It’s rare that a single review can sink a movie. But if the Fantastic Four bombs at the box-office, observers might be tempted to point a finger at one outspoken critic who ripped the reboot before it even officially opened in theaters: the director, Josh Trank.
On Thursday, the filmmaker Tweeted (and quickly deleted) a post that insinuated that the Fox/Marvel film was taken from him and that his original vision never made it to the screen. Such behind-the-scene machinations are not rare; filmmaking is the ultimate collaborative art, requiring compromises big and small that can take a film in either direction. But Trank’s Fantastic Four, co-written and produced by Simon Kinberg, arrives in theaters with heavy baggage, potentially squandering the opportunity to relaunch the franchise with a quartet of young and accomplished actors.
Miles Teller plays Reed Richards, a science prodigy recruited to the Baxter Institute to help perfect an inter-dimensional travel machine. There he meets the brilliant young minds who will become his extended family: Jonny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), and surly colleague, Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), a blue-collar pal from the old neighborhood, gets invited to join them when they decide to take their maiden voyage — a doomed trip destined to transform them into superheroes.
Trank’s outburst was no doubt prompted by whispers that the production was rocky, especially since the initial reviews seemed to smell blood in the water. “Mostly, Fantastic Four is just hard work, a reflection, one assumes, of its famously difficult production,” says EW’s Clark Collis, in his C review. “Trank’s previous movie, 2012’s found-footage superhero film Chronicle, had a nicely light step. Fantastic Four is as heavy-footed as Ben Grimm once he gets turned into The Thing.”
For more of Collis’s review, and a sampling of other critics’ opinions from around the country, scroll below.
Clark Collis (Entertaiment Weekly)
“That’s a pretty terrific group of actors — but they are given precious little to do in this clunky origin story. Teller showed more emotion sweating over his drum kit in Whiplash than do the combined cast in the film’s first half, and matters actually get worse once Doom begins to wreak havoc. There are some nice — by which we mean nasty — nods towards Cronenbergian body horror after the Four gain their powers, which at first seem more like horrific illnesses. And, in fairness, the film is not bad bad, although it might have been more fun if it were.”
Bilge Ebiri (New York) ▼
“There’s a fundamental tonal dissonance at the heart of Fantastic Four. The awkward staging, cut-rate effects, and stilted dialogue might have worked alongside a fun, ridiculous story. (The recent Ant-Man, though more polished, has a bit of that B-movie spirit going for it.) Instead, we have a film that, at least at first, tends toward darkness, grief, regret, and stoic glares. The disconnect between cheesy surface and grim subtext is excruciating and often embarrassing.”
Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald) ▼
“Fantastic Four is so bereft of all the things we expect from a superhero movie — humor, excitement, adventure, awe — that it plays like a drawn-out pilot episode for an upcoming TV series no one would ever watch again. I’d rather sit through Roger Corman’s no-budget, unintentionally hilarious 1994 adaptation, because at least that one makes you laugh. … In the few instances Trank tries to have fun, the effort comes off forced (the Thing’s trademark “It’s clobberin’ time!” has never sounded so desperate).”
Wesley Morris (Grantland)
“To mock this movie is to obey a ‘Kick Me’ sign. And yet to sit through Fantastic Four is to realize that even a mediocre movie is a kind of miracle. There’s a bar for the superhero adventures, and this one falls so far short of it that close study is warranted, hopefully by scientists played with more conviction than Teller and Mara. I’ve never seen good young actors this stuck.”
A.A. Dowd (The A.V. Club)
“Fantastic Four never really goes anywhere, almost literally speaking: Like a cost-cutting sitcom, it keeps its heroes cooped up indoors, even after they’ve come back from their ill-fated trip to the other side, where some neon green sludge supplies them with their respective gifts/curses. … Fun, in general, is what’s missing from [Trank’s] first big studio gig.”
Tom Russo (Boston Globe) ▼
“Jordan’s much publicized color-blind casting as Johnny is progressive, sure, but the story does nothing to make it feel inspired, or even relevant. The Thing gets a digital makeover after the snickering at Michael Chiklis’s rubble suit from a decade ago, but Bell’s performance doesn’t show through. Ultimately, what Fantastic Four delivers is change for change’s sake, rather than change for the better. Oh, well – they can always reboot.”
A.O. Scott (New York Times) ▼
“The only real pathos belongs to Mr. Bell’s Ben, who finds himself trapped in a stony new body and weaponized by a ruthless government. Mr. Teller stretches, not as an actor but as a digitally enhanced body. Mr. Jordan burns in the same way, and Ms. Mara disappears. Her character also has the power to make other things vanish. I would say she should have exercised it on this movie, but in a week or two that should take care of itself.”
Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)
“Miles Teller has been on a career roll and he has a few choice moments in his far-too-brief flirtations with the equally excellent Mara. Michael B. Jordan’s character is kind of a surly dope, both before and after his transformation. Once Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm is transformed into The Thing, it’s just a voice-over performance.”
Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)
“What’s most galling, especially for an action film, is that there’s precious little action here. The special effects look cheap, the acting is wooden, and the shouted dialogue consists largely of throwaway action-movie cliches (‘Let’s do this’) and B-movie sci-fi jargon (‘His bioenergy is off the charts!’).”
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
“If Fantastic Four is pleasantly different in its introductory segment, once those super powers kick in, the whole film goes into a more standard gear. We’ve seen it all before, and it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing it all again as well.”
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter)
“A sense of heaviness, gloom and complete disappointment settles in during the second half, as the mundane setup pays no dramatic or sensory dividends whatsoever. Even if lip-service is paid to some great threat to life on Earth as we know it, the filmmakers bring nothing new to the formula, resulting in a film that’s all wind-up and no delivery.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 27
Rotten Tomatoes: 9 percent
Length: 106 minutes
Starring Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell
Directed by Josh Trank