Fantastic Four Rotten TomatoesThere is good news and bad news to report now that Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” is in theaters. The good news is that the Johnny Storm race-switch controversy is now officially at the bottom of the list of things to gripe about. The bad news is that the list is extensive.

Perhaps first and foremost is the fact that Doctor Doom is less of a villain than the U.S. government. To make matters worse, writers Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slate never actually define why the U.S. government is the root of all the world’s evil — it just is. Viewers are asked to blindly accept the premise and then cheer at the end as the “heroes” extort the U.S. government into providing them with their own research facility.

Fantastic Four government
I’m a white guy who works for the U.S. government. Do you know what that means? I’m evil. Don’t trust me.

Over and over again, “Fantastic Four” portrays Dr. Franklin Storm’s (Reg E. Cathey) small group of children prodigies — who hope to unlock the key to interdimensional space travel — as the “good” guys and the U.S. government as a force for evil.

At one point Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) says that those “in charge” are running the earth “into the ground — so maybe it deserves what’s coming to it” if their experiments go wrong. The fact that they, the scientists assembled by Dr. Storm, are the ones who are reckless and naive is downplayed or ignored.

Take the following interaction between Sue (Kate Mara) and Reed (Miles Teller):

Sue Storm: “It’s amazing you didn’t black out the entire western hemisphere. You basically ripped a hole in the fabric of space-time with un-spec components and no supervision.

Reed Richards: “Yeah, that was an accident.”

Sue Storm: And if by accident you upped the power you could have created a runaway reaction that opened a black hole and swallowed the entire planet.

Reed Richards: Well, I’m glad that didn’t happen.

The writers treat Reed’s “accident” (a power surge that damaged a high school gymnasium) as a “nothing to see here” moment. Likewise, Dr. Baxter brushes off his own son’s reckless behavior and Doom’s cybercrimes during a time where the young man had divorced himself from the team. Even the chain of events that led to their disastrous voyage into another dimension (i.e., Planet Zero) began with a night of drinking. But yet, again, it is the U.S. government that cannot be trusted.

Prior to the group gaining their powers, a monkey is successfully sent to another dimension and then retrieved. When it is then proposed that NASA come in to provide technical expertise and astronauts, Doom reacts in disgust:

Dr. Blake: I won’t deny that what you’ve created here is incredible, but this isn’t the school science fair anymore. We have to bring in help now.

Victor: Why just NASA? Why not the Army? Or the CIA? We can send our political prisoners there. Water boarding in the 4th dimension could prove very effective.

Apparently the U.S. is running the earth “into the ground” because guys like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — were water boarded. Again, just don’t mention the fact that Reed Richards almost inadvertently killed six billion people.

Fantastic Four Pentagon
I’m another white guy who works for the U.S. government. I have a combat infantry badge. Do you know what that means? It means you REALLY shouldn’t trust me. Listen to the guy named Doom. Doom is the man. Seriously.

After the heroes accidentally receive their powers on Planet Zero, a few of them become “tools” of the U.S. government. The audience is never told exactly what Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) or Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) are doing (Perhaps taking out members of the Islamic State group as they throw gay people off tall buildings?), but because their missions are for the Pentagon it’s just framed as something bad.

Director Josh Trank eventually leads the team through a showdown with Doom on Planet Zero when it becomes obvious the movie needs to draw to a close. Doom tries to create the same black hole that Reed almost brought into existence as a young scientist, but is stopped by his former peers working together. Soon they’re back on earth, and after Ben growls at a Pentagon official the newly minted Fantastic Four are given their own research facility. One of them even says something along the lines of “You work for us now” — because extortion is heroic if you can throw fireballs from your hands. (The audience is cued for laughter.)

Perhaps the saddest thing about “Fantastic Four” is that moviegoers have an idea of just how good it could have been. They have seen a director like Christopher Nolan take on superhero movies and science fiction. If Fox could have produced a “Dark Knight”-quality “Fantastic Four” film with the artistry of “Interstellar,” then they could have finally done the property justice. Instead, fans got a run-of-the-mill superhero film with a cast that seemed to be going through the motions.

Planet Zero? Try “Planet Zero Chemistry.”

Sure, Josh. Whatever you say. Side note: Mr. Trank's tweet was deleted, most likely when he got a phone call saying that he would never work again if it stayed up much longer.
Sure, Josh. Whatever you say. Side note: Mr. Trank’s tweet was deleted, most likely when he got a phone call saying that he would never work again if it stayed up much longer.

