In 2012, director Josh Trank brought something new to the superhero genre with the dark and sharp-edged film “Chronicle,” which focused more on character development than on grandiose action sequences. In brief, ephemeral moments, that mentality can be seen in Trank’s reboot of the popular Marvel comic “Fantastic Four,” but something goes very, very wrong along the way.
Most of the problems plaguing this film stem directly from its pacing and runtime. The exposition extends straight through the second act — almost an hour of the film’s brief 100-minute runtime passes before the group, comprising Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), even attains their powers — but somehow in all that time, it feels like not a single instance of real, human dialogue passes between the characters intended to become the tight-knit superhero team.
Instead, precious minutes are wasted in montages “explaining” the science behind the construction of the characters’ interdimensional teleportation device, an idea so absurd there’s really no point in defending it realistically. With montages and cuts skipping several months of the story, we don’t get to see the characters bond in any way prior to their ill-fated trip to a poorly rendered computer-generated hellscape that is “the other dimension.”
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see them bond after they gain their powers, either. With only 20 or so minutes left to work with, Trank simply jumps forward a year, and we find the four characters separated: Richards is on the run, Grimm/the Thing is doing wreckage on the battlefield for the military, and Sue and Johnny, the brother-sister duo, are working separately on honing their powers, their motivations unclear.
It is here that the audience can feel the desperation kick in. With what feels like 10 minutes left, there’s still no sign of the conflict, which everyone knows will present in the return of Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), left behind in the other dimension a year prior.
After capturing Richards with the help of the Thing, the higher-ups attempt another voyage into the other dimension, presumably to find a cure for our protagonists (but more likely to weaponize whatever is over there). Of course, Dr. Doom reveals himself — as he absolutely must, at this point — and is brought back to Earth, where he promptly engages in a pointless and gory massacre before returning to the other dimension and using his pseudo-limitless powers to attempt to destroy Earth.
We have no idea what could turn him this evil this quickly, but there’s no time to dwell on it, as the movie finally launches into its requisite fight scene, which doesn’t make much sense and isn’t very long or well choreographed. It does, however, manage to hammer home that our heroes can only defeat the bad guy together, which, of course, they do with a blatant disregard for Dr. Doom’s considerable power advantage over them.
It is tempting to say, given the more typical two-hour runtime of most superhero flicks, that some of these problems might have been resolved with a longer runtime, but the improvement might still not be worth the admission ticket, or the extra time wasted in the theater. The four main actors, all of whom have demonstrated considerable skills in other projects, are given no opportunities to interact or display any multidimensionality — instead appearing cold and contrived.
Ultimately, the finished product feels like an attempt to salvage and cobble together the pieces of something that went off the rails in production — in fact, several of the scenes in the trailer aren’t even in the film. The brief moments of humor and humanity are not worth the skewed pacing and plethora of cringe-worthy cheesy lines that dominate the ending sequences.
It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong behind the scenes, but something clearly did. Despite boasting a strong cast and having great promise as a film grittier and darker than its predecessor, “Fantastic Four” won’t be cashing in on the current superhero craze.
Contact Imad Pasha at [email protected].