Fantastic Four review: After all the hype, it’s both better and worse than expected

The first half of Josh Trank's reboot is perfectly serviceable as a summer seat-filler. Then it descends into a bendy, transparent, lumpy, flaming catastrophe

Fantastic Four
    
Director: Josh Trank
Cert: 12A
Genre: Sci-Fi
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins

Well, this was supposed to be clobberin' time. The word around Fantastic Four has not been good. It has been much suspected that Twentieth Century Fox, which still retains the rights to the X-Men's boring cousins, rushed the reboot to keep Marvel Studios from regaining ownership. There has been talk of "a troubled production". Aficionados have been uneasy about the casting of younger actors in key roles. The press show was held back so late that many papers (including this one) missed print deadlines.

What we have ended up with is both better and worse than expected.

The first two-thirds of Josh Trank's film tells a half-decent science-fiction yarn with some energy and humour. These sections are very much in the style of Trank's hugely enjoyable low-budget debut Chronicle. Now played by the fresh-faced Miles Teller, a teenage Reed Richards, inventor of an unlikely teleportation device, is inveigled into a sinister government agency to perfect his creation and open up portals to new worlds.

He meets up with bland boffin Susan Storm (Kate Mara), now the adopted sister of tearaway Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan), while remaining close to his rough-housing old pal Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). Away in the virtual wings, the future Doctor Doom (Toby Kebell) - more Nietzschean and ecological than the comic-book version - simmers furiously at man’s propensity for self-destruction.


One way or another, after pressing the wrong buttons, they end up stretchy (Reed), pebble-dashed (Ben), invisible (Susan) and on fire (Johnny). Young Dr Von Doom gets the worst of it and finds himself remade as a shrink-wrapped showroom dummy in Lady Lavery’s shawl.

With the unhappy exception of a bafflingly flat Mara (transparent long before she becomes invisible), the youthful cast do a good job of injecting firewater into some of Marvel's less interesting characters. Kebell, who we first spotted in Shane Meadows's Dead Man's Shoes, is particularly good as a convincingly surly class of disappointed young genius. Our first glimpses of the transformed heroes - Reed is tied down, four limbs elongated, like a figure from Salvador Dali - gets at the genuine strangeness of their new conditions.

So, until The Fantastic Four becomes The Fantastic Four it's a perfectly serviceable summer seat-filler. Sadly, in the final 20 minutes, the piece teeters more suddenly and more completely over a metaphorical cliff than any film in recent memory. Employing some of the ugliest special effects we've seen since Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who, the film-makers seem swept up in a panic to get the ghastly final conflagration over as quickly as possible and return home to feed their money. It's murky, noisy, confusing and desperately boring. Most puzzlingly of all, The Thing, as Ben Grimm famously becomes, is not allowed even one of his famous witty pre-clobber quips.

Audiences sense nervousness. They will suspect that much cutting has gone on to get the film down to a mere 100 minutes. They will wonder at the perfunctory nature of the closing catastrophe. What odds on another reboot within five years?

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist