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Fantastic Four is an unmitigated garbage fire

Miles Teller in Fantastic Four.
Miles Teller in Fantastic Four.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Watching Fox's Fantastic Four feels like taking a cheese grater to your soul. Why would you want to take something beautiful and precious and grind it up into flaccid, soggy pulp? It's impossible to explain.



Maybe we should ask the people who made this dumpster fire dressed as a movie.

That distinction would go to director-writer Josh Trank and screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater, and it's hard to understand why these people didn't adopt pseudonyms. I can't fathom anyone wanting to hitch their name to this. If the Fantastic Four franchise were a lion, Trank, Kinberg, and Slater would be rotting in a jail cell in Zimbabwe.

Fantastic Four is the worst superhero movie in 20 years

"I'm an adult. I'm old enough to make my decisions," Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) tells his father Franklin (Reg. E. Cathey).

That's how the movie's characters speak when they're not dropping nods to the comics, like saying "Dr. Doom over here" to Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell) or "You're in your element" to the Human Torch (Jordan). It's indicative of how Trank, Kinberg, and Slater approached this haphazard film. The story bends and shifts without any point. Plots are dropped, ignored, and spun at a whim. The characters' actions come out of nowhere, as if the only logic in this world is "Because I said so."

The resulting movie feels like animus toward the source material. It outstinks the terrible X-Men Origins — Wolverine, and is the worst superhero movie since Batman & Robin.

There's no reason for this movie to be this terrible

On paper, there's no reason that this film can't be good. Miles Teller, an edgeless, fleshy-lidded Shia LaBeouf, is the perfect combination of dick and dork to play the genius Reed Richards. Kate Mara was created in a laboratory to play Sue Storm. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell are also talented, charismatic actors — the kind you need to play the Human Torch and the Thing, particularly the latter, who must emote through a heavy layer of CGI special effects. And Trank gave us Chronicle, an inventive, found-footage take on the horror of giving superpowers to petulant teens.

Plus, the Fantastic Four is the superhero team that defined superhero teams. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the four heroes — Reed has the power to stretch himself to impossible limits; Sue can create force fields and become invisible; Johnny can turn into a human fireball; Ben became a stone golem with incredible strength — are some of the most complex and riveting characters Marvel has ever created.

They have opposing views of goodness and don't get along. They feel like they're monsters, but they're actually celebrities. They want to do good. They're selfless. They're family. Basically anything that we praise modern superhero tales for, the Fantastic Four were doing earlier and better.

Thanks to thousands of pages of source material and 50 years of development, you could flip open any Fantastic Four comic book to a random page and find something interesting to put on screen. Instead, what Trank and friends have decided to do is spend 100 minutes stitching together five or six terrible mini-films, all falling over one another to be the last one standing.

The most successful and endearing parts of the film are the first 20 minutes, which introduce Reed Richards and his pal Ben Grimm as children in Oyster Bay, New York. Reed is a nerd, Grimm is rough stuff, and together they build a machine that can transport people to a different dimension ... or planet ... or planet in another dimension (the film can't decide). There's a sense of wonderment (a nifty callback to the '60s-era space race that fueled the original comic book) that nearly evokes something magical like E.T. or Super 8.

Then, just when it gets good, it feels like whoever wrote those first 20 minutes went on an impromptu strike. The friendship plot line is dropped out of nowhere and not picked up again until the last act. We're instead thrust into a story about two dudes nerd-fighting over a girl. This is followed, for some reason, with commentary on baby boomers ruining Mother Earth, the government being terrible, and NASA being terrible, before we return to interdimensional space travel again. It's a massive jumble of aborted plot strands and ideas that go nowhere.

Once the Four get their powers, however, things settle down a bit. For five minutes we get to take a breath and see something cool and inventive. What's interesting about the Four is that the powers they get make their lives a living hell — and some lives are more hellish than others. The Human Torch's fire consumes him, Invisible Woman drifts in and out of vision, Mr. Fantastic is stretched thin, and Grimm is a rocky, ugly monster.

But then, as quickly as the characters get their powers, we're randomly pushed forward a year to when three of the four are training as government supersoldiers.

If the movie had stayed on one path, it might have been decent. Cramming every single one of these haphazard plots into the same story, however, tanks it.

The last 20 minutes of Fantastic Four are so bad, it's funny

With all these mini-films fighting for dominance in this giant turd of a movie, everyone kind of forgets that the Fantastic Four need someone to fight. Thus, the last 20 minutes are devoted to checking off this one, final box.

"We have to stop Victor. He is the source," are actual words said by alleged genius Reed Richards. He arrives at this revelation after Victor has already annihilated a government base and bested the Four in one fight. The declaration is said with the amount of enthusiasm you might have when accepting a lukewarm beer.

The last fight scene is an orgy of bubbles, bad CGI, still shots of Dr. Doom, and misplaced lines. But what makes it so glorious is that the movie was so sparse on action sequences until this point. Could a massively exciting action sequence have pulled it out of its torpor? Maybe. There was a flicker of hope in my heart that Trank might pull it off, at least. But as with the rest of this Eeyore of a film, Trank manages to mosey sideways into the big action.

People say only true fans will appreciate a bad movie — that they, the true believers, will find a way to mitigate hot awfulness and disappointment with empathy. Trank and his team have created the opposite of this: something that's openly hostile to anyone with a tiny bit of interest in the Fantastic Four.

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