The Fantastic Four Fiasco
Well, superhero fans are now wading through the rubble of what is being viewed as one of the most catastrophic superhero films ever made – Twentieth Century Fox’s and director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four.
Across the board Fantastic Four is a bomb. After fearing the worst and smelling blood for the longest time about the film starring Marvels first superhero family fans and critics wasted no time in sharing their thoughts about it. Fox might have feebly tried to fight off the inevitable with that review embargo, but it didn’t matter. Once audiences were allowed to finally see the movie the negative word spread like wildfire and it became clobbering time!
Remember when Tomorrowland was looking like the huge big-budget disappointment of the summer? Or most of the fanboy anger was targeted towards Terminator Genisys? Or the worst movie of the summer was thought to be Pixels? Everyone has pretty much forgot all about those flicks. Fantastic Four has trumped them all – in all those categories! Fantastic Four will be talked about for a long time!
My loyal fanbase of followers already knows I saw the movie and didn’t think much of it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay for it thanks to my movie theater working pal. We knew going in not to expect much. We probably should have just seen Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation for a more entertaining evening, but as my friend stated when he proposed seeing Fantastic Four that night, “Well, it needs to be done”.
So we sat in an empty theater and decided to hate watch it. And no, it wasn’t very good. Surprise, surprise, surprise!
To be honest I didn’t think it was as awful or such an unforgivable cinematic crime as many reviews have made it out to be. I wasn’t as passionately angry about it as some fans have been. While I enjoy watching or reading an amusing rant review of a movie I think some are going a wee bit overboard with the Fantastic Four hate. The movie is bad, but I don’t know why anyone would have expected anything different.
Really how could any fan have anticipated anything but a bad film to come of this as the signs piled up more and more through the last year and half. Did anyone really buy that Fox decided not to show any footage at that con a year ago because they wanted it to be perfect before revealing it to the world? Oh come on! Not even a short dialogue scene? Yeah right. For a genre that now starts its promotion even before a frame of film is shot, ears must of perked up by even the most casual superhero movie fan at the reluctance of anyone even wanting to talk about the Fantastic Four for the longest time.
You know what the actual movie is similar to – the marketing of it. Fox was so apprehensive to start showing off clips of it and knew they had a real stinker on their hands. This silence began a cynical buildup in fans to see what this movie was going to look like, the tone of it, what was the story going to be. It was all anticipation with zero payoff. And that’s how the movie plays.
It’s all buildup watching the characters of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben be introduced and badly set up for essentially nothing. No story, no teamwork, no climax. It’s like all that hesitation we’ve been seeing since the movie was announced bleeds into the film itself. It’s like no one wanted to commit to telling any kind of story in the film.
When the movie came out Fox’s unsuccessful attempted positive spins on it that they tried to keep going for so long almost instantly fell apart. The stories are now coming out about the troubled production, the reshoots, the bizarre antics of director Josh Trank, dropping the 3D conversion idea, the actors were given instructions when to blink. It’s like an avalanche of bad press. It’s been some fascinating stuff. Everyone is looking bad.
What’s so interesting about all this is how the production was in such disarray that reading all the behind-the-scenes problems is more interesting than watching what happens on the movie screen.
When reading about all this nutty stuff I start to think back on past troubled productions of movies. Heaven’s Gate, Waterworld, Cleopatra. Terry Gilliam’s failed ‘Man of La Mancha’ is epic (check out the terrific doc Lost in La Mancha to witness what happened to him on that). Bonfire of the Vanities was a complete mess, but thankfully it created the fascinating book The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco detailing every horrendous day Brian DePalma had to endure during that production.
Heck, James Bond and movie fans who aren’t aware of all the production issues with 1967’s Casino Royale should read up on it. During my video review of that movie I spent more time talking about the stories that happened behind the cameras than what took place in front of them! What a glorious mess of a production that movie was! I still think a movie about the making of ‘that movie’ could be a homerun.
One thing that I enjoy about all this Fantastic Four disaster is how all the arrogance that Fox had with its relaunch of their Marvel franchise has turned out to be such a humiliating situation for them. All the excitement they tried to create. ‘Oh they’ll get a sequel out two years from now. They’re going to make their own shared universe of Marvel characters. We got possible crossovers planned.’ They were getting awfully presumptuous with the future of their Fantastic Four.
