Anyone remember seeing this scene in the movie? (20th Century Fox)
So, we have another Fantastic Four with another origin story of Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, Ben Grimm and Victor von Doom, all gaining individually unique powers from an otherworldly source during a scientific expedition. Four of them become fantastically good (eventually going by the superhero names Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and The Thing), while von Doom becomes as bad as his name foreshadows (and will more easily rename himself Doctor Doom). The basics are familiar to many and also very easy to comprehend for anyone joining Marvel’s First Family for the first time.
But much of this reboot, which is directed by Josh Trank (Chronicle) and co-written by Trank, Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater, is confusing. Or maybe just unclear. It’s not muddled a bit, but there does seem to be a lot missing. And therefore a lot of questions are left unanswered thanks to the many narrative gaps and poor character development. It’s a movie that shows that a lot of scientific homework was conducted in order to deliver a story of how the Fantastic Four beginnings would play out in the real world. Unfortunately, its also one that fails to show any work whatsoever done in the way of realistic motivations, choices and relationship dynamics for the people on screen.
Below are the SPOILER heavy questions we had at the end of the new version of Fantastic Four and our attempt to answer where able or at least elaborate on our inquiry. And remember that this is specifically an engagement with the movie, not the comic books the movie is adapted from nor any other external understanding of that source material.
1. Is the Baxter Institute an accredited university?
After high school students Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) present their obviously too-good-for-a-science-fair though-to-be-teleportation project in a local gym competing against children, the duo are approached by Dr. Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue (Reg E. Cathey and Kate Mara) who either just happen to be there or have been secretly aware of Reed’s efforts. Franklin immediately trusts that what he’s seen is not a magic trick and offers the boy – but sadly not his partner – a full scholarship to the Baxter Institute. Which must be a college, as we see its library and a few other students in there, but does Reed have to take classes or does he just spend all his time in the giant lab working on a larger teleportation project involving inter-dimensional travel? Admittedly, it’s reminiscent of the set up of Real Genius, which doesn’t offer too much classroom footage, but this movie has none. Therefore we get no sense of the place and how it functions. At all.
20th Century Fox
2. Why is Johnny allowed to become such an integral part of the project?
As it’s explained in the movie, reckless Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) smashes his car and is then put to work in his dad’s lab as punishment and to get his wheels back. And that’s a benefit for Franklin, Reed and the rest of the project’s team, because their team is that small that they actually need the hothead to help them weld parts together. Were there no other students at Baxter that could have been used for free labor? Also, if all that Johnny has wanted is to be a part of something, why didn’t his dad and sister just invite him to join them before, as needed?
3. How much time goes by between the science fair and the finishing of the Quantum Gate thing?
There are a few instances in the movie where passage of time is directly addressed. When the Storms meet Reed and Ben, seven years have gone by since the opening scenes set in 2007. Halfway through the movie, we get a “one year later” card indicating the advance of time. But the movie loses us between those instances, and it’s only worth bringing up to also ask how old the characters are. In a viral video promoting the movie, said to be set three years after “Baxter Incident” (the accident that gives the group their powers), Reed and Ben are said to be 24, which makes them 22 at the movie’s end and implies at least three years went by before the Quantum Gate machine was even finished and the incident occurred. The same video puts Johnny’s age now at 20, which means he was only 17 at the time of the incident and we either first meet him street racing at around age 14 or that scene is supposed to occur more recently than it seems. Of course, the guy in the video who says it’s been three years since the incident is Tim Blake Nelson, whose character is killed by von Doom a year after the incident. Unless two years has passed between the “one year later” card and the mission with the second Quantum Gate when they find von Doom. Hopefully the person in charge of continuity on Fantastic Four never works on another movie again.
4. Why does Franklin first assume and suggest that his team will be the ones to test the machine?
Eventually we get a nice speech from Victor (Toby Kebbell) about how astronauts steal all the credit from the scientists responsible for, say, sending a man to the Moon. But before that it’s just assumed by Franklin and his young team that Victor, Reed and – most bizarre, Johnny – would follow the chimp (speaking of which, why didn’t we see the chimp after his trip, and why didn’t it wear the same kind of suit as the guys do?) as the experiment’s first human subjects. But when do you ever want to put your brightest scientists – and your non-scientist helper offspring – through a test like that? Sure, scientists working alone like Doc Brown want to be the ones to explore other times and worlds with their own inventions, but a project like this would need more guinea pigs, and well-trained ones at that. What if Reed and Victor die and then you have no one to work on the next step?
20th Century Fox
5. Why isn’t Sue invited to be a part of that first expedition?
Sue is one of the scientists who worked on the project and is surely more responsible for its construction (or at least the suits, because girls make clothes) and therefore more deserving to go with Victor and Reed to another dimension than Johnny. So why isn’t she told about, let alone invited on, the secret first mission? Because she’s a woman and these are just drunk bros thinking of themselves? Because she wasn’t in the room and they forgot she exists? She’s, uh, invisible to them as a person? Or because she’d be against it (we don’t really know enough about her to know if that’d be expected)? Reed has enough thought to call his buddy Ben, whom he doesn’t seem to have chatted with let alone seen in a while, to just come on over and be a part of something the guy had no recent involvement with. Then, unintentionally stabbing the knife deeper into Sue’s back, they screw it all up and when they return, thanks to her help, the machine for some reason also gives her powers she doesn’t want, too.
6. Why immediately go exploring in this mysterious, clearly dangerous-looking other-dimension world?
During that misguided and drunken first travel to another dimension, the guys just need to go and come right back, maybe get it on tape for proof that they were first. Even if they want to get out and put down their American flag, though, that should be the extent of their trip, especially after the ground begins showing signs of instability. They’re not explorers or even outdoors types. But they venture further, with no plan, no proper equipment, no training for anything like what they’re doing, acting way too dumb considering they’re genius scientists (they make those guys in Prometheus look smart again). Victor even touches the mysterious green snot lava with no idea nor concern what it might do to him or his suit.
