Time for some real talk: nobody likes dark superhero movies. Oh sure, there’s a subculture out there who longs to pile into a theater and be told how terrible it is to have phenomenal powers, and to be so hot you have to fight off a horde of sex partners using nothing but your massive genitals. But for the rest of us, we like to have fun at the movies. Novel concept, right? Well, it was for Josh Trank, who decided to take one of the most fun comic properties in history and turn it into a mass grave for ducklings.
Tagline: Beyond darkness… beyond fear… lies the fantastic.
More Accurate Tagline: Beyond darkness… beyond fear… lies more darkness and some tedium.
Guilty Party: Josh Trank is so stupid he thinks birthday parties are the ritual sacrifice of cake. He’s so depressing that if you showed him a balloon, he’d wonder how you cut his brother’s head off. Trank sat through Role Models patiently waiting for Paul Rudd to torture and kill McLovin, and wrote an angry tweet to the studio when it didn’t happen. That tweet was so incoherent, Fox wondered why someone wanted to send them a recipe for ham loaf. For some ungodly reason, Fox, who has been holding onto the rights to the Marvel comic Fantastic Four with iron grip of an Amish kid who just discovered internet porn, chose Trank to direct their second stab at a franchise-starting movie. Despite Trank’s background in, apparently, documenting the slow cancer deaths of baby animals.
Synopsis: I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here, reader. I don’t want you to see the word “Synopsis” and think to yourself, “Hey, something happens in this movie.” Because it doesn’t. If this thing was 90 minutes of Josh Trank shitting into a bucket, it would have more value, but then at least you’d have something to show for it.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a young genius, despite the fact that his teacher (who apparently is his only one from 5th grade to 12th) is Homer Simpson. He makes friends with troubled junkyard-dweller Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and they learn how to teleport stuff. At the science fair where they unveil this, they get approached by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, convinced he’s in a better film), and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and recruited to work in their lab. There, they’re joined by Storm’s street-racing son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and grouchy foreign genius Victor Von Doom (seriously, who cares at this point?).
So this teleporter Reed built actually goes to another dimension, and with all of them working as a team, they figure out how to get there and back. When the project manager (or something, I was unclear as to who he was, but my ears and eyes were bleeding at this point, so I could have missed it) tells them that they can’t be the first humans to walk on this alternate dimension planet, Reed, Johnny, and Victor get liquored up and decide to go anyway. At this point, Reed decides that, instead of calling up brilliant scientist and computer whiz Sue, he’s going with his weird friend who lives in a junkyard. Even in the original book when Sue’s main job was making everybody dinner and whining, they at least let her go on the goddamn mission. But hey, maybe Reed was afraid of Sue’s menstruation attracting space bears.
Reed, Johnny, Victor, and Ben go to the other side, and that’s when Sue wakes up and is like, “Oh, you silly men.” Everything explodes over there. Victor gets swallowed up in green plasma, Ben gets covered in rocks, and Johnny gets set on fire. When they (minus Victor) come back, Reed is also super stretchy, and in the force of the explosion or something, Sue gets turned partly invisible. Yeah, they get superpowers. Over halfway through the movie.
The scientists keep them in a lab because, well, dude’s on fire. Reed escapes and goes on the run. There’s a one year time jump here because the script wants to invent new ways for you to hate it. Everyone’s learned to use their powers, and Ben is now an emotionally scarred mass murderer for the government.
They find Reed living in the jungle and everyone hates him now for running away. The scientists need his help to get back to the dimension, because if having one rock murderer is cool, imagine like five or six. So they go back and instead find Victor, who’s now also superpowered and has a cloak. They bring him home and he shows off the power to blow people’s heads up, which is what happens when you show this movie to infants who don’t have a protective layer of cynicism.
Victor decides that he rules this other dimension, and sure, why not? So he’s going to destroy Earth to keep it safe. Okay. Anyway, Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben all get together and beat him, but only when they team up. Then they get their own lab and think maybe they should have a name or something.
Life-Changing Subtext: Science really isn’t worth the trouble.
Defining Quote: Sue: “Look at Dr. Doom over here.” I can’t even write that without my eyes vomiting on my keyboard. Whenever some Trump voter decides they want to make a “smart” superhero movie, they have to throw in some winks and nods to the source material, usually with offhand lines like this one. Yeah, the Fantastic Four’s archenemy is a technological-sorcerer dictator named Dr. Doom. This is when I’d explain the refuge in audacity, but then I’d have to define the words “refuge” and “audacity” for the target audience. Probably also “superhero” and “movie.”
Standout Performance: Reg E. Cathey is easily the best part of this, but that basically means he’s summited Turd Mountain and can plant his flag next to all the undigested bits of corn.
What’s Wrong: Over half the film with no powers. The villain wakes up in the end and is like, “Oh yeah, should probably do something evil now.” If this thing had been scored by a policeman’s funeral, it couldn’t have been more somber. The entire movie felt like a Facebook comment starting with the word “Actually.”
Flash of Competence: The casting is pretty good. Teller’s weird dead-eyed robot thing he does works for out-of-control egomaniac Reed Richards. Bell is an unconventional choice for big bruiser Ben, but he’s a good actor. Jordan is always welcome, and Mara’s been good in other things. None of them get a single molecule of help from director or script.
Best Scenes: Victor’s rampage in the end brings the story to life mostly because it’s like, wait, I thought I was watching a superhero movie, and this fucking guy is exploding heads. Really, at this point I was basically some guy listening to Ted Stryker’s life story and I needed something to get me through.
At one point, Reed mansplains the plot of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Sue. Just thought I’d mention it.
When Franklin Storm first finds Victor, he’s living in a garage that looks like it smells like a monkey’s taint. He’s got a bunch of computer monitors in front of him, which is film shorthand for “computer nerd,” as opposed to “guy with too many monitors.” Victor has no accent. None. Later, it’s back! Then gone. This thing is like Punxatawney Phil, although I have no idea what happens if it sees its shadow.
Transcendent Moment: Trank missed the point of the comic so hard, he ripped a hole into another dimension filled with nothing but chinstrap beards and Axe body spray. In the comics, Ben Grimm’s battlecry is the charmingly folksy, “It’s clobberin’ time!” Because of the modern need to explain where everything came from, and the only movie Trank has ever seen is The Crow, he had to shove an angsty origin for that line. It’s what Ben’s brother says before beating him up. Yeah.
Here’s the insane thing: if you’re one of six people who likes dark superhero stories, you still should skip this one. It’s not just dark, and stupid, but it’s tedious as well. Not a thing happens. You’re better off reading a comic from the ‘90s. Or, I don’t know, drinking alone.