Josh Trank – much like head of the titular super family, Reed Richards – was a fella bursting with potential. It only took his directorial debut of Chronicle to see that. His impressive effort of a downscaled superhero story made him seem like a good fit to hand a well established comic book property and bring it to life. With a vast back catalogue of material on Marvel’s superhero family and what you’d assume would be a bigger budget to play with, surely there was something special he could deliver? In truth, the only fantastic thing about this new version is that someone actually failed Marvel’s heroes a fourth time.
Things start off with a glimmer of hope as writer Simon Kinberg leans towards the pages of Mark Millar’s Ultimate origin story of Richards and co. A tiresome chapter to tell certainly, but when most of the audience aren’t old enough to recall that the Human Torch was once played by Captain America, a refresher course might be the way to go. This time Reed Richard (Miles Teller) is a kid genius snatched up to join a school full of his type where he meets Sue Storm (Kate Mara), her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and stiff-lipped smart arse Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Their project to crack inter-dimensional ends up a success only with the minor hitch of all of them, and Reed’s school mate Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), ending up with crazy cosmic powers. It’s here where for the briefest of moments Trank’s take surpasses the ill-favoured predecessor.
Seeing this group deal with their new capabilities (brief as it is) is unsettlingly interesting. Trank has taken things down a crooked Cronenbergian path, as we pass over surprisingly unsettling scenes of Reed trying to gather himself now he’s a human rubber band, Jordan being burned (and staying) alive, and Jamie Bell’s voice echo out of a gargoyle trying to break free from a rocky foundation. It’s undeniably more serious than the whizz-bang-bumbling effort from before, going for the body horror aspect of what these heroes are going through. Sadly, the horror is only just beginning.
From then on it’s a flat, uneventful story stretched to its limits, with what seems to be the only footage the editing room would allow out. On display are anything but the tight-knit awesome foursome that should be present, but instead a disconnected bunch that have all the chemistry of a group on an office team-building exercise. They barely share a scene together either before or after they get their powers, which is even more frustrating considering the cast involved. Bell and Jordan don’t have a minute to play off one another as their characters are supposed to, and Teller musters all the interest he can with Kate Mara, which is understandably very little for a woman who is wearing Jessica Alba’s wig from the 2005 version.
As for their villain, Toby Kebbell actually manages to build the early stages of the films antagonist with what little he has, as the ill-fated Victor Von Doom. Of course, then he’s encased behind what looks like the figure from Queen’s News of the World album cover and is lost in a shoddy CGI finale. Just like everyone else’s effort, his was doomed from the get go.
Ultimately, this is simply another annoying occasion when speculation over the secretive superhero film from ‘the people that brought you X-Men: Days of Future Past’ was right. Somehow a cast this good, with a director this promising have ended up in a film that’s a forgetful mess. Reports got out recently that not even the cast have seen this film before it was released. Lucky them.