Fantastic Four review - 'pointless reboot starts well then falls to bits'
Superhero movies come at us these days like snowflakes in a blizzard: there are so many sequels, so many franchises, that it becomes harder and harder to care. But the abrupt arrival of Fantastic 4 seems especially nonsensical given that only a decade ago a film of the same name with a very similar plot was released by the same studio.
So what gives? A battle over rights, apparently: Fox still have them, but would soon lose them to Marvel if they did nothing. And so Fantastic Four has been banged together at speed by an inexperienced young director (Josh Trank) and a cast noticeably short on household names.
The Fantastic Four, to distinguish them from all the other gangs of super-types currently clogging up your local multiplex, are a collection of misfits who only became heroes by accident. Space radiation appears to be the culprit, but Josh Trank's retelling includes a refreshing coming-of-age back-story. The film opens in 2007, when 10-year-old misfit student Reed Richards persuades his classmate Ben Grimm to help him in a basement experiment involving the transference of matter.
He makes a toy car disappear, but also outs the power in his entire neighbourhood. Seven years later, Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) are performing a similar stunt at a high school science fair when they're approached by a visiting scientist called Franklin Storm (Reg E Cathey) and his daughter Susan (Kate Mara). Though Reed doesn't yet know it, he's succeeded in transporting matter to an alternate universe full of untapped power and potential.
Storm and his colleagues have also been working to achieve this, and Reed is given a full scholarship to a Manhattan foundation where they set out to build a machine capable of transporting people to this dangerous new world.
When they finally succeed, sinister men in black suits and thin ties turn up to wrest it from their control. But before they do, Reed, Ben, Storm's reckless son Johnny (Michael B Jordan) and an angry but brilliant young computer scientist called Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) decide to sneak off to the mysterious planet themselves. Their madcap jaunt will end in tragedy, and those who survive will find themselves burdened with terrifying new powers they'll struggle to control.
If you're a fan of superhero movies you'll have heard all this before, though in fairness not literally, because Josh Trank's Fantastic Four at least has the decency to depart significantly from the 2005 template, especially in the opening 40 minutes or so when a group of brilliant but very different young people are brought together to change the world.
Although Trank's film has earned bad notices in the US, this early part works surprisingly well, thanks to brisk storytelling and clever casting. As he proved in Whiplash, Miles Teller is a talented and versatile young actor, and leads the cast with an authoritative turn as the impassioned and idealistic Reed. Englishman Jamie Bell has huge potential as a screen actor, and he and Teller make a winning double act that is sadly terminated once Ben Grimm is transformed into Thing.
Kate Mara has an edgy, almost awkward quality that works well here, and in von Doom, Toby Kebbell gives us a rounded and almost sympathetic villain. In fact, for its first hour or so Fantastic Four is not just watchable but enjoyable. One cares about the characters, and the film feels more like a proper drama than a broad strokes summer action romp.
But then, something bad happens, and what had been a solid movie with real potential collapses into a clumsy and dreadfully handled superhero B-picture, with bad effects, no thrills and jokes so poor they'd make Jay Leno blush. It's as if someone suddenly panicked, and tried to finish the film at breakneck speed, and all the actors' good work is undone by a clunky, moribund ending.