Fantastic Four, the new adaptation of the Marvel Comics title about a quartet of hangdog superheroes who work best together when they're not bickering, brooding, or running away, can lay claim to one of the longest, dullest setups - OK, it's an origin story - in movie history. Not until almost an hour into this uninspired reboot (two slightly more inspired Fantastic Fours came out in 2005 and 2007) does the quartet get their powers, and a chance to try them out.
By then, Tim Blake Nelson, playing the oily corporate overseer of the Baxter Foundation, a research institute full of brainiac kids, is so bored that he has started chewing gum nonstop - even when he's scolding the techies or sucking up to Pentagon brass.
It's overstating things to say the stars of Fantastic Four are Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell, because I can't remember the last time four actors appeared less invested in a movie for which they've teamed up. Teller is Reed Richards, a Long Island science geek who has been working on an interdimensional transporter since he was in fifth grade. Now, he's just out of high school, with a nerdy comportment and a full scholarship to Baxter. There, he meets Mara's Sue Storm, a mathematical genius with a penchant for Portishead (music is all about patterns, you see).
Sue is the adopted daughter of Professor Franklin Storm, who runs the New York City institute and who is played by Reg E. Cathey (familiar to followers of House of Cards as ribs-shack proprietor Freddy Hayes). Franklin's other kid is Johnny Storm (Jordan), a hothead who likes to drag race and gets really hot when the foursome's trip to another dimension goes awry. He's not called the Human Torch for nothing.
Bell has the worst of it. His character, Ben Grimm, is played by a kid actor in the grade-school flashbacks. And then, Bell gets only a few scenes walking down halls and climbing into a space suit before he joins his costars in the Cymatic Matter Shuttle - a ship that transports them to an intergalactic orb. For the rest of the movie, Ben is The Thing - a walking, talking hulk of rock. Maybe those are Bell's eyes popping out of his slabs-of-stone face, and maybe that's Bell's rumbling voice. Who can tell?
Reed returns from the group's ill-fated voyage with his own unique superpower: He can stretch his limbs around the block. To watch Teller scrunch up his face as he snaps his rubbery arms and legs (well, as the digital-effects jockeys snap his rubbery arms and legs) is to be reminded of the forgotten B-actors of scores of cheesy 1950s sci-fi flicks.
As for Sue's newfound superpower: She can turn invisible and create force fields, too, by scrunching up her face and pushing her hands out in front of her, as if she were moving a very heavy, invisible shopping cart down an invisible supermarket aisle.
Yes, there's a villain. Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) starts off as another of Franklin's high-IQ proteges, and the professor persuades him to come back to Baxter to work with Reed and the new team. Victor, too, is on that quantum teleporter. But unlike the others, he doesn't return.
Which isn't to say he dies there in the eerie, electrically charged planetscape. He just gets a new suit, a tattered shroud, and a new name: Dr. Doom.
That's way more than anyone needs to know.