There likely will not be a “Fantastic Four” sequel. If there is, then it’s a shame that Reg E. Cathey’s character was already killed off. He was probably the only character with real screen presence. In short, “Fantastic Four” is a fantastic miss by 21st Century Fox. Wait for it to debut on Netflix and pray that the rights to the characters are soon in the hands of Marvel Studios.

Update: Jeremy Jahn’s has reviewed “Fantastic Four.” He nails it.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

15 comments

  1. Good review, very perceptive of you. It’s interesting to me, can you even have a superhero movie that does not really believe in truth, justice, and the American way? It may well sound corny, but if they are not fighting for their government or their country or their people, what are they fighting for? What do we need superheros to preserve here? Worse yet, when they lose their moral focus, such as the US gov is bad, while nearly sending 6 billion people into a black hole is no big deal, than what qualifies them as superheros?

    And if any of these silly questions are running through my mind while I am trying to watch a movie, you have not exactly captured my attention. 😉

    1. That’s the weird thing about the movie. The main characters want to explore seemingly for the sake of exploring, but then act resentful that experiments that could kill everyone on the planet require federal oversight. They say that there could be natural resources on other planets, but then seemingly want to be the ones solely responsible for dispensing those resources. That point is further cemented when the Fantastic Four extort the U.S. government into giving them their own lab (and funding it) with zero oversight. It is implied that if they don’t get their way, they will resort to violence. It’s so odd.

      The movie is a mess.

  2. Great review Doug, and as always resourceful insights into a truly terrible film. I’ve been reading Fantastic Four since 1974 and this counterfeit film did not resonate with me one iota. In fact I loathe it with a passion.

    This film has been described as “dark”, but I’m really not buying into that notion at all. Dark stories, if done well are quite intriguing and will engage the viewer through it’s narrative. This is just a dumb mish-mash of scenes poorly executed and produced by amateurs.

    Time for this franchise to be handed back to it’s rightful owners. I would love to see a Director of Doug Liman’s caliber direct a Fantastic Four film. I’m sure Marvel Studios can make that happen. 🙂

    I also find it curious the way some people throw the term “dark” around like some buzz-word, as if to indicate that sophisticated, serious, grim, and realistic super hero story-telling can’t be entertaining and fun with an optimistic outcome.

    The Fantastic Four have always been about fantastic tales steeped in family dynamics, sci-fi exploration, action, drama, adventure and fun combined with a subtle slice of realism and the occasional commentary on social issues.

    This film is so far removed from the original Marvel product, I’m glad it’s a box office bomb.

    1. I’ve never been a huge FF fan, so I was willing to cut the movie some slack in term of changing things around. However, on almost every level it underperforms. The writing is lazy. There seems to be no real vision from the director aside from “Let’s make a gritty FF movie.” The actors do a decent job, but there seems to be almost no chemistry between them. Doom was lame. Really, really lame. I’m not sure why he seemed to hate the world other than his beef with water boarding, and I’m not sure where his attraction to Sue came from since they have no chemistry together and their past working relationship isn’t shown. I wondered the same thing about Anakin in the Star Wars: Episode II and III. It’s like, “Why is this guy so mad at Obi Wan? He just is for no apparent reason and I’m supposed to buy it. I don’t think so. How much did these writers get paid? Answer: Too much.”

      I read that Fox spent $120 million on this movie, and yet there are times when the special effects are really pretty bad.

      Like I said, I would have loved if this movie mixed the best elements of FF’s history with the grandeur of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”. I can’t wait until “Doctor Strange” comes out and Marvel shows Fox just how interdimensional stories can be done.

      Side note: Good call on Doug Liman. I would like to see him take on a Marvel movie as well. My guess is that he would be perfect for a “Black Widow” solo film.

  3. Unfortunately that’s exactly what I expected based on what was said about it. What’s odd to me is that they were so willing to go with this allegedly “dark” and “edgy” version without having seriously tried doing it in a fun way. The first two movies were just badly done. It wasn’t lightheartedness of tone that let them down, it was just a terrible script and not very good casting, particularly for Sue and Doom but also a bit for Reed. It was an assembly-line product that nobody really cared about, and it showed. The movies lacked sincerity, which made it impossible for their slightly goofy/campy tone to work whereas Raimi’s Spider-Man movies do work with a similar tone.

    Nobody’s even tried to do the comic version of Doom yet in a movie. He’s a great character and could make a fantastic villain. Nobody’s tried doing the Galactus story yet either (the mess they called “Rise of the Silver Surfer” doesn’t count).

    I don’t really think a sci-fi heavy, dark version of Fantastic Four was ever really going to work — it’d either fail, or not be FF in any meaningful sense, or both. Part of the problem, I suspect, is that Pixar already made a great FF movie with a fairly lighthearted tone, and it’d be pretty hard to outdo them.

