One notable early review of Fantastic Four called it “not a disaster,” which is true, in a way. It’s not a train wreck, because train wrecks hold a macabre fascination. Fantastic Four is more like the cleaned up site of a train wreck, or some corporate disaster. Nothing much is happening, but there’s just enough askew that you can only speculate as to what horrible things must have occurred there. It’s the movie equivalent of a strangely orderly town with mounds of fresh dirt everywhere and an odd smell coming from the factory, a lifeless marsh that stinks of dispersant.
The set-up isn’t the problem. Miles Teller plays the requisite science prodigy, Reed Richards, who’s built the requisite thingamabob in his garage, an interdimensional doodad that transports matter and eventually shatters a backboard at the school science fair. “This is a science fair, not a magic show!” shouts the principal (school officials are always way less impressed than they should be in these movies, aren’t they?).
That’s when Reg E. Cathey shows up with his daughter, Kate Mara, whom he adopted from House of Cards, I mean Kosovo, to recruit Reed into their secretive, quasi-governmental Hogwarts Academy For Hot Teens Who Want To Science You, Hard. There, Richards, Mara (Sue Storm), her brother Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and prickly-but-brilliant misanthrope Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) create a machine capable of transporting people to another dimension: the vaguely defined and lazily named “Planet Zero.”
This Planet Zero consists entirely of darkness, rocks, and a lava-like energy source that’s left entirely unexplained despite apparently being the key to the entire plot. “What if there was an empty room somewhere and you had the only key??” They teleport to Planet Zero (Reed, the Storms, Von Doom, and Reed’s knucklehead buddy from Long Island, played with dubious accent training by Jamie Bell), some of the lava stuff gets on them, and voilá, superpowers. Except for Von Doom, who, naturally, fell in a big pit of the stuff and got left on Planet Zero. Tough break, bro.
Back on Earth, Reed Richards has become stretchy, Sue Storm can turn invisible and create force fields, Johnny Storm can fly and set himself on fire, and Reed’s friend Ben is now a hideous invincible strong rock man. They’re all taken to a secretive government facility where government guy Tim Blake Nelson plans to use them for nefarious purposes, or so the movie hints at without ever actually showing. That they all react differently to the government line based on their personalities was an interesting wrinkle, and the biggest hint at a better movie. Reed runs away immediately, Johnny Storm is just happy to stay busy, the rock guy sulks, and Sue Storm says “I’m not going to be a tool.” I’m glad it was her, if I’d heard Miles Teller say that I would’ve laughed my ass off. I think that was the entire plot of That Awkward Moment.
The government dudes rebuild the transporter machine, find Victor Von Doom (just “Doom” now ’cause it’s eviler), and take him back to Earth. It’s around this point where you can practically feel the movie start packing up its gear while waitresses roamed the theater aisles passing out checks. Doom starts growling about how beautiful Planet Zero was and how it changed him, and you’re like “Wait, the lava planet with the rocks?”
He wants to be alone on his rock planet, but they tell him he needs people (I think this was the message?). Doom starts exploding people’s heads using some kind of telekinetic ability that’s never explained, but I’m not going to complain about exploding heads, ever. He wants to go back to Planet Zero, which seems like a better situation for everyone, frankly, but for some reason they have to fight him, and for some reason he has to try to destroy Earth. Which he attempts using a miniature black hole dealy that he’s apparently willed into existence like The Secret (maybe that’s one of his powers?).
It feels almost as if the studio demanded this movie have a giant death ray macguffin thingy pointed at Earth, like virtually every superhero movie of the last 10 years, but Josh Trank or whichever creatives fought them on it, eventually lost, and then sullenly slapped the death ray thingy in there in the laziest, most unexplained, joyless way possible. It’s possibly the world’s first vindictive macguffin. The F*ck You Death Ray, as I like to call it. “Here, is this what you wanted, you assh*les?” (*chunks death ray on table, storms out of room*)
[Note: I wrote this before this news came out]
Impressively, the Fantastic Four vs. The F*ck You Death Ray scene manages to be even lazier. Though perhaps that’s unfair – we don’t know what Doom’s powers actually are or why he wants to destroy Earth or what the point of Planet Zero or any of its properties are at this point, so resolving any of this convincingly must’ve been quite the challenge. Not that Fantastic Four really tries. Miles Teller tells the gang “We’ve got to do this together!” (message!) and then “this better work!”
Wait, what better work? I swear to you, they hadn’t come up with the slightest semblance of a plan at that point. They basically walk up to Von Doom and bop him on the head and that’s the end of the movie. I think the moral of the story was “don’t be a loner.”
I don’t know what originally happened in the last third of the movie, but I know it wasn’t half-assed Captain Planet vs. the Ambiguous Death Ray. Whatever it was, it’s been neatly carved out and transported to Planet Zero. Is that better, different movie still out there somewhere? Will we ever see it? Maybe. But right now, all we have is a bad movie and an overwhelming sense of disturbance, the feeling of a million screenwriters crying out in protest and suddenly being silenced.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.