I’m going to tell you, right off the bat, that the onslaught of negative press that this movie received is not deserved. Yes, it’s a misfire. There are moments in the film where you can almost literally see the train car going off the rails. The end is… You know what? We’ll get to that later. But there are just as many good moments to balance the movie out. Is this movie fantastic? Not even a little bit. Is it the worst movie ever made? Not by a long shot.
Let’s get into it.
The movie kicks off by setting up their strongest story-line: the friendship between Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. Pretty much every other plot line is pushed to the side in favor of theirs and yet it still feels like it was underdeveloped. Two outsiders, one a boy genius and the other a rough around the edges youngster, come together to create the prototype of the device that is the catalyst for the majority of what happens in this movie.
That is when the movie proceeds with its first of two major time jumps. Just as we meet them as children, we jump ahead and see Reed and Ben (Miles Teller and Jamie Bell) in high school. Teller and Bell playing high school students isn’t the most believable thing in the world, but their chemistry is palpable and therefore the age criticism is easy to dismiss. They are showing off the second version of their teleportation device and that is when Reed is snatched up by Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) to join them at the illustrious Baxter Institute for brilliant young minds.
From there the rest of the cast is set up to varying degrees of success. We meet Franklin’s other child, the aimless street racing Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), the disenfranchised hacker Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), and emotionless corporate overseer Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson). The only one of these characters that really registers is Victor, whose arrogance and weird fixation on Sue makes him standout from the blandness of every other character.
Together, these characters work on the teleportation device that is actually a door to a different dimension which they call “Planet Zero.” Ben is completely absent from this section of the movie. It is not until they get the device working and the corporate bigwigs decide to send an astronaut to Planet Zero, rather than the students who invented it, that Ben is pulled back into the story by a drunk dialing Reed. The two of them reunite and are joined by Victor and Johnny on a late night trip to another dimension. So far everything is actually pretty good. Nothing amazing or ground-breaking, but my buddy and I swapped several “Hey! This isn’t bad at all!” exchanges during this part of the film.
That all changes once the team get to Planet Zero. They go running around to find the “energy source” or whatever it is that makes them climb down a ledge. Then the strange, green energy rivers explode and the guys need to climb back up the ledge. Reed tries to save Victor, but unfortunately he is unsuccessful. Victor plummets to his “death” and Ben, Johnny, and Reed then rush back to the teleportation device, only to be hit with green river goo. They return, bringing a bunch of green river goo with them, and it hits everyone in the lab… Which means just Sue, who was weirdly excluded from the boys only trip to Planet Zero. It’s okay. I’m sure she had no interest in being one of the first humans to journey to another dimension. You know, because she is a girl.
They are immediately rushed to a top-secret snow base where they are studied by scientists and Dr. Allen, who seems to have had numerous different names throughout the movie and yet not one full personality. The effects of the green river goo are actually quite intense. Reed is stretched out, Ben’s skin has turned into rock, Sue is phasing in and out of visibility, and Johnny is on fire. None of this is shown to be fantastic. In fact, it feels as if it were ripped out of a Cronenberg body horror movie. Reed hears Ben wailing in pain and sneaks through the ventilation shaft to check on his buddy, but finds him transformed into a rock monster. That’s when Reed freaks out and… leaves. He runs away.
One year later. Wait. What? Yes. One year later.
The most jarring cinematic time jump in recent memory occurs and we find our remaining heroes working for the government. Ben is their secret weapon that they employ to do massive amounts of damage to the enemy, Johnny is being trained to become something similar for them, and Sue seems to just be hanging around because there was a female character in the comic book and it would be strange to not have one of those hanging around in the film adaptation. They seem to be working for the government in order to get their old lives back, but they need Reed for this. I’m getting a feeling that we’re going to get the old band back together.
Sue is good at patterns (seriously) so they have her track Reed’s patterns that he is leaving while he is inexplicably chasing Ben, who he left behind a year ago to save. If that sentence doesn’t make sense, don’t worry, neither does the movie from here on out. The government scientist people send over a squad of armed soldiers with Ben to capture Reed. He engages these soldiers in a stretchy fight that shows that you really can’t do much damage to a stretchy person. He just stretches! They immediately debunk this enjoyable discovery by having Ben headbutt Reed and it actually causing damage. Ben tells Reed that they are not friends anymore because he turned him into a rock monster. Which is fair.
They bring Reed back to the snow base and they immediately put him back to work on the teleportation device. It is immediately finished and they send a group of soldier scientists over to Planet Zero, where they find out that Victor is not dead, but heavily transformed into a half metal/half green river goo being. They bring him back to the snow base, he wakes up, and kills everyone but Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue. He then creates a blue river goo beam to take him back to Planet Zero because Earth is not for him anymore. The four follow him up the beam to Planet Zero and fight him. He’s stronger than each of them, but not stronger than all of them. I know this because Reed said it. Sue then makes Ben invisible so he can sneak up to Doom and punch him into the blue river goo beam. Victor dies. For real this time. Maybe. The four make it back to Earth before the blue river beam is destroyed by getting hit with a Victor. Once back, someone gives them a brand new snow base. They decide that they need a team name. Several terrible options are brought up. Ben inexplicably thinks that what has happened is fantastic. Reed decides that they are now the Fantastic Four. Well, I think he did. The movie cuts out before he can say it.
If that last bit of the review seems like I was rushing to get to the end, it’s only because I decided to adopt the frantic pacing of the movie to give you, the reader, an accurate summation of what it was like to watch the last twenty minutes of this movie. It started off as a pretty good sci-fi flick with a sweet, if underdeveloped, friendship at the center but then turned into an out-of-control train car of careening towards the finish with no time for character or plot. The ending, simply put, was diarrhetic.
A nice start that devolved into a rush for the flush.