‘Reboots’ are trendy in Hollywood these days, and see varying degrees of success. Batman Begins was necessary and beautiful. Amazing Spider-Man was unnecessary and, quite frankly, insulting. The latest on the bandwagon are Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four. Stretchy, fiery, rocky guys and see-through girl. The general consensus is that the 2005 and 2007 films by Tim Story have not aged well, and Fox have attempted to perform a similar surgery to that which Spider-Man received: telling the same story again whilst pointedly changing certain elements to validate a second attempt, decreasing the age of all cast members involved by about ten years and dragging the brightness right down so it feels like you’re watching on an iPhone that you’re worried is soon going to run out of battery.
For the first half of the film, I thought the decision to reboot was an excellent one. The writers had stuck quite rigidly to the Ultimate Fantastic Four line of comic books, which centres their origin around inter-dimensional teleportation rather than space travel. This, along with a pretty consistent cast, seemed to have injected new life into a team long overshadowed by the X-Men (and more recently, the Avengers). I’m not saying the first half of the film was as adrenaline-fuelled as the likes of last year’s Days of Future Past (actually, I can see why some might say it felt slow-paced), but the characters were all solid, the relationships between them strong and well defined, and I for one was genuinely excited to see Reed fulfil his lifetime ambition of teleportation.
And he does, but of course, things take a disastrous turn (that is never properly explained, other than maybe through some parable about not getting drunk when the government screw you over). All that matters is that Reed, along with his best friend Ben, his angry co-genius Victor, his other (more flirty) co-genius Sue, and her brother Johnny, all get powers. In truth, we’re not quite sure why Sue got them because she didn’t actually teleport to the dangerous dimension with the others (she wasn’t invited despite having one of the biggest inputs on building the teleporter – talk about misogyny), but all that we should care about is that EVERYTHING SLOWLY TURNS TO SHIT. First for our heroes, and soon after, for us sat watching. Remember, spoilers ahead.
There’s some very well done scenes following this which show us what’s happened to the four’s bodies after the ‘incident’. (Yes four, Victor ‘died’ in the other dimension. What do you mean you can see where this is going?) It’s sufficiently harrowing watching them finding themselves trapped as monsters, or what looks like them dying from their new conditions. (They don’t, don’t worry. A sequel was commissioned before they even got to filming that bit). Reed manages to escape the compound where they’re being incarcerated and… ‘one year later’. Ooh, what an interesting twist. Good in that we don’t have to see them get to grips with their powers – the 2005 movie covered that more than efficiently. So was this time jump put to good use?
You knew the answer. Instead of coming up with a plan to save or cure his friends, Reed has just been… hiding in a wood. He said he’d go back for his best friend but he does the exact opposite, and all likeability Miles Teller pumped into the world’s biggest geek flies out of the window. Ben has become an attack dog for the government, and Sue and Johnny are just playing around with their powers, which apparently drains their personalities when used for more than thirty seconds a day. The team have lost all of their character and the strong ties which made us root for them before.
Eventually when they track down Reed to fix the machine (for no other reason than the plot requires them to go back into the other dimension so we can see what has happened to Victor), they all very quickly seem to forget that Reed abandoned them and get along like a house on fire (insert your own pun). “We’re in the final act already guys, let’s pretend the ‘one year later’ never happened!” I thought the film was back on track when Victor (or ‘Doctor Doom’ as we’re meant to name him in our heads) returned – he was initially very scary, having gained an immense power from living in the other dimension for a year (no explanation on how he survived is needed of course).
But Doom is soon sucked up into the bland CGI competition that is the final act, becoming just as forgettable as he was when played by Julian McMahon ten years ago. He joins the fab four in an apex of clichés, from ‘we’re stronger together’ to a dying family member’s ‘promise me…’ (which has absolutely no effect on the emotions of those involved, seemingly forgotten within a minute), to ‘there is no more Victor… only Doom!’ This is the kind of script that makes comic book fans roll their eyes, annoyed as the stereotypical perceptions of their hobby are validated in succession. If not for the effects (and some of them were bloody ropey anyway), this cheese-fest of a conclusion could have been made twenty years ago – the audience was laughing at bits that were in no way intended to be humorous. I’m still struggling to believe that this was written by the same writers who made us believe in teleportation not an hour before.
One other note before I wrap up: I feel I should address some of the backlash received regarding Michael B Jordan, a black actor, being cast as Johnny Storm. I read comic books, and so of course I always appreciate when the films take important elements from the page and translate them onto screen. But if you were to write a hundred words on a piece of paper which define Johnny Storm’s character (if there even are that many, he’s a simple soul bless him), ‘white’ would not be one of them. Of course it’s ok for a black actor to play a character who was originally drawn over fifty years ago as a white guy; things have changed dramatically since 1961. What I do find slightly distasteful however is that Johnny’s sister Sue was played by Kate Mara, a white actress. As fine a job as she did and as nice as she is to look at, there are black actresses who would tick both of those boxes just as well. The ‘adoption’ addition to the story felt like an unnecessary change, and screams to me of ‘token black guy’. Wouldn’t it have been great to have a half-black team?
I would finish off with some kind of ‘fantastic’ pun, but the eight year old who took over writing the last part of the script well and truly had that covered.