Prime Edition

Fantastic Four tries hard to sell the underdog fantasy

22nd Aug 2015

Fantastic Four

Director: Josh Trank

Starring: Kate Mara, Michael B Jordan, Miles Teller

Fun fact: Kate Mara hasn't read any of the Fantastic Four comics, neither did the director. Nor did the writer think it was necessary for her to, since the film wasn't based on any particular issue of the comic books. The brief given to Mara was to keep it as "real" as possible. A similar ethic runs through this Fantastic Four reboot: the whole film is a struggle to keep the plot seem as human and spectacle-free as possible, while most superhero films go for hyperbole above everything else. In that sense, Fantastic Four is as indie a story as it can get, in stark contrast to the recently released Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant Man. In Avengers, the superheroes were almost callous about saving the world, they had gotten so used to it. Jokes went around, and spectacles were part of the deal. In Fantastic Four, we have a group of four young men and women, whom we are told are brilliant at the outset. The four of them end up getting caught in the hubris of their intelligence, wanting recognition for the work that they have done. The inter-planetary travel that they take from Earth to a parallel dimension — called Planet Zero — leads them on to an unoccupied mystery place full of a mysterious, possibly radioactive energy source, bubbling along the cracks all over the earth-like surface. The substance is neither solid, nor gas nor liquid; "almost like a nerve stimulus".

Fantastic Four echoes the director's first film, Chronicle (2012), a sci-fi thriller about an ardent but misunderstood nerd who ends up receiving special powers from aliens. The train of underdog heroes runs strong in this movie as well, with all the main protagonists having an elaborate back story. Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (who end up becoming Mr Fantastic and The Thing respectively, later) are childhood friends who invent a prototype of a teleporter. Ben (Jamie Bell) is very clearly the sidekick, but isn't ill-treated by his more brilliant friend who seems to be bereft of an obvious superiority complex. His nemesis, Victor Von Doom (Dr Doom), on the other hand, is full of hubris, wallowing away in the darkness of being brilliant hence misunderstood: a brooding hipster surrounded by half-finished objects that he created, now run-down as he wallowed in his misery. Kate Mara (Susan Storm) is the adopted daughter of the Baxter facility's head who, incidentally, is also mentoring the young scientists at the facility. Mara's half brother Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan), in stark contrast to her faithful behaviour towards her father, is a renegade, taken in by the flashy life that he lives away from the facility.

The film goes into so much detail when it comes to back stories that we are almost surprised when the action hits us. The plot is unfortunately not very well married to the action. Ben's character is involved with not much except for hamming and hawing, before or after the plot is going on. A hint of a love tussle between Richards, Mara and Doom's character is hinted at, but never played upon. Everyone looks towards Mara for emotional strength, a part perhaps enhanced in her ability to go invisible and move force fields later in the film.

Overall, it is an engaging story that does not give in to easy gimmicks and spectacle (except the last showdown in the end, where it becomes exactly what a Marvel movie is supposed to be, with the Thing moving mountains, Mr Fantastic jumping hoops, and Doom creating a destructive portal between two dimensions). However, since it does fit into the tropes of a regular superhero action film, the film struggles between telling an honest narrative and giving its comic geek audience their money's worth of action. Subtlety has lost this time, I'm afraid, and I feel for Trank when I say this. Everyone hates to be a sellout, and his dream of having it all like the Fantastic Four in the end, without giving in to the system, seems like a pipedream, existing only in fantasies. — Payel Majumdar


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