Fantastic Four is absolutely horrible, but if you’ve been on the Internet at all this weekend, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. This whole thing has already become one of the biggest clusterfucks in recent Hollywood memory, plagued by bad buzz, studio meddling, and the director coming out against his own film the day before its premiere. While you’re watching the movie, though, you don’t have to have followed any of that gossip to sense that something went terribly wrong. Assessing it feels like trying to work through a particularly gruesome crime scene. Just…what the hell could have possibly lead to this?
Fantastic Four is like a below average movie you were kind of tolerating, and then halfway through, your friend sits on the DVD remote and skips ahead too far. Legitimately a good hour of this film appears to be missing, as if there was a mixup with the reels during distribution. I can’t recall any other movie that jumps straight from Act 1 to Act 3, or one where the climax is any less satisfying than this sorry excuse for an ending. It is beyond lazy, and that’s in no way me being a film snob. If you have even a very basic understanding of how telling a story works, you too will be scratching your head.
Fantastic Four is horribly paced, taking a glacially long time to get started before skipping over dozens of important scenes and rushing into the finale. The screenplay is cringeworthy, with some of the most awkward dialogue you’ll ever find in a summer blockbuster, and the tone shifts wildly all over the place, goofy one minute and then deathly serious the next. At no point do we buy the dynamic of the team, there is absolutely no satisfaction in seeing them come together, and in fact, the plot kicks into gear because the characters got super drunk. There is no sense of danger or urgency until the final 15 minutes, and even then, any sort of threat is dispelled very shortly after it’s introduced.
Fantastic Four is a God damn disaster. Really, the only element that works is the cast, and I genuinely feel sorry for these guys. Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell try their best, and I’d be interested in seeing more of them in these roles. But there is no chance of that ever happening, as this is enough to kill Fantastic Four as a brand for decades.
To fully dive into all the problems and figure out what the fuck happened, we’re gonna have to get into spoilers. I’m now going to run through the basic arc of the film from beginning to end, so leave now if you still want to avoid what happens. But if you couldn’t already tell, under no circumstances should you actually go see this.
Okay, here we go.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
Alright, so Fantastic Four opens with young Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, and we spend way too much time on this considering how little their relationship pays off. The opening 10 minutes deals with their friendship, yet from here on out, they barely even share any screen time. We are in this flashback long enough so we can find out that Ben’s famous “It’s clobbering time” catchphrase originates from his brother physically abusing him. That sounds like a parody of Hollywood’s tendency to make well-known stories unnecessarily dark in the wake of Nolan’s Batman films, but I swear it happens.
You know that shitty, cliche scene you’ve seen a million times where the kid character is absolutely brilliant, yet the dumb teacher writes him off because he just doesn’t understand, man? Here, Reed gives a presentation about how he wants to work with supercomputers, and his teacher lectures him as if that’s a make-believe thing. This is set in the year 2007. Then, Reed literally invents a working teleporter for a science fair, and how does his teacher react? He disqualifies Reed because this isn’t a magic show.
What the hell? Nobody gives a shit that this high school student just teleported something in front of their very eyes? They aren’t baffled by this WORKING teleporter? No, see, our protagonist just isn’t appreciated despite how utterly brilliant he is. If only there were a place where he could use his gifts for good!
Luckily, Frank and Sue Storm walk in just in time, and they happen to be interested in teleportation as well. I guess they stroll around science fairs all day hoping a high school kid has had some sort of breakthrough that will help them. And Sue happens to be carrying around a vile of space dirt to prove her point. Reed’s recruited to join the Storms, and he says goodbye to his childhood friend Ben who we care a lot about. There is no chemistry between the two of them as friends or as partners, but see, you believe that they work well together because the movie has told you that they do.
Now they’re in a lab working on science stuff, and Johnny Storm joins them because he crashed his car. Oh yeah, he’s supposed to be a character in this. Alright, sure. His sister is Sue Storm, but you’d be forgiven if you forget about that, because they behave as if they’re total strangers for the remaining 75 minutes. In fact, aside from a brief flirtatious scene between Reed and Sue, these people don’t appear to enjoy each other’s company much at all. That romance, by the way, is almost instantly dropped.
So now they’re all working together to build a teleporter, and after an 80s style work montage, they do it. The machine is tested out on a monkey, and he comes back fine, so naturally that means it’s good to go. Nobody does any tests on the monkey or anything, but he looks okay. That’s enough. The scientific process! Is the gang ecstatic that they just built a device that can travel to another world? Nope, they’re super pissed off because now the evil businessmen are going to hand this over to NASA. You know, so actual professionals can use it. Doesn’t that seem like exactly what should happen? But no, they’re upset because they built the machine, and so naturally they, a bunch of idiot high school students, should be the ones to use it for the first time. Not, you know, the scientists who know what they’re doing. Was that a part of the deal?
