Fantastic Four (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
Somewhere inside “Fantastic Four,” written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kingberg and Josh Trank, is a glimmer of great movie and it can be found during the first half, before a most dire miscalculation of jumping ahead by one year. As a result, the material feels like two very different movies in terms of atmosphere, tone, and, perhaps most importantly, quality of storytelling. One brims with excitement, intelligence, and assured pacing, but the other offers awkward dialogue and disjointed action sequences that rely on CGI to create a semblance of magnificence.
Equally important limitation is the running time. Clocking in at about one hundred minutes, the origin story of Mr. Fantastic (Miles Teller), The Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan), The Invisible Woman (Kate Mara), and The Thing (Jamie Bell) comes across as way too short, rushed. Although we get a feeling of their surface personalities and a slight whiff of who they are or what they might represent outside of their abilities, moments critical to establish character arcs are excised completely. This decision is like cutting a person’s carotid artery and expecting that individual to live.
An established and well-defined character arc is the lifeline of a superhero’s origin story, not impressive special and visual effects. Without it, there is no way the material can create a convincing level of empathy for its characters. To create an arc, the story and its characters must be given time to evolve. Here, that important point is ignored altogether.
Most enjoyable about the film, directed by Josh Trank, is the gritty, realistic look and feel of the first half, especially Reed Richards’ struggle, future Mr. Fantastic, to be taken seriously as a young scientist. I relished the small moments when an adult tells a child or teenager that his creation does not amount to much because it isn’t perfect or there is no practical application for the invention. I could relate because, as a young scientist and someone who loves science, people’s lack of imagination and appreciation for the steps required to get from Point A to Point B is at times most frustrating.
I wished the screenplay had developed the friendship between Reed and Ben, the latter becoming The Thing after being exposed to energy from another dimension. Teller and Bell share natural chemistry. There is effervescence and sensitivity in the way they carry themselves with one another and execute the dialogue. Because the film ignores Reed and Ben’s relationship eventually, the work suffers later on when one feel betrayed by the other’s action (or inaction).
When one takes the time to look closely, one is likely to realize that “Fantastic Four” is not as horrible as most viewers claim to be. It is very disappointing, certainly, but the first half is so strong that it is almost worth seeing. It is the kind of a movie that one won’t mind sitting through during a lazy day when it is playing on television.