STARRING Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell DIRECTED BY Josh Trank NOT YET RATED RELEASE DATE August 7
Turns out levitating hurts. On this humid day on the Baton Rouge, La., set of Fantastic Four, the psychically gifted Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is about to catch some major air. After a cosmic accident has rendered Sue and her three pals superpowerful (more on that later), the group is quarantined in a secret government facility. For this scene, in which Sue struggles to master her ability to float (she can also turn invisible and project force fields), Mara stands on a crane and makes faces usually reserved for squats or dead lifts. “Move your knees around,” yells director Josh Trank from below. “It’s painful! It’s painful!” In most comic-book adaptations, superpowers are mainly just supercool. In the new Four, they feel more like a disability. “It’s not easy at all,” Mara says. “It’s exhausting.”
Fans of the franchise may be feeling a little fatigued too. Both the 2005 original, Fantastic Four, and the 2007 sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, performed well at the box office, but critics (and moviegoers) pretty much hated them. So Twentieth Century Fox went on the hunt for a fresh vision. Trank had delivered a 2012 sleeper hit for the studio with his found-footage superpowers flick, Chronicle. His immediate take on the Four was how terrifying it would be to have your arms suddenly turn into rubber, or your skin burst into flame. “I just kinda jumped to ‘body horror’ in my head,” he says. “Chronicle is about the evolution and strengthening of unique powers. This movie is really viewing them as a curse.”
In this origin-story reboot, the Four—Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and Sue (Mara)—are “infected” during an interdimensional-travel experiment. The event turns Reed into the elastic Mr. Fantastic, Johnny into the Human Torch, Ben into the Thing, and Sue into the Invisible Woman. “It’s as if you got into a car accident,” Mara says, “and a part of you is different for the rest of your life.”
Making matters worse, the fifth member of their crew, Victor (Toby Kebbell), has transformed as well, into an updated version of Dr. Doom, and the gang must grapple with their new skills—and the loss of their old selves—while finding a way to defeat him.
Trank describes the tone of the film as a cross between Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton—what he calls “Dark Amblin.” To help him achieve that, the studio paired him with writer-producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past). Trank told Kinberg he had two ambitions. First, the film had to feel scary and very real, more like a horror movie than a superhero flick. And second, it ultimately had to be a coming-of-age story. “Part of defining yourself,” Kinberg explains, “is that moment when you go from being dependent to being in control of your destiny.”
Or the destiny of a franchise. Based on footage shown to EW, Trank may have succeeded in rescuing the Four from obscurity. “We have all the ingredients to make something special,” Jordan says. “Now we have to just wait and see how that cake turns out.” Dark and not too sweet.