Then they created a hated bomb of a movie. They alienated comic book fans with the results. Fans are begging them to just sell the rights back to Marvel. Any optimism that fans had with seeing a good movie with the characters from Fox has bottomed out.
But hey, at least Fox gets to keep the Fantastic Four rights for acouple more years and won’t have to give them back to Marvel! That’s a success right? Pop open the champagne!
While Fox might be embarrassed and taken a hit with this bomb, Trank’s career might have been irrevocably damaged. Supposedly based on his conduct on The Fantastic Four set he’s already lost out on directing a Star Wars spin-off (oh yeah, that was his decision, that’s what he’s saying, that he’d rather work on smaller projects, uh huh). He no longer looks like a promising young director studios would be anxious to work with, but now is viewed as a difficult loose cannon who will immediately go on the offensive against the studio, tweet out excuses and not try to help save a sinking ship of a movie. What studio would want to deal with that?
The end results are probably quite a contrast to what Fox thought they were getting when they first hired the director of the low-budget Chronicle to help reboot their superhero franchise. Trank’s Fantastic experience of working with a $120 million budget and trying to create a big summer tentpole movie with a studio breathing down his neck is probably not the way he envisioned it would end up either.
I’m not sure what the absolute truth is or not. Everyone is playing the blame game, but I suspect it falls somewhere in between all the stuff that we’ve been reading.
It’s almost like we could view this as one of those tragic Hollywood stories. A studio took a promising new director, put him through the mill of making an expensive mainstream summer movie, didn’t like what they were seeing, stripped him of his creative vision and the reasons why they hired him and took the movie away from him to try to salvage it themselves.
And now who knows where his career stands or what will happen to him next. Perhaps it could be a cautionary tale to young filmmakers. We could coin the term ‘Trank’d’ to describe this.
“Hey, what happened to that filmmaker? He did that wonderful little movie and then he was working on that big studio film, which didn’t do very well. But since then I haven’t heard from him?”
“Oh yeah. He got Trank’d”.
One final thing about the whole Fantastic Four fiasco. I forget where I read it, but someone made the observation of how we got three superhero movies this summer – and each one had varying degrees of tension behind the scenes.
Avengers: Age of Ultron might have been a huge hit, but director Joss Whedon didn’t hold back his disappointment with the restrictions that Marvel placed on him. After being forced to include scenes and make compromises, Whedon has announced he’s done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Director Edgar Wright dropped out of Ant-Man after working on it for, what seven, eight years! The rumors behind his abrupt departure was because Marvel didn’t like the direction he was going in.
Then of course we have Trank and Fantastic Four.
Superhero movies have become such a huge and profitable genre now that it’s possible a strong singular director vision is too much of a risk for the studios to willingly take. They want a big mainstream hit and have it fit into their big plans of sequels and spinoffs and shared universes.
Maybe that doesn’t leave enough wiggle room for a filmmaker to leave their own personal stamp on the material and it doesn’t seem worth signing up for to a lot of them. If that’s going to be the case the studios might as well start hiring hack directors who will just follow their instructions to the letter. I’m sure there are plenty of them around.
There are A LOT of superhero movies in the pipeline for the next several years. I’m betting the odds are not all of them are going to run smoothly. Maybe none will reach the complete catastrophic heights as Fantastic Four, but I won’t be the least bit surprised if there will be some behind-the-scenes drama to read about in the future of Superhero Cinema.
Wasn’t it just recently director Michelle MacLaren left the Wonder Woman film and was replaced by Patty Jenkins. The vague excuse of ‘creative differences’ doesn’t tell us the whole story as to what went down. They love giving that explanation in their announcements. ‘Creative differences’. If someone was smart they’d tried to copyright that phrase.
If Fox wanted to turn these lemons into lemonade they could make a documentary covering all the problems that happened with Fantastic Four. Forget the stagey, PR, smiling to the camera interviews, ‘making of’ crap they’d put on the DVD release. But rather an honest brutal assessment of what went down. Let everyone have their say. That would be much more exciting than their superhero movie they spit out.
Yeah, I know they would never do that. But I’m still looking forward to years from now when all this Fantastic Four dust blows over, no one is concerned with pissing off Fox or Trank, they drop being the good soldier routine, forget about being polite and all the participants are willing to talk about what really, actually happened. Now that’s going to be a fantastic story to hear.
Here’s a pretty thorough account of all the behind-the-scenes happenings of Fantastic Four. It’s pretty nicely done, especially considering how much there is to cover.