There isn’t a conflict with the higher ups because they might exploit the technology or maybe use it to make a weapon or anything like that. No, the entire issue is that the gang isn’t going to become rich and famous off their invention. Yeah, you know how in most superhero movies the protagonist is driven by a desire to help others and be a good person? In Fantastic Four, our heroes just want to be famous. They could not give a fuck about anyone other than themselves. These are the folks you’re spending your Friday night hanging out with.
Well, now the four fantastics have been taken off the project, and so how can we get them into the other dimension for the plot to continue? How about they all get drunk and just kind of…do it? Yes, the reason the Fantastic Four get their powers is that they’re so depressed after what happened that they get wasted, and then they spontaneously decide to use the machine. They make a drunk, impulse decision to go on this highly dangerous journey to another dimension. I am dead fucking serious.
Reed, Jonny, Ben and Victor travel through to the other side as Sue tries to stop them, as she’s apparently the only person in the entire facility to notice this is happening. What happens while they’re in there? Well, there’s a bunch of generic green goo on what they’re now calling Planet Zero, Victor Von Doom falls in, and the rest of them make it back to the shuttle but are all blasted with whatever the hell this substance is.
What comes next is easily the movie’s highlight, and I say that without any sarcasm. Reed wakes up and it’s horrifying when he looks around at the wreckage, sees Johnny seemingly burning to death, and discovers that his body now stretches in a truly disgusting way. And Ben is now some sort of rock monster. These few minutes after the four first get their powers are highly effective, especially a scene of Reed stretched out on a table. It’s in rare moments like these that Fantastic Four kind of, sort of works, and you can see hints of a great film in here trying to escape.
But then the inexplicable happens. Right after our heroes have gotten their amazing abilities, we cut to “ONE YEAR LATER.”
Wait, what the fuck? We’re just completely skipping over seeing how they adjust to having gained superpowers? Next thing we know, the Thing is fighting for the government, Johnny is flying around on fire, and if you’re wondering how any of these guys are thinking or feeling about this situation, too bad. You’ll never know because the movie flat out skips over what would normally be a solid half hour of content. Imagine if in Captain America: The First Avenger, as soon as Steve wakes up, there’s a one year time jump, and now he’s suddenly just in the field fighting bad guys.
The first time we see any of these characters using their powers, it’s a shot of the Thing beating guys up playing on a TV in the background. Were you hoping for a moment where he makes the decision that he’s going to use his new abilities for good or that he’s going to work for the government, who the characters have been previously fighting against? Nope, that happens off screen. You have to imagine the whole middle section of the film.
What’s going on now? Well, Reed is on the run, and nobody has been able to find him for the entire last year since the accident. He’s hiding out in Central America because he takes responsibility for what happened, and he’s trying to build a new machine so he can go back into the other dimension himself. Maybe he’ll be successful, go through and have a confrontation with Doom or something like that? Nope, he ends up just coming back and this subplot is abandoned. What was the point of that shit? By the way, while we’re here, we find out that in Reed also has the power to change his face, something that he does exactly one time and never again. Okay then.
They all want to get rid of their powers now, because having the incredible ability to turn invisible is obviously a major hassle, and inexplicably they just assume that going back into the other dimension will solve everything based on zero evidence. If they go back, clearly they can find a cure, right? Makes perfect sense to me. Now the conflict has nothing to do with preventing something bad from happening, saving people, or accomplishing anything we care about. It’s just four unlikable characters trying to cure themselves from being burdened by their amazing new powers. Remember that this whole situation happened because they were drunk, unlikable dicks.
Where’s Dr. Doom for this whole giant stretch of film? Who knows? He fell into the green goo and we haven’t seen him for what seems like ages. This will become important soon.
Now, a bunch of redshirts are sent over into Planet Zero to help look for the cure or something (because nothing bad happened last time), and even though this is a massive planet, Dr. Doom was luckily standing exactly where they landed and was prepared to walk up to them dramatically. I guess he’s just been strolling around looking at rocks for the past year. Doom has a cape that he wears now because that’s what super villains do. Where did he get the cape? No clue.
They take Dr. Doom back to Earth, and he wakes up angry because he wanted to stay on Planet Zero, but now the human race is screwing with what he had going on over there. What’s so important about Planet Zero? What’s Doom doing there? What use are his powers if all he does is walk around by himself? None of this is made clear. The motivations for this villain, one of the coolest in the Marvel comics, are some of the most poorly conceived and explained I’ve ever seen.
