Before the rise of the Internet, it was rarely public news when a movie had a troubled production. The last two decades, though, have been filled with troubling reports of production difficulties on movies, from actor blow-ups on the sets of Terminator: Salvation and Cop Out to the re-shuffling of the directors of the Hobbit trilogy and Ant-Man. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks, you’ve no doubt heard nothing but rotten things about Fantastic Four.
Fox filmed a completely new third act six months after the movie was done shooting. It was shuffled from a March release date to a June release date to an August release date. Esquire Magazine and Miles Teller got into a Twitter fight over whether or not Teller is “a dick.” And then director Josh Trank, in a tweet heard round the world, trashed his own movie the day before it finally opened.
So how bad is Fantastic Four? Actually, not as bad as you’ve heard.
Some superhero groups, like the X-Men, are born mutants; others have mutation thrust upon them. Through a slightly convoluted series of events, scientist Sue (Kate Mara), engineer Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), technician Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), whiz-kid Reed (Teller), and Reed’s childhood friend Ben (Jamie Bell) all are transported from their laboratory to a parallel dimension.
While there, they discover a glowing ooze of sorts that causes their bodies to change. Sue now can turn invisible, as well as create force fields; Johnny can light his entire body ablaze; Reed can stretch like he’s made of rubber; and Ben is now half-rock, with the strength that also comes with that. (Victor doesn’t make it back.)
As with any good people in movies who get powers, they decide (eventually) (like, really, really far it) (seriously, I’m talking at least about two-thirds of the way through the movie) to band together and use them to make the world a better place. Thankfully, it’s just in time for a big showdown with a megalomaniacal villain.
To say the movie doesn’t have huge problems would be laughably untrue. And yet, while the gaffs are obvious and memorable, the movie does a fair bit right. The casting of Teller, Mara, Jordan, Bell, and Kebbell is — pardon the pun — fantastic, as are the choices for smaller roles played by Reg E. Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson.
And the first two-thirds of the movie is downright okay — particularly, the series of hard-to-watch scenes in which the mutated characters suffer through their bodies’ changes. (They remind you of what a David Cronenberg superhero movie would probably be like.)
When the third act arrives, though, the movie plummets in quality, in every facet. The dialogue gets significantly worse, the CGI runs rampant, and the characters change personalities and motivations entirely.
If you believe Trank, it’s the third act of the movie that studio 20th Century Fox insisted on sewing onto his original vision (and that Fox spent all their reshoots doing in January, when they didn’t like Trank’s ending). Wherever the blame does lie, it’s hard to argue that the movie feels suddenly and markedly different in the last third, in a very bad way.
Comedian Eddie Izzard once said that the key to something imperfect succeeding is to start strong and end strong; you can overcome a crappy middle if you’ve got an impressive beginning and a memorable finish. Fantastic Four’s most crippling problem is that it ends with all of its weakest parts.
The first 70 per cent of the movie is actually fine — not amazing, but certainly not terrible — but that last 30 per cent is so bad, it just leaves an awful taste in your mouth. Fantastic Four isn’t as atrocious as you’ve been likely been reading and hearing, but the most fantastic thing about it is just how disappointingly it implodes into itself by the climax, when it was well on its way to being adequate movie.