My favorite scene in the decidedly mediocre “Fantastic Four” comes late in the game, when Reed Richards, Johnny Storm, Sue Storm and The Thing meet with government and military officials in a conference room.
They’ve got croissants in a basket, and coffee in fancy white china cups. What’s that about? Are they mocking The Thing because there’s no way he’d be able to put his rocky pinky through the cup handle? Do they really expect Johnny Storm to load up on the pastries before he gets his flame on?
Maybe the goodies are just for the normal humans.
This is the kind of stuff one thinks about when wading through a lightweight and basically unnecessary attempt to once again bring some cinematic life to one of the lesser teams in the Marvel Universe. Let’s face it, they’re a bunch of mostly humorless brainiacs before their origins story kicks in — and then they’re transformed into mutants with superpowers not nearly as interesting or complex or inherently dramatic as the gifts-slash-curses of a Superman or a Spidey or a Hulk.
Director Josh Trank (“Chronicle”) and his co-writers Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg start off promisingly enough with an extended prelude featuring a young Reed Richards (Owen Judge) teaming up with his classmate Ben Grimm (Even Hanneman) to build an inter-dimensional teleportation device that will transfer matter and perhaps even living beings to another locale. For the first 20 minutes or so, “Fantastic Four” has the vibe of one of those 1980s or 1990s sci-fi movies that depended heavily on character and plot in part because the special effects were good but not great.
Flash forward seven years. Reed (now played by Miles Teller) is still trying to transport model cars and airplanes to another place (and maybe another time), and his work has captured the attention of one Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), who offers Reed a full scholarship to the Baxter Institute, an enormous think tank and research lab populated by lots of busy extras in lab coats who point at things or hunch over computers.
Things move at a glacial pace as we meet Storm’s adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), who has a bit of an attitude; Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), who has a bit of an attitude, and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who has even MORE of an attitude, perhaps because his name is Victor Von Doom so he’s probably got a pretty good handle on where his origins story is going.
We’re past the halfway point of the movie before we finally get to the moment where an ill-fated teleportation excursion transforms Ben Grimm into the Thing; Sue Storm into the Invisible Woman; Johnny into the Human Torch; and Reed into Mister Fantastic.
The Thing is the Hulk with a skin problem. Sue Storm can make herself invisible, and she can fly around in a bubble like Glinda the Good Witch from “The Wizard of Oz.” Johnny says “Flame On,” and he’s a flying ball of fire. Most ridiculous of all, Mister Fantastic (I don’t they ever get around to calling him that in the movie), who sounds like a household-cleaning product, has the ability to stretch his limbs and then snap them back like a lizard’s tongue. The likes of Iron Man and Professor X would get quite the chuckle out of these goofballs.
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.
Nearly all of the action in “Fantastic Four” takes place in secret research labs, remote government labs or on the dark and gloomy planet Dr. Doom calls home. There’s virtually no connection to the “real world” — not a single moment where a rooftop garden party is livened up by a visit from the Human Torch, or the Invisible Woman has some fun with her abilities to disappear, or the Thing rumbles down a crowded city street, or Mister Fantastic puts his arm around a gal while she’s in the living room and he’s making dinner in the kitchen.
It doesn’t help when the dialogue includes such gems as:
“You don’t have to do this, Victor.”
“Victor, you don’t have to do this.”
“We need to stop Victor!”
“Let’s get the hell out of here!
“I saw a different future for us, Sue.”
“Croissants! What the—? You know what that does to the digestive system of a man made of rocks?”
All right, so that last line doesn’t actually appear in the movie. Too bad.