About 45 minutes into Fantastic Four‘s meager 85 minute runtime, the 5 year old sitting a few rows in front of me loudly asked her parents “Which one of them turns into the rock thing!?” I usually have zero tolerance for movie talkers and theater disruptions. However, instead of quietly wishing that theaters would double charge parents who bring their children to a non-matinee show time, I chuckled because the kid was onto something.
One of the many things that keep Fantastic Four from even being worth seeing is the pacing. The film opens with a lengthy look back at Reed Richards’ child prodigy days in a scene where he tells his classmates that when he grows up, he wants to develop the technology to teleport matter. That’s when the worst teacher on the planet (played by Dan Castellaneta) essentially tells him to shut up and stop dreaming about doing the impossible.
But Reed won’t let that get him down. He develops the tech with his friend Ben Grimm and years later takes it to his school’s science fair. Because, you know, what else are you going to do with a scientific breakthrough you whipped up in your garage? From there he gets a scholarship from Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathy) and heads to the Baxter Building to develop his tech.
Okay, so the exposition-laden origin story is done and we can get the characters their powers, right? Nope. What follows is a laborious sequence of scenes that barely reminds viewers of Reed’s (Miles Teller) eventual marriage to Sue Storm (Kate Mara) rather than attempt to establish any kind of chemistry between them. We’re also introduced to Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) who’s made out to be something of a wild card but comes across as lifeless and bored as any other characters.
We’re also introduced to Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) by way of a street race gone awry. Johnny wrecking his car gives his dad the leverage he needs to get Johnny to work on the teleportation project. By the way, they’re working on teleporting humans to a parallel dimension that they will mine for resources for Earth and so on and so forth.
I’ve spent more time than I’d like describing the setup of the plot and the reason for that is because the movie spends the majority of its time doing the same. It’s mind-boggling how many hoops the movie jumps through to give these characters their superpowers. I’m all for nuanced storytelling in comic book movies and character building, but my God, Fantastic Four has none of that. It’s a slow burn to a slower middle section.
And that’s where I nearly checked out of the movie entirely. Once the movie gives the characters their powers (again, about 45 minutes into the movie), there’s an obnoxious time jump to “One Year Later.” When I read that title card on the screen, I laughed out loud and nearly walked out. I can only assume that the trouble behind the scenes was far more severe than we’ve been told and the studio slapped a jump cut into the middle of the movie so they could rush the movie out and be done with it. It’s nonsensical that the movie would jump past the discovery of the powers after such tedious exposition. No one can think this is effective storytelling.
Once the time jump happened, I was essentially running out the clock on the runtime of the movie. The last 40 or so minutes made me feel so bad for the young actors in the movie. Mara, Jordan, Teller, and Bell are fantastic actors but they were given nothing at all to work with in the action sequences. Toby Kebbell is also wasted once he becomes Doctor Doom.
The climactic battle is formulaic and cringe inducing as well. Miles Teller is given dialogue so hokey that his only choice is to deliver it flat, lest he give its accidental comedy awareness. The dialogue in the team’s big team up sequence is so horrendous that when the team takes down Doctor Doom (uh, spoiler alert, I guess?) I was fully prepared to hear Teller exclaim, “We did it! We set aside our differences and became a team! Good job, guys!”
Thankfully he doesn’t say that, but the tragedy of Fantastic Four is that it would have fit perfectly in the movie.