Superheroes battle angst

Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four.
Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four. PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

REVIEW / FANTASY

FANTASTIC FOUR (PG)

100 minutes/Now showing/ 2.5/5 stars

The story: Genius scientist Reed Richards (Miles Teller) invents teleportation across dimensions. He is recruited by Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to be part of a scientific team investigating inter-dimensional travel, joining Franklin's children, Sue and Johnny (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan), and another genius, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Their first crossing, taken with Reed's best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) results in Victor's death and strange injuries to Ben, Reed, Johnny and Sue.


Poor Josh Trank. As his moody teen sci-fi flick Chronicle(2012) proves, the director understands how coming-of-age stories should work; he just does not seem to know how to make them work as light entertainment.

There is a lot here that might belong in a moody young-adult drama in the style of author John Green (this year's Paper Towns and last year's The Fault In Our Stars).

Reed and Ben are shown as boys, neglected at home, who come together because of a shared love of gadgets; there are also glimpses of strain in the Storm family.

These notes of internal pain, only hinted at but depicted with a deadly earnestness, look as if they belong to a much grimmer sci-fi movie, perhaps one about surviving alone in a post-war landscape controlled by cannibal gangs.

Trank seems to think that a scowling intensity adds depth to a movie with a villain called Dr Doom fighting a superhero whose limbs become rubber bands thanks to rivers of glowing green goop from another dimension.

Such is the ban on fun that when the mutations occur that turn the quartet into who they were meant to be, no one other than Johnny (Jordan) sees the gifts as a good thing.

The final third sees most of them turn into neurotic sourpusses seeking to be rid of their new talents, while, confusingly, training hard to perfect their use as weapons.

If Spider-Man told us that "with power comes responsibility", the message here is "power really makes you cranky".

Come on, Mr Trank, lighten up. You are making a Marvel movie about young people transformed into gods.

Even the X-Men movies let the mutant kids revel in their gifts once in a while.

Not for Sue Storm (Mara), though: If anything, her moping increases after she learns she can fly and move boulders with her mind. Must be awful for her.

The juxtaposition of non-stop brooding against a plot-driven superhero origin story makes for discordant storytelling. Much is alluded to but never given time to develop.

For example, there is no reasonable explanation for Victor's (Kebbell) sneeriness towards the team before his transformation into Dr Doom.

After his transformation, his full-on misanthropy is a mystery, as is the reason for how he not only survived so long in the alternate dimension, but also gained super powers in the process.

If we have to read the comics to understand, then the movie has failed.

With characters powered by unearned angst, fighting the daftest Marvel villain in recent memory, this reboot of the already-weak 2005 movie not only adds nothing, but it might also whisk the Fantastic Four brand into that ice-cold alternate Hollywood dimension, where superheroes sleep for a long, long time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2015, with the headline '(No headline) - JOMOVIE07'. Print Edition | Subscribe