Why is it so hard to make a good Fantastic Four movie? They’re a family of adventurers. That’s all you really need to know about them going in. But as it is, the closest we’ve seen to a real cinematic adaptation of Fantastic Four comics is the Roger Corman version made in 1994 (and never officially released.) Sure, it’s got 8-bit special effects, cheesy costumes, and terrible actors, but it benefits from a charming practical Thing costume and a chipper so-bad-it’s-goodness that at least gives it a cuddly warmth.
2005’s Fantastic Four and 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were cheesy without having any of the personality of the comic. They came too soon in the modern superhero movie wave to get the comic’s light tone and the special effects right. Instead, they were inept and dumb and forgettable.
The newest Fantastic Four movie, though, is the worst of the lot. Despite some decent actors—Miles Teller acquits himself best as the irresponsible genius Reed Richards, though Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are fine (with very little to do) as Susan and Johnny Storm—the movie is comically bad, suffering from wild fluctuations in tone, pacing, and quality.
This Fantastic Four is based on the Ultimate versions of the characters, meaning they get their powers by teleporting into another dimension and not by stealing a space shuttle. And that’s basically the plot of the movie: the Fantastic Four get their powers and then they fight Victor von Doom, a sullen contemporary of Reed and Sue’s who gets his powers in the same teleportation accident but decides to use them for evil instead. There aren’t any subplots, none of the characters (except Reed) have any real personality, and there’s very little conflict. The first half of the movie takes way too long to set up the origin story and the second half of the movie flails around like an upside-down turtle.
The character designs in this movie are all awful. Some of the most iconic uniforms in superhero comics—the blue jumpsuits with the “4” logo in the middle of the chest—are nowhere to be found, replaced instead by strappy black paramilitary-looking suits. The Four’s powers are portrayed as monstrous—the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman apparently can’t control their powers without their suits, and Mr. Fantastic’s stretching abilities are played up as horror-movie elements. And rather than a Noo Yawk tough-guy, the Thing (Jamie Bell, mostly masked by bad CGI) is an enormous pile of rocks who wails and moans and displays none of the sardonic sense of humor he displays in the comics. They’re all dark and obsessed and intense, directly contradicting the comics.
But the worst character design in the film is Doom. Rather than the majestic armored aristocrat, this Dr. Doom is basically a cross between Jason from Friday the 13th and an enormous pile of garbage. Toby Kebbell’s sorta interesting performance in the first half of the film—his Doom is more of a nihilist than an egomaniac, but whatever—becomes an awkward voice performance in the second half, as garbage Doom tries to turn the entire planet Earth into garbage, for no real reason.
This is maybe the worst third act I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. It’s as perfunctory as Green Lantern and as deflated as the Ben Affleck Daredevil, only it’s also more ineptly produced than either of those stinkers. Reed tells us what’s happening, some bad special effects happen, and then Reed tells us what’s happening again. There’s a portal, because there’s always a portal. Actors point and explain. It all grows into a pixel-storm of hurricane proportions, with characters shouting meaningless catchphrases that have no context while goals with no real purpose are achieved.
Rumors abound that the production of Fantastic Four was plagued from the very beginning with behind-the-scenes drama. That may be so. But it’s very hard to argue that there was ever anything worth saving in this Fantastic Four. It fundamentally misunderstands all of its characters even as it fails to build any sort of a movie around them. We have cinematic proof that even a schlocky producer with one and a half million dollars can make something more meaningful and truer to the comics than this enormous pile of horseshit.