Is It A Problem That The Best Part About Fantastic Four Is A Villain Who Only Shows Up At The End?

Fantastic Four.
Director: Josh Trank.
Writers: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank.
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell and Reg E. Cathey.
Opens: Wide.

Just when you thought you were free from another superhero origin story, 20th Century Fox steps in to fill that void with Fantastic Four.

Unlike most origin stories, though, this movie introduces the characters when they’re basically kids. Well, college students, at least.

We meet Reed Richards (Miles Teller) as a budding and excitable teenager who, along with his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), has built a machine that can transfer matter from one place to another. Only problem is, he doesn’t know where the matter is going — not at first, at least. Later, he determines that his experiment is actually transferring matter to another planet in another dimension.

It’s a pretty major, if fictional, discovery for Reed — and one that catches the eye of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara). In turn, they offer Reed a scholarship at the Baxter Foundation, where they help them finish a similar project that was initially launched by one Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell).

With Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) along for the ride, Reed and his new pals successfully create a machine that can transfer humans to another dimension. Naturally, this discovery opens the path for the evil higher-ups at the Baxter Foundation to try harnessing whatever energy and resources they can from this other planet for selfish gains.

The film spends a considerable amount of time building the relationships between the five characters at the center of the story, as well as the dynamics of their characters. Reed is the dickish brainiac, a young man who feels responsible for the machine and its capabilities. Sue is the level-headed one who’s closer to her father than her brother Johnny, who himself is a bit of a rebel. Ben doesn’t get much of an arc here, except as Reed’s troubled best friend. Then there’s the jaded Victor, who is overshadowed by Reed’s genius and muses about how humans are destroying the earth and don’t deserve to be saved — y’know, the perfect perspective for a would-be villain.

Thankfully, unlike most superhero films, the plot of Fantastic Four doesn’t rely on action set-pieces. Instead, it shows the power struggle between science innovation and government intervention. Where science just wants to explore and learn, government wants control and power. This theme makes up a good chunk of the first half of the film.

Then, as anticipated, our heroes have their “accident” and are endowed with powers — at which point the film seems to realize it needs a more tangible bad guy. And so we get introduced to Dr. Doom with only about 30 minutes left in the film.

He’s mostly a waste here, which is rather unfortunate. With Victor’s pessimistic outlook on life paired with the weird energy he’s able to harness from this other dimension as the evil Dr. Doom, this former ally of our core four ends up being one of the better Marvel bad guys we’ve seen since Loki. He actually has a purpose, some solid motivation and a bloody (pun intended) scary power.

No, his power isn’t explicitly spelled out in the film — but, in essence, he can manipulate matter in whatever way possible. It’s a unique skill set, and one I wish there had been more of in this film. Truly, it will be a shame if this is the last time audiences see this version of Dr. Doom.

Because, really, his greatness helps this film overcome a number of weaknesses, not the least of which are its frustratingly lazy plot points — something that an already exposition-heavy film that doesn’t quite trust its audience to figure out what is happening should avoid at all costs. The film’s many cheesy lines of dialogue — like the conversation about what these four should call themselves since they’re a team — don’t really do much to help matters, either.

On the whole, Fantastic Four represents quite well the fact that Hollywood remains scared of making smart superhero films. This one really had the chance to be a better and smarter origin-oriented film focusing on four young adults — something we haven’t seen executed well just yet in the MCU, at least. What’s frustrating is that all of the nuggets of a great film are right there, just out of reach from this one, which starts off well enough, then sort of fizzles out as it goes on.

Thank goodness, then, for Dr. Doom, without whom this film would be wholly forgettable. I really can’t stress this enough: He’s great.

Grade: B. (Mostly for Dr. Doom. Seriously.)

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