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Movie review: ‘Fantastic Four’ is hardly fantastic, but dull

The word “fantastic” is a strange name to claim for oneself. Pretty egomaniacal, really. It implies a certain level of pizzazz, of genius, of flash-bang razzle dazzle. And with characters that have powers like invisibility, force fields, flying fireballs and rock clobbering, you might expect some level of fantastic fantasy. But the latest iteration of “Fantastic Four” is far from what its name suggests. Profoundly uninteresting, it hits all the beats of the standard superhero movie, but provides nothing in the way of imagination or magic.

Primarily concerned with the origin story of the foursome, this version, directed by Josh Trank, starts at the beginning — with fifth grader Reed Richards, professing his goal to one day build a teleporting device. With his buddy Ben Grimm, he actually manages to build something that seems to work. Fast forward seven years, and Reed (Miles Teller) is recruited at the science fair by Franklin (Reg E. Cathey) and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) to develop his teleporter, or Quantum Gate, as they rename it.

At the Baxter Institute, Reed collaborates with the Storms, including rebellious Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and paranoid, anti-government hacker type Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to realize his childhood goal. The trio of guys are hungry for glory, unwilling to let the public credit their achievements go to anyone else. One drunken impulse, and spin in the Quantum Gate later, and they’ve irrevocably changed their lives forever. The botched mission results in the transformation of their bodies — disabilities that become abilities — and the loss of Victor to Planet Zero.

All of the performers are compelling and charismatic, but there’s something about the film that just feels so incredibly dull and basic. Every moment is predictable — we know the story beats of the superhero origin by heart now, and in a post-Whedon/Nolan superhero universe, anything that’s not snappy and funny, or dark and violent is just going to seem tedious and repetitive.

The culprit is the script. Credited to three people, many more surely took a pass at it, and the result of so many cooks is something that has no voice at all. There’s no emotional stakes whatsoever, and the film only takes place in either a lab or on Planet Zero, so the inevitable “saving the world” climax is completely unearned. The only interpersonal conflict is between Reed and Ben,and the friendship betrayal that Ben feels is the only thing that elicits any kind of emotion or sympathy.

During the climax it completely falls apart. Teller, usually a charming presence, is saddled with the task of standing on a rock saying some of the most inexplicably obvious lines like “Don’t do this!” and “We’re stronger than him.” Blessedly this final fight ends quickly, and the film rapidly slips away (although this 100-minute movie feels three hours long).

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