“Fantastic Four” plays like a movie that was made by a man who wanted to do something constructive with his nervous breakdown. Instead of waving a gun around in a Sears’ parking lot in nothing but a child’s jean jacket, director Josh Trank waved a camera around a 20th Century Fox soundstage in nothing but a child’s jean jacket.
Every creative decision in this movie feels like the byproduct of a mind rapidly deteriorating. “I don’t want my giant rock man to wear shorts or have a penis,” Trank shouts repeatedly to no one in particular. “I need Kate Mara to travel around in a bubble just like that squeaky, pink lady from the ‘Wizard of Oz,’” Trank whispers into the ear of a nervous stray dog he dragged to the set.
“Fantastic Four” is disjointed, misguided and full of dour, endless scenes where people recite clunky dialogue with the weak conviction of those who are not entirely sure the camera is running and are anticipating the moment when Trank, for the fifth time today, inexplicably throws a grilled cheese sandwich at the DP and wanders off into the parking lot, crying.
But even though “Fantastic Four” is the handiwork of a dangerously unstable man, understand that it isn’t fun-bad. This is bad-bad. Worse than “Pixels” bad. “Fantastic Four” is the kind of movie that should have been shelved. And burned. And then buried again.
In “Fantastic Four” a young man with glasses (Miles Teller) develops an interdimensional magic ride to take people to a place where only rainbows hide. After this young, 20-something man in glasses demonstrates this magic ride device at a science fair, where, incidentally the only other participants appear to be 9-year-old children, an older more distinguished man in glasses (Reg E. Cathay) spirits him away to a fantastical science place in which some people wear lab coats and some people do not (this actually counts as a joke in the dire world of “Fantastic Four”).
With the assistance of a woman in an unconvincing wig found in the dumpster behind a Halloween Adventure outlet (Kate Mara), a man with unsavory facial hair (Toby Kebbell) and a man who likes very fast cars (Michael B. Jordan), young man in glasses is able to build a bigger version of the magic ride.
The magic ride is deemed a success when it fails to murder a poorly rendered CGI monkey. Unfortunately, the evil government will not allow young man in glasses and his comrades to take a trip on the magic ride because they are engineers and not trained astronauts (Phht. More like Assholonauts! Am I right, ladies?) Nonetheless, everybody gets drunk; takes the magic ride to another dimension; gets powers; regrets getting powers, several heads explode and eventually a fight scene with a green, glowing plasticine mummy-thing happens in a tacked on, very awkward conclusion that looks like an excerpt from an unsold cheaply produced television pilot that was made 25 years ago.
Also, a giant glowering rock man insists on walking around without pants or an apparent penis.
The Fantastic Four is a concept that not only can’t stand up to a more realistic interpretation, it also doesn’t work once it’s removed from its early ’60s, pre-Summer of Love roots. It’s a silly idea from a more hopeful era and doesn’t quite work as a grim and gritty, Christopher Nolan-esque superhero movie. Especially, if that grim and gritty, Christopher Nolan-esque superhero movie is a joyless, glacially paced affair that feels like three half-baked films awkwardly tethered together to take the shape of one truly incoherent movie.
Characters stumble around without a purpose or personality, plot threads are introduced and forgotten and the storyline is overwhelmed with dry exposition and backstory. It would be easy to blame 20th Century Fox executives for compromising Trank’s vision, if Trank’s vision wasn’t already compromised from the start. He basically crossed David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” with his previous film “Chronicle,” bore-ified it by 70 percent and hoped we wouldn’t notice.
Unfortunately, much like “The Thing’s” chilling lack of genitals or short pants, the derivative mediocrity of “Fantastic Four” is something of which we’re all too aware.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Kate Mara, Miles Teller and Toby Kebbell
Director: Josh Trank
Weekender Rating: —