The Fantastic Four Fiasco

Fantastic Four 2015 box office bomb Fox Josh Trank

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!

Kate Mara Fantastic Four wig reshoot
Kate Mara in her reshoot wig

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.

Bonfire of the Vanities – the legendary 1990 bomb

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.

Fantastic Four Fox Marvel

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.

Josh Trank Fantastic Four director 2015
Trank on the set of Fantastic Four set

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 movie calendar

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.


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4 Responses

  1. Capt. Nemo says:

    Watching those videos, I keep hearing that line in my head that Bain used in the movie "Dark Knight Rises."

    "Victory has defeated you!"

    In this case, the young turks going mad with power and killing the golden goose. I will say that it looks like Cimino and Trank both abused the trust that was placed in them. Whether or not it was thoughtlessness or callousness I will leave to the historians.

    Trank and Cimino were both coming off of successes in Hollywood (Trank with Chronicle and Cimino with The Deer Hunter). It must be very hard for someone to stay humble after something like that. Especially, if it gives them a shot at the big time.

    While big egos are a factor in stories of downfall, we have to remember it is big egos that make great films as well. If Cimino had pulled off and made Heaven's Gate a success, all of these problems would have been seen as his style. If fantastic four had been a success, I'm sure Trank would have reaped the accolades even though his was half asleep during the production.

    Now, I will allow that things like this do not happen in a vacuum. It looks like both films had the soil tilled before the seeds of failure were planted. Stories showed up in the news about how awful things were going had to contribute to the vitriol that was about to be unleashed.

    Watching the Cimino doc, I wonder if this was a precursor to caustic movie reviews that we now see allover the internet (Yeah, I'm looking at you Nostalgia Critic and RedLetterMedia). A movie were critics go all out and vent. Not really because its bad but because its entertaining to see how insulting a critic can get.

    Trank has to deal with the fact that there is now a whole industry devoted to bringing you down. People love to see train wreck and Hollywood train wrecks in particular. His antics are not defensible on any scale. While it might be true that big tent pole movies are stressful to make, its all the more reason to keep you head about you.

    So all that can be said is "Trank, you blew it"

  2. spaceodds says:

    Haven't seen Fantastic Four and really have no plans to see it. A friend told me the reviews are being kind to the film, that's how bad it is. As soon as the words reshoots appear, things go wrong. Take a look at Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Another reboot of a potential franchise, it had a great director in Kenneth Branagh and it had the potential to kick start a franchise. Instead the film was nipped in the bud and it became a boring and cliched spy thriller. The fact that the release date was moved from December 25th to Mid January, and then to late January really explains alot. It had the ingrediants, but it didn't serve up well. I want to know which figure in the industry decides to do pointless reshoots? But even out of box office turkeys who are so ripe that they won't be eaten for Christmas, there comes a certain nod of appreciation; you mentioned Heaven's Gate which has certainly found its audience on video and cable, and is now a proud member of the Criterion Collection. And then of course there is Blade Runner, a turkey of all proporations when first released in the ET dominated summer of 1982, only to be rediscovered thanks to video and cable and has had more cinematic re-releases and reappreciation than probably any other film in history.

    Fantastic Four really does have a stigma attached to it. First there was the Roger Corman adaptation, which was made solely so Constantin Film could keep hold of the rights. And now we have this. The idea of a reboot of Four has been kicking around for a while, but the rights issue again became paramount and yet again Fox decided to plunge full steam ahead, which in turn has finally proven what happens when a corporate body owns a comic book property. X-Men was hit and miss, but who can 2003's Daredevil?! An absolute horrid fest whose dirty legacy has been cleaned up and given a brilliant shine thanks to Marvel getting the rights back and producing the best Marvel screen/TV adaptation ever made (yeah, Daredevil is the best Marvel adaptation to date)

    As for Four, well no sequel to this incarnation, if Marvel don't get their hands on the rights, than I guess we will have to wait another 10-15 years before seeing another adaptation.

  3. CKulik says:

    Great write-up! I never read comic books growing up so obviously I don't have any of the fanboy devotion some of these characters and movies. That being said, I did discover The Fantastic Four as a child with the 1978 animated television series by DePatie-Freeling…which did not have the Human Torch/Johnny Storm but in fact an R2D2-like robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. Fans of course champion the 1967 animated series as being vastly superior and after watching several episodes on YouTube, I'm in agreement. However, most of the 1978 episodes were actually based on stories by Stan Lee, who also wrote many of the teleplays as well (unlike the 1967 version by Hanna-Barbara, which he had very little do with from what I understand). Of course, the big stink by fans is that the only reason they replaced The Human Torch with H.E.R.B.I.E. is because they thought kids would light themselves on fire with the Human Torch onscreen. What a joke: actually the real reason is because the character was mired in rights issues, to the point where he was getting his own show or comic or whatever for awhile. I'm actually cool with H.E.R.B.I.E., considering the fact it's voiced by the always-welcome Frank Welker.

    Thus, when the FANTASTIC FOUR movies came out, I had absolutely no desire, nostalgic or otherwise, to watch them, probably because I still had H.E.R.B.I.E. in mind and not the Human Torch. Then again, the other reasons I didn't watch them was they seemed too juvenile for their own good…not to mention I cannot stand Jessica Alba and I don't give a damn how hot she is; I tell guys to buy a pinup calendar instead of watching her movies. In fact, I'm sure even fans of the Fantastic Four would agree that the 1967 and 1978 series are still the best representation of Marvel's first family; the only good thing I heard was in the films was Chris Evans who, ironically, played the Human Torch. So good in fact he got Captain America because of those films.

    As for this new one, I was obviously completely ignorant to what was going with the new movie and Fox's refusal to sell back the rights. Again, while not a comic book fan, the Fantastic Four deserve a helluva lot more than how they have been treated by Fox. In closing, whenever you have 20 minutes to spare, check out the 1978 Fantastic Four episode "The Menace of Magneto" which was my favorite of all them, and notice that Stan Lee was the actual writer of the episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb7grA79_i8. Say what you will about H.E.R.B.I.E. but The Thing is especially funny. I also love it when Sue tells Reed about this new disco they should check out….ahh, the '70s!!!

  4. John Jamele says:

    Of course, studios demanding a "mainstream hit" and not willing to "take chance" means that all of these Superhero movies are bland, uninspired CGI-infused eye candy I lost interest in quite some years ago. And a fun, fresh take like "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." which I really enjoyed gets lost in the shuffle.

    Maybe "Fantastic Four," like "The Punisher," just can't be successfully transferred to the big screen?

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