At the end of “Fantastic Four,” following loads of exposition and the predictable climactic battle sequence, the principal characters in “Fantastic Four” discuss what they should name their new superhero team.
As they talk, Ben Grimm, the team’s hulking, 1,000-pound rock monster, repeatedly says “fantastic” as he gazes at the scientific equipment-filled space that will be the foursome’s headquarters.
Reed Richards, the team member whose elasticized body stretches to extreme lengths, hears Ben’s “fantastic” mutterings. The Fantastic Four gets its name.
The feel-good ending of “Fantastic Four,” another film adaptation of Marvel Comics characters, is meant to be the start of a profit-generating film franchise. But the movie spends so much time putting pieces in play, there’s little time left for play, thrills, adventure or anything close to fantastic.
“Fantastic Four” — most of which was filmed in Baton Rouge during the production’s extended stay at Celtic Media Centre — is so occupied with setting a franchise foundation that it never creates a life of its own.
Echoing the laboratory workspace where Reed, aka Mister Fantastic, and his fellow Baxter Institute scientists built the Quantum Gate, a dimensional travel machine, the sterile “Fantastic Four” feels like a laboratory experiment.
Technically, it’s a good-looking production crafted with creamy texture. But slick is no substitute for heart. Amidst the film’s long set-up and computer generated imagery, emotion that could be expected from the four young people who are disturbingly changed in “Fantastic Four” is largely missing.
It’s wrong, though, to say that depth of feeling is missing in action. Action is a rare commodity in “Fantastic Four.” That may be due to the Quantum Gate. The dimensional travel machine usually just sits there, waiting to disappear in a blue-cheesy swirl of post-production CGI hocus-pocus.
“Fantastic Four” is the second feature film directed by Josh Trank. His found-footage-genre sci-fi film, “Chronicle,” did well with critics and audiences in 2012. Reaction to “Fantastic Four” has taken a different direction.
Trank co-wrote the “Fantastic Four” script-by-committee with Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater. However many hands reached into the script, this cliché-bound superhero flick fails to launch.
An origins story, “Fantastic Four” opens with Reed Richards, a boy who dreams big despite the disparaging teacher he’s stuck with throughout secondary school. At 12, Reed invents a matter transportation device in his stepfather’s garage. His new friend, future Fantastic Four member Ben, helps him obtain the junkyard part that makes the invention possible.
Some years later, Reed and Ben take the machine to a high school science fair. The super earnest Dr. Franklin Storm sees that Reed has made a breakthrough. Storm grants Reed a scholarship to the Baxter Institute in New York City, a science academy for high school and college students.
The other future members of the Fantastic Four are introduced in superficial short order: Sue Storm, aka Invisible Woman, and Johnny Storm, The Human Torch. The introductions, like the movie in general, are perfunctory. In “Fantastic Four,” elaborate set design is more important that character development, even more important than fun.
As of Thursday, “Fantastic Four” was among the worst-reviewed movies of the year. Superhero movies usually have at least a guaranteed big opening weekend. But following months of bad pre-release buzz, “Fantastic Four” may be doomed. That sets an awful precedent for “Fantastic Four 2,” scheduled for release in 2017.
If moveigoers react negatively to “Fantastic Four” this weekend, their response will dispel a long-held myth that moviegoers hold dear: If critics don’t like a movie, they know they’ll love it. We’ll see.