EVEN AMONG the legions of characters in long underwear, the Fantastic Four have always stood apart, both for their squabbling family dynamics and an endearingly retro squareness. The latest attempt to move the team to the big screen captures, well, exactly neither of those aspects, with results that are too bloody and dour for kids (heads start popping off towards the end, GWAR-style), too laissez-faire for continuity geeks, and too uninspired for everybody else.
Cribbing from Marvel's modern, "Ultimate Comics" storylines, Fantastic Four's plot follows four friends and/or siblings (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell) working in a scientific think-tank. After a botched dimensional experiment, they find themselves turning stretchy, see-through, flammable, and rocky, respectively. Director Josh Trank, whose found-footage superhero flick Chronicle displayed a nifty take on origin stories, starts things off well enough, with a dry sense of humor and a few intriguing stabs at body horror. Once these heroes actually become super, though, the arc of descent ramps up quickly, resulting in a second half that alternates between being dull—prepare for a lot of shots of hallways—and actively unpleasant. Even fans clamoring for a grim and gritty take on the material may balk at giving the Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing a confirmed kill count.
Rumors of reshoots and directorial interference abound, which may well account for Fantastic Four's increasingly slapdash atmosphere. No amount of post-production monkeying, however, can disguise what feels like a fundamental misunderstanding about what makes these characters work in the first place. (This is a movie where a superhero famed for his amazing powers of elasticity can be choked out like a henchman in a Swayze flick.) There are few hard and fast rules in the comic book genre—but when even Stan Lee won't deign to make an appearance, look out below.