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Fantastic Four review: Fab four reboot is sci-fi by numbers

The latest reinvention of this Marvel super-squad has its moments, but it's still far from out of this world, says Andrew Johnston

Published 07/08/2015

Tough nerds: the quartet of scientists gain superpowers after an experiment goes wrong
Tough nerds: the quartet of scientists gain superpowers after an experiment goes wrong

The Fantastic Four were created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics in 1961, but it took nearly 45 years for the dysfunctional superhero family to make it onto the big screen. There had been several attempts before, but the team have proved surprisingly difficult to pitch to a cinema audience.

Tim Story's Fantastic Four (2005) and its 2007 follow-up Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were financially successful, but they were savaged by critics, and there seemed little appetite for a third instalment.

Fast-forward a decade and in tried and tested fashion comes the inevitable reboot. Where Story's movies were bright, breezy and didn't take themselves too seriously, director Josh Trank (Chronicle) goes down the Batman Begins and Man of Steel route for his effort.

The problem is, a scientist with bendy limbs, his see-through girlfriend, a flying jock on fire and a grouchy half-man-half-rock doesn't really warrant the dark, brooding treatment.

And so, reaction to the trailers and plot leaks for Trank's remake has been harsh. News that the helmer had been unceremoniously fired from a forthcoming Star Wars spin-off only added to the melee, and when even the cast last week admitted they hadn't seen the finished film, alarm bells were going off from here to Latveria (the fictional homeland of FF villain Doctor Doom, for non-fans).

Happily, Fantastic Four 2015 is nowhere near the disaster that might have been expected, but it doesn't improve on the unduly maligned 2000s flicks, either.

As with the recent Spider-Man re-jig, familiarity has bred contempt, and much of the excitement or intrigue that should accompany an origin story is sapped by the fact we all watched Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) become Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing 10 years ago.

Not that they're referred to by their superhero monikers in Trank's serious-minded picture, of course; nor is the collective sobriquet 'the Fantastic Four' ever used.

Thankfully, though, writers Trank, Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater scrapped their initial plan to have the bad guy be a computer programmer named Victor Domashev - so we do get good, old Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), alias interplanetary megalomaniac Doctor Doom.

And his post-transformation appearance is either sublime or ridiculous. It's hard to decide which.

As for Teller, Mara, Jordan and Bell, they do what's asked of them, but none of these fine actors brings much star power to their role.

Narrative-wise, there's very little going on. Four nerdy scientists and their beefy pal build a machine that allows interdimensional travel, but a trial mission goes wrong and the five find themselves wielding a series of outlandish superpowers.

One of them goes mad, turns evil and threatens to destroy Earth; the remaining quartet step in to stop him.

Trank establishes the characters and their world well, yet for all the screenplay's early human touches (or, as some will surely moan, its lack of action), the film descends into the usual back-and-forth of computer-enhanced figures throwing heavy objects at one another.

It's slight, safe and not really "about" anything, but more frustratingly for the movie-going public, it means that yet another incarnation of this apparently cinema-proof super-squad will undoubtedly be along in a few years.

Three stars

Belfast Telegraph

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