The interconnecting web of cinematic storytelling means you can’t leave a good hero down. But a more savvy audience can grow tired of the same stories and leaning into the gritty roots and popular deconstructions of the superhero tropes become more of an increasingly popular avenue for these types of stories to take. In 2015, Josh Trank was brought on to bring his quasi-subversive take, as he did in his 2012 breakthrough Chronicle, in Fant4stic Four.
Reed is a gifted mind, but no one apart from a fellow kid, Ben Grim, seems to appropriate his potential. That is until the Baxter foundation gets wind of the Reed’s Quantum Gate teleportation device. Hypothesising that their refined device could take passengers to an alternate dimension, Reed and Ben are joined by Sue and Johnny Baxter, and promising scientist Von Doom. When it comes time to test it, the young scientists are rebuked, yet jump at the chance to secretly experiment. As the intrepid crew mess with the force of teleportation, they may find that the routes they travel towards may lead to evil and darkness, but also unspeakable powers.
With a new reboot comes a new cast, and Fant4stic lives up to its name in assembling its stellar talent. Whiplash wunderkind Miles Teller takes on a young Reed Richards with Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell plays Grimm as more of a guardian/protector to Reed, and that dynamic feels both novel and insightful to the character. Member of acting dynasty Kate Mara is a strong choice to play Sue Storm, and returning from Chronicle, Michael B. Jordan sets expectations ablaze as The Human Torch, complete with many similarities with his Chronicle role. Toby Kebbell also gives Von Doom a menacing quality that lives up to his name. The talents of Tim Blake Nelson and Reg E. Cathey help round off this impressive pedigree. Yet, for some reason comic legends Dan Castellaneta and Tim Heidecker also have extended cameos, not that it is anything to complain about, far from it, helping inject some further levity.
The thing with origin stories is you have to be inventive to be novel, as fans tend to be more than familiar with the content. Yet, you also want to keep things straightforward for newcomers. Fant4stic Four manages to return to a lot of the themes/ideas that he explored in his breakthrough, Chronicle, and like the last two origin attempts. The film follows a lot of the same beats but offers, a more for lack of a better term, warped telling of the events. The alternate dimension is a unique invention, one that feels more in tune with the darker vision of the four, than the relative optimism of space exploration found in previous attempts. Yet, you can see how these characters would lend themselves to the modern cinematic stable, should such needs arise.
While more serious and grittier than some other attempts to tell the tales of that fateful four, Fant4stic Four offers an interesting take nonetheless, one that plays into Trank’s strengths as a storyteller. Distinctive enough to be novel for familiar fans, and familiar enough to provide the distinctive heroes with an opportunity for lucrative spinoffs, with an impressive cast. You could say that this film explores a new dimension for the characters in more than four ways.
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