    1. I suspect, is that Pixar already made a great FF movie with a fairly lighthearted tone, and it’d be pretty hard to outdo them.

      Now I really know that I was hurrying too much to get this blog post up! 🙂 I’m not sure how I could not mention “The Incredibles”. Great movie.

  4. For the last few years I’m not confident that Marvel *itself* even knew how to do a good FF anymore. Maybe they should try creating a new super-family, and use the FF as guest-stars. I imagine something like a blue-collar Texas or Okie family, the Hernandezes, who get endowed with powers, and then use their scenario like that (as they try to figure out what to do with it) as a *deliberate* counter-point to the Richards. Anyway, I disliked Hickman’s run, and I think he ran the FF down in terms of sales.

    1. Really, the ideal solution, provided they get the rights back, is to toss certain FF characters into a second Inhumans movie since those characters are connected substantially with the FF books (and give us the love story between Johnny and Crystal)

  5. You know, a lot of people are not into comics, and they may think that the Fantastic Four are a parody of the Incredibles, when it’s more nearly the other way around. If there is ever a Doom Patrol movie, people (including comic book fans) might think it’s a swipe from the X-Men.

    I guess the FF have to be into space exploration for its own sake. The original premise (“We can’t let the Russians beat us into space”) would be politically incorrect now. In fact, I think the “space race” factor was already retconned out by the late 1970’s; I seem to remember a retelling of their origin, and they were in a hurry to launch before the evil US government cut funding for their project.

    The FF have become a bunch of spoiled brats. Their attitude seems to be, “We want it, they have it, so we will take it, or we will threaten them to make them hand it over.” How is that any different from the Nazis invading Poland? Or a mugger beating you up and stealing your wallet? Or a rapist attacking a woman? (Or a politician taking 35% of your income and giving it to his constituents in exchange for their votes.) You have it, I want it, now hand it over or I will make you suffer.

    And, yes, it’s time for Fox to quit being a dog in a manger. They should sell the FF (and X-Men) rights back to Marvel.

  6. Well, I think Marvel will be getting the rights back to FF pretty soon, now that this movie is a box office bomb that made only $25,685,737 of its $122 million budget and just $60 million internationally. Plus I heard that Trank acted like a total primadonna during the filming of the movie. Michael B. Jordan calling fans “racist” didn’t encourage me, either.

    And why am I not surprised that they implied America was more evil than Doctor Doom? Why can’t they ever get Doctor Doom right in these movies, and stop trying to tie his origin in with the Fantastic Four?

    1. I hope you’re right about Marvel getting the rights back. I don’t see Marvel agreeing to a deal like it has with Sony. “Fantastic Four” is so bad that the only real option is for Marvel to take total control of the property. I think Marvel could re-establish the characters’ credibility in “Infinity War,” and then once that’s wrapped up a Marvel Studios-quality “Fantastic Four” movie could finally be made.

    1. It seems like failure at these studios usually results in a rearrangement of the deck chairs. Amy Pascal was in charge at Sony Studios for the hacking scandal and not a whole lot happened to her. She technically got demoted…but not really.

  7. Yeah, I can’t say I’m sorry to see this movie wash out. Everything about it screamed bad vibes:

    * Doing an origin story for the third time out of four movies.

    * Made solely so the rights wouldn’t revert to Marvel. “Doing it because we have to” is the worst approach ever when it comes to doing something that’s supposed to be creative and entertaining.

    * The trailers boasting it was brought to you by the studio behind “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Fantastic *wink, wink* movie, but it speaks volumes how little confidence the promotional people had in this creative team that they couldn’t slap in a “From the director of _____” or whatever. It was also a pretty brazen attempt to coast off the coattails of the aforementioned movie.

    * Trying way too hard to be gritty.

    * A cast with zero chemistry. George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell made a more convincing family/team.

    * Michael B. Jordan accusing people weary of his casting of being racists. Sheesh, I guess I’m also a racist for scrutinizing Ben Affleck being cast as Batman.

    * Making Doom an anti-social computer programmer. I’m certain there’s a deleted scene somewhere where he just keeps saying “Total pwnage, n00b!” to Reed for 10 minutes straight.

    * Stories of on-set craziness, including Trank’s bad behavior and numerous re-shoots.

    With any luck, the rights will be back in the hands of Marvel/Disney in short order. I’m sure Kevin Feige can’t wait to start incorporating the FF into the movies, but probably not as much as Fox can’t wait for that next X-Men movie to come out and wash off the stink of this failure.

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