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.