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7. So is Area 57 the new Area 51?
This isn’t a big deal, but did they just not go with the usual Area 51 as a setting because they shot the movie in the Pacific Northwest instead of the desert? Well, the name Area 57 sounds like a top secret ketchup factory. It was also the name of an unsucessful 2007 TV pilot about an Area 51-like location and an alien played by Paul “aka Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens and is the name of a new low-budget movie that sounds like another unofficial adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game.”
8. What happened with the characters during that year following the accident?
Who the hell knows for sure? Obviously that’s a very interesting time for four people who suddenly have super powers, each of which initially seems like a horrible affliction more than a gift. So why skip over it? Did they think we didn’t want yet another montage of superheroes learning to hone their abilities? Did they think we wouldn’t want to see at least one full, non-televised action sequence where The Thing is on a military mission (they even cut the bit from the trailer where he’s dropped like a bomb)? They sure could have used an action sequence by that point. And share some character-driven scenes involving the acceptance of what they’ve become.
20th Century Fox
9. Why does Ben cooperate with the government?
Speaking of The Thing’s military missions, does he really not get what is happening here? He’s basically forced to be a human weapon for the US government while they, so they’ve promised, work on a cure for his monstrous condition. But anybody would see through that promise, wouldn’t they? The government isn’t going to want to cure you if you’re the best thing to happen to their military since the atomic bomb. I know Ben is just a junkyard kid and not one of the science nerds, but he never came across as a total moron. And if he was threatened into it, well, we’ll get back to that in a bit.
10. Did Sue and Ben finally get to meet off screen?
I’m isolating this topic, even though it also falls under the seventh question, because it needs to be addressed how little this future superhero family/team knows each other, let alone gets along with each other. The first time Ben gets to meet his best friend’s new pals – including Johnny, who is essentially Ben’s replacement as laborer – is the night he goes on a potentially dangerous expedition, and even then he barely gets to have more than a “hey, sup” exchange before jettisoning to another dimension with the guys. He never meets Sue as a human, and once they do interact it’s surely awkward, sad and mostly professional. But, hey, who knows if they ever met at all during that skipped year?
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11. What is Reed doing during the full year we skip over, and why does it take a year for the government to find him?
Yes, more about that missing year. Reed escaped the top secret ketchup facility that the government had at their disposal seemingly just for an instance when super beings would need a place to be housed and studied, and manages to hide himself around the world, Ethan Hunt style (except his masks are made of his own flexible skin), finally winding up in Panama building something. What is it? Presumably he’s working on a way to cure the four of their powers (or at least his and Ben’s, I’m not sure he even realized Johnny lived and is a human torch and that Sue acquired invisibility powers). Yet we never see it, nor is whatever he’s been doing discussed afterward.
Meanwhile, the government has been trying to locate Reed for that whole unseen year, and they’re having no better luck than they did with Hunt. But finally they get the idea to have Sue and her non-super-yet-nobody-else-on-earth-apparently-has-it power to recognize patterns in everything to help in the search. And it takes her only a few seconds. Sure, the deduction mainly worked because she knew about a book Reed likes that he randomly showed her once in an early encounter. But, still, why didn’t they ask her earlier? It didn’t even seem to take very much convincing when it finally happened.
12. Is it really possible for Reed to be knocked out with a head butt?
Here’s one question that the comic book fans can chime in on, although I’m asking solely through the context we’re given by the movie. Reed’s new power is elasticity, to a degree that he can stretch out of the way of being shot. But we never see if he’s invincible, if bullets would bounce off him or, more importantly, if The Thing head butting him would just be like a large rock hitting and bouncing off rubber. Maybe Reed has to turn on his power and didn’t expect to need to defend himself against his pal and so wasn’t prepared for the blow, which therefore knocks him out.
20th Century Fox
13. Why do they suddenly have a great connection as a team?
This is a question about the foursome’s unified actions against Doctor Doom to save the world and the final scene where they’re all apparently best friends and ready to continue as a fantastic force complete with their own independent agency and lab facilities. Yes, we can assume they’ve finally gotten to know each other and forgive each other and bond over the fact that they’ve just saved the world by the end of the movie. Before that, we’re just supposed to assume they have this magical, fated connection that allows them to suddenly work as a team against the strongest being ever witnessed, despite never really having collaborated in such a way before. It’s like putting together an all-star basketball team and throwing them on the court without practice, strategy or plan and expecting they’ll all just know what to do. Fortunately in the battle against Doctor Doom, Reed realizes that the four of them are just superpowers with faces rather than people with personalities and other strengths and weaknesses who now happen to have those powers, so it all works out quite elementarily. And maybe, as Johnny says about himself, this is simply what they’re meant to be.
14. Why would the government suddenly fear the Thing?
In the second-to-last scene, the foursome sits across from some government-military person, to whom they explain that they are to be compensated for saving the world by receiving independence yet also funding and support from and a facility provided by the government. Of course, the guy in charge insists that they be under his and the government’s control. Then they all look at The Thing, who gives a menacing noise indicating that nobody better mess with them or else. So, that’s great that Ben has confidence and is standing up against the government now, when he didn’t before (saving the world and having a support team can do that to you, fine), but why would the military guy suddenly allow himself and the government to be threatened by this team and specifically their giant rock-man member whom they’d been able to exploit for at least a year? The US military could just destroy these young punks if they wanted or needed to. Not easily, but they certainly wouldn’t be pushovers because of a threatening gesture, no matter how grateful they may be.