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Fantastic Four has a thoroughbred cast—Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, and Kata Mara as Sue Storm—but they are saddled with a script worthy only of nags. The latest reboot of the Marvel franchise is an origins story that is practically stillborn, a tale that spends more time with the construction of a teleporting machine than it does giving the quartet anything “fantastic” to do.

This is an adventure story in search of an adventure, which it only finds well into its third act, long after it is possible to care about the characters or what happens to them. At that point, angered that government suit Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) wants to take their toy and give it to NASA, Reed, Johnny, and arrogant cohort Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), with Reed’s childhood BFF Ben in tow, suit up and make a drunken journey to the far-off world their lab monkey so recently visited. Depending on one’s viewpoint about body-altering superpowers, the trip is a disaster, particularly for poor Ben who becomes the rock creature The Thing. Billy Elliot will never dance again.

Naturally, the government sees the military potential for a big rock man who can smash whole battalions to pieces in a matter of minutes; generate fire as Johnny now can; make like a human Stretch Armstrong like Reed; and become invisible and create force fields like Sue. And naturally, Victor, thought dead, isn’t. He reappears with the greatest superpower of them all—a really bad attitude. At last, some action! Too little, too late. Aside from the endless set-up, there are too many not-so-special-effects, and way too much bad dialogue:

Reed: “You were my best friend.”

Ben: “Look at me. I’m not your friend. You turned me into something else.”

Reed: “Yes. Now, you’re my pet rock.”

OK, that last line is made up, but those are the kinds of things that get jotted down in the dark when the promised action movie turns out to be something far drearier. Fantastic Four isn’t a Marvel movie. An anti-Marvel movie is more like it, a cynical exercise to cash in on a beloved franchise.—Pam Grady