“Fantastic Four,” the reboot of Marvel’s original superhero gang starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell, should have had a subtitle. I’d suggest “Fantastic Four: Prologue!” or perhaps “Fantastic Four: Failure to Launch.” The latest entry into the superhero sweepstakes is a leaden affair that seems to exist only to set up a sequel and doesn’t even do a good job at that.
Miles Teller stars as Reed Richards, a boy genius who started working on his interdimensional travel device when he was in grade five. Cut to years later at his high school science fair. He’s still slogging away on the machine with the help of his best friend Ben (Bell). His science teacher disqualifies him—“This is a science fair, not a magic show!”—but a visiting scientist (Reg E. Cathey), the living embodiment of the “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach” maxim, offers him a job at research lab Baxter Industries.
There he works with Johnny and Susan Storm (Jordan and Mara) and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell)—can you guess which one becomes the bad guy?—to build a proper teleportation device. After successfully sending a monkey to Planet Zero the core group, plus Ben but minus Sue, make the trip themselves. Much Saturday morning cartoon dialogue later they are forced to leave Victor behind and make a desperate dash for earth. Once back home things have changed. Reed has turned into Stretch Armstrong, with elastic arms and legs, Johnny is a literal fireball of energy, Ben is a rock star now known as Thing and Sue, who soaked up some radioactive rays now “shifts in and out of the visible spectrum.”
There’s more, but really, who cares? From this point on “Fantastic Four” becomes a studio superhero franchise film, regurgitating situations and visuals we’ve seen before in better movies. There’s the giant ray of matter shooting from an interdimensional portal into the sky, the maniacal bad guy and terror here on earth.
Been there, done that.
Director Josh Trank makes an effort to distinguish the movie with an hour of character development off the top but the pace is anything but fantastic—there’s a low energy chase scene that feels like the cars are driving through molasses—and the movie plays more like an emo indie than a superhero flick. The serious tone is appreciated after the smirky “Avengers: Age of Ultron” but the empty millennial platitudes—“We can’t change the past but we can change the future!”—and lack of any really compelling characters make it a slog. The beauty of the “Fantastic Four” comic books was the chemistry between the characters, an element, despite good actors, missing from the reboot.
Maybe “Fantastic Four” doesn’t need a subtitle. Perhaps it simply needs a more accurate title, like “Qualified Quartet” or “Fair Four.”