Fantastic Four
dir Josh Trank
scr Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank
prd Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, Gregory Goodman, Robert Kulzer, Hutch Parker
with Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Heidecker, Dan Castellaneta, Owen Judge, Evan Hannemann, Chet Hanks
release US/UK 7.Aug.15
15/US Fox 1h39
Fantastic Four
All four one: Mara, Johnson, Teller and, well, Bell

bell kebbell nelson
Previous adaptation:
Fantastic Four (2005) 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Dark and gloomy, this superhero origins drama is much more grounded than most films in the genre, creating realistic characters and science that almost makes some sense. But the filmmakers are unable to resist the pressure to let the film spiral into the usual too-digital action mayhem.

School buddies Reed and Ben (Teller and Bell) are pulled from high school by Dr Storm (Cathey) because their teleportation project is the key Storm needs to further his work. So with a lot more money, Reed works with Storm's kids Sue and Johnny (Mara and Johnson) and tetchy genius Victor (Kebbell) to build a machine that can transport them into another dimension. But something goes wrong, leaving Victor trapped on the other side, while Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny all demonstrate unnerving mutated powers. Which the weaselly company owner (Nelson) offers to the military.

So far so good. The script is earthy enough to allow the bright cast to create resonant, layered characters whose interaction is barbed with rivalries and intrigue, with hints of past disappointments and tragedies to add some emotional undercurrents. Teller anchors the film with an engaging combination of tenacity and vulnerability. Jordan and Mara add some spark, while Kebbell and Bell add a blast of personality, which annoyingly vanishes completely when their characters become animated.

And here's where the problem starts. By failing to maintain the energy of either Ben or Victor into their alter egos, the figures they become (The Thing and Dr Doom) are boringly cartoonish. And the final two settings (the lab and the dully molten parallel world) aren't remotely interesting environments for a series of action set pieces, no matter how well-staged they might be. In other words, the film's final act screams for a much more creative approach that holds its nerve with the characters rather than abandoning them to special effects.

As he did in Chronicle, Trank shows remarkable skill with young actors, helping them make even the most outlandish situation feel natural. This approach is perfect for depicting the creation of the Fantastic Four, and their first villain, from a group of rather normal nerds. But genre demands interfere with this authenticity, making everything increasingly artificial in a series of big showdowns that aren't nearly as exciting as the comedy and drama that went before. Which leaves Marvel's oldest franchise hanging on a question: which approach will the sequel take?

cert 12 themes, language, violence 5.Aug.15

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