Josh Trank delivered a refreshing new take on the whole idea of super powers and origin stories with his 2012 science fiction thriller Chronicle. It’s very much a character driven film, with any action playing second fiddle to the story it’s trying to tell. Fantastic Four is much in the same way only on a blockbuster level, but what worked previously doesn’t necessarily work as well when venturing into the familiar territory of Marvel comics.
Fantastic Four is a reboot of the franchise with a heavy focus on the origin story of its members. Comic book film adaptations typically spend their first act setting up how their character receive their powers. Trank makes it the center of the entire film.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a gifted teenager whose intelligence gets him mocked wherever he goes. He does manage to build a crudely functioning teleporter with his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), however, which gets him noticed by Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey), who then enlists his help in developing the technology to send people to another dimension together with the help of Dr. Storm’s two kids, Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and the arrogant but talented Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell).
The majority of Fantastic Four is spent exploring these characters as they work on their transporter machine. It’s very heavy on the science fiction aspect and light on the action. It isn’t until the middle of the film when they finally travel to this other planet and receive their powers. Even after that, the film still struggles to get off the ground.
Victor is absent for the majority of the film, lost in the other dimension, so there’s little conflict. Most of the drama revolves around everyone coming to terms with their abilities and whether or not they’re being taken advantaged of by the government. For a film involving someone who can stretch into any shape, someone invisible, someone on fire, and a rock monster it’s all rather dull. It’s too focused on drawing out their origin stories, which many people are probably already familiar with from the last Fantastic Four films. That’d be fine if it was something new and interesting, but it’s the same old arc.
The film does manage to deliver a third act we’re more accustomed to when Doom returns to Earth, hellbent on destroying it and the four friends must band together to stop him. It’s at this point that it starts to feel like a Fantastic Four movie. The action is great as we see everyone working together to fight Dr. Doom, who is just starting to feel like a real villain. The problem is that it takes so long to get there, and then it’s all over before you know it.
Fantastic Four is different from any other superhero movie. It tries to focus on the characters more than the action, but the characters happen to be extremely boring so it struggles to keep your attention. Most origin stories are dedicated to the first 15 minutes of a film; this origin story is the entire 100 minutes. It’s not the worst thing ever, and I applaud Trank for trying something different. It just feels like the setup to something much better.