.
Don't bother staying through the end credits - there is no stinger here, just a wrap signalling the hoped for sequel. "Fantastic Four" is an origin story that fails to build on what it's trying to establish.
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