But he’s pissed off, and so he starts going through the lab killing everyone he sees by making their heads freaking explode. Doom looks like absolute shit, by the way, and you don’t need to be a comic book nerd to see that the original design is far cooler and more menacing. Now Doom returns through the portal to Planet Zero, and the gang goes after him. Why exactly? What’s he trying to do? Why’s it a bad thing? Who is he a threat to? Not clear, not clear, not fucking clear.
Now we get to one of the most shockingly terrible final fights in recent movie history. Before this, anyone with a grasp on storytelling and pacing would assume there’s at least an hour left to go. I mean, the Fantastic Four have just gotten their powers not that long ago, the villain has just escaped, and he has barely even done anything yet. Surely this isn’t the end?
Yes, it really is. My stomach dropped as I realized that we really were heading into the final battle here after so little had happened. On Planet Zero, Dr. Doom starts doing some vaguely evil shit, shooting a giant blue beam into the sky and making some stuff fly around. A portal now inexplicably opens up to Earth, and so now he’s trying to destroy the planet? He likes Planet Zero and he hates Earth (suddenly), and so he’s going to destroy Earth and live on this planet all alone forever? I’m just guessing here. The movie doesn’t really try to explain.
Dr. Doom throws a bunch of dirt on the Fantastic Four, and so now they’re down and their spirits are broken. Oh no, surely our heroes won’t be able to make it out of this one! But wait! Then Reed summons up the energy to escape from this pile of dirt, and everyone suddenly decides to get up too, and Reed says, “we should work together!” Woah, man! It’s like they’ve come together to form a team of fantastic individuals! This is so satisfying because it has been built up in an effective way!
It’s in this final battle that Reed has about ten cringeworthy lines explaining exactly what’s going on, and I feel so sorry for Miles Teller that he had to read them. The crew have a conversation about how Doom may be stronger than each of them, but he’s not stronger than all of them. They’re talking while he’s still wrecking shit, by the way, so maybe you guys can hurry this conversation along? After one of the worst action sequences in a movie in years, consisting mainly of a bunch of closeups and poor CGI, they throw Dr. Doom into the blue light and he’s destroyed.
Why did that kill him? Why did the characters have any reason to believe that would be what defeats Doom? They didn’t even know what the fuck he was doing or what the blue light was, so I guess they just decided to wing it. In fact, Reed actually says, “I hope this work.” Their plan to save the world is literally just to take a shitty guess.
Now they’re back on Earth, their mission complete, and it’s at this point that everyone is shifting in their seats as they think, “holy shit, that was seriously it?” Yup, it might have felt like the movie was halfway through, but no, you really did just witness the ending. They threaten the government to give them a new base to do…superhero stuff. And that’s it.
Oh, but no. They’re now a team, and so they have to get the name “Fantastic Four.” The film ends on what’s meant to be a funny little exchange, but it is just absolutely groan worthy and a complete bomb. Here is the real, actual dialogue in its entirety (Transcript taken from a comment on Reddit) :
Reed: I think that the four of us need a name.
Sue: Why would we need a name?
Reed: Because we’re a team now, and there’s four of us…so, we should come up with a name for it.
Johnny: Like, The Human Torch and Torch-ets
Ben: How about The Big Brain and his Neurons?
Sue: How about The Big Brain and HER Neurons?
Johnny: How about two guys, a girl, and The Thing that nobody wanted?
Reed: (To Ben, looking at their new base) We’ve come a long way since the garage.
Ben: Gotta say, it’s fantastic.
Reed: Say that again.
Ben: It’s fantastic.
Reed: Yes, it is! Guys, I got it! Ready?
And then we cut to credits. I could see a version of a movie like this where that kind of gag works, but holy shit is that poorly constructed, and the whole joke just doesn’t land. It’s a sour note to end the film on, but then again, the film didn’t have many not sour notes.
Really, the fatal sin of Fantastic Four is the whole “one year later” ordeal. It’s completely inexplicable that these characters are given superpowers, and then we just completely skip over their reactions, them coming to terms with that, them training, deciding to work together, becoming a team…anything you’d need for us to be invested in any of this. It reeks of studio meddling, but somebody should have realized that with so much in the middle excised, the final movie is almost unwatchable.
Everything up until the Fantastic Four getting their powers is okay, a passable if cliche and clunky superhero origin story. But it all goes to hell after that, resulting in one of the most shockingly terrible final two acts I have ever seen, and overall among the worst summer blockbusters ever. This thing is an insult to comic book fans and movie fans in general, and it never should have made it to theaters.
I didn’t like it.