Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson and Reg E. Cathey
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: August 7th
Back in 1992, 20th Century Fox gave a visionary director the keys to a major franchise, but the vision they were presented with wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. Too dark, too different, too dreary… and as the story goes, they took over the reins from that new hotshot, unhappy with being given exactly what they asked for, and between the reshoots and jarring edits, left themselves with an unholy mess. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later it appears that they’ve done it again, as Fantastic Four is likely to be to Josh Trank what Alien 3 was to David Fincher.
Ten years ago, the Fantastic Four were met with middling box office and atrocious reviews, but this was before Marvel came and changed the game with Iron Man. Superhero movies can make billions of dollars and even get tipped for Oscars now; there’s no room at Comic Con for anything less. Word leading up to the release of Fantastic Four had been too quiet… until it wasn’t. Leaving aside all of the nasty behind-the-scenes business, Trank was telling fans that his primary influences for this movie were David Cronenberg’s body horrors, and would have less in common with Marvel’s light-and-airy MCU. So far, so good.
Getting the hot, young cast of Teller, Mara, Jordan, Bell and Kebbell was another big step in the right direction, but the script, co-written by Trank with X-Men: Days of Future Past writer Simon Kinberg, gives them absolutely nothing to do. Or maybe it did, before the supposed reshoots and jarring edits took it all away. For the first hour, we’re just repeatedly reminded of each character’s primary characteristic – smart, smarter, brash, loyal and crazy, in that order – before we finally get to the actual plot. Having used a matter transporter to travel to an alternative universe, they’re all infused with new powers, ones the government want to use for – you guessed it! – nefarious purposes.
To be fair to Trank, there are some glimpses of the movie this could have been. When the group first return to Earth and witness their transformations for the first time, that Cronenberg shading is there for all to see. Later in the movie, when Kebbell’s big bad guy Victor von Doom decides he wants to destroy the Earth, the scene where he shows off his new found powers is pure, out-and-out horror and the film is almost worth watching just for those brilliant, jaw-dropping five minutes.
Everything else surrounding these scenes is either wasted potential or just a complete waste of time. There’s a real sense that this version of Fantastic Four wants to be taken very seriously, complete with some hard sci-fi to go with the superhero drama, but the scientists undergo massive IQ dumps from scene to scene – the decision to inter-dimensionally travel is done on a drunken whim, and these geniuses suffer from that Prometheus problem of actively recognising danger and walking blindly towards it – while the science itself (this other dimension sometimes has a toxic atmosphere, and sometimes it doesn’t) doesn’t follow its own set of rules.
The obvious entertainment level of a superhero movie is for the most part nowhere to be found, and it hasn’t been replaced by anything to fill that void. Whereas last time round Fantastic Four was too dumb to be fun, this time it’s too smart and too serious to be enjoyable. The hints at horror throughout betray a different vision, one which disappears altogether for an extremely short third act action climax– the movie’s only real action scene, mind you – which clashes violently with the subtle (or drab, depending on how much coffee you’ve had) build-up.
Taking a look at the trailer, there are A LOT of scenes in there which are nowhere to be found in the finished movie. While that’s not exactly a phenomenon unique to this movie, it does tell the story that there might be a different, better version of this story on a cutting room floor somewhere. In 2003, Fox released the ‘Assembly Cut’ of Alien 3, a much-improved version of the movie and it is now seen as something of a misunderstood classic. So you never know, come 2026, we might get to see what Trank really had in mind for the currently not-so-Fantastic Four.