For all the power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no one has been able to translate the first Marvel superhero film properly to the screen.
First there was the 1994 Roger Corman-produced film, one made simply to secure a copyright and never intended to be seen. Then, there were two films made in 2005 and 2007, Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, that had some star power but ultimately didn’t do well. The creators should have taken a note from the cartoon versions, as both the 1994-96 series and the 2006-07 Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes captured much of what makes these heroes so special. Unlike the Avengers, they are two things, a family and also adventure scientists, not truly superheroes.
Despite the first two trailers building big excitement for the movie, it failed at the box office, earning only $120 million on a budget of $167.9 million. Why?
Well, first off, no one could line up on what movie they were making.
Let’s start with Josh Trank, who became the youngest director to have a number one at the box office with his first movie, the superhero found footage film Chronicle. He had a fresh new take on heroes and all seemed great.
X-Men: First Class was another well-regarded superhero movie and the writers, Zack Stentz and Ashley Edward Miller, started writing the script. Sounds awesome!
Except that their script followed Avengers as the way and had Dr. Doom as a herald of Galactus and was very comic book-oriented, which Trank did not like. So he wrote his own script.
Remember when comic book movies didn’t pay attention to the source material?
Trank left Slater out of discussions with Fox Studios and withheld certain studio notes. Slater added “I never saw 95% of those notes,” and left after six months and was replaced by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter writer Seth Grahame-Smith, with a final script written by Dark Phoenix (oh no, I have to watch that one soon, huh?) director Simon Kinberg.
And then, some stuff went really wrong.
During filming, producers Hutch Parker and Simon Kinberg rewrote Trank’s original script and gave the film a different ending. Despite this, execs demanded reshoots, saying that this movie felt more like a sequel to Chronicle than Fantastic Four.
To compound matters, Fox ordered their own changes to the film without Trank’s supervision, changing and omitting certain major plot points from his movie. Now, that’s usually where movies go wrong, but there was also reports that Trank was erratic on set. I tend not to believe these things and then he posted on Twitter days before the release.
“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
How did a movie with a budget like this one get so far into filming that the studio was blindsided by how dark the film was? How could a movie be that close to release and not have an ending decided on or filmed? How bad was the movie before Avatar editor Stephen E. Rivkin was hired to fix it in post with Trank referring to him as the director of the new cut? Were comic book fans so angry that Johnny Storm was black that they made death threats and Trank had to sleep with a gun under his pillow?
Look, I haven’t made a big budget Hollywood movie, but I have some theories.
The biggest problem is that we’ve already seen the origin of the Fantastic Four. We want to see them in action, we want to see the drama between Dr. Doom (Tony Kebbell) and Reed Richards (Miles Teller), we want to see the Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan) and the Thing (Jamie Bell) pick at each other, we want to see Sue Storm (Kate Mara) prove that she’s the real heart of the team.
The original origin of the FF doesn’t make sense today, with them needing to go into space before Russia, but that’s an easy fix. And as pushed out of the spotlight as Sue was in the 1960s comics, she’s not even on their first flight. Doom is. She gets called in at the last minute.
In fact, the movie is an hour and twenty minutes past when the conflict between Doom and the heroes kicks off. Until then, we see Reed, Doom and Johnny get drunk and petulant after learning that they won’t be the ones going into the Negative Zone — never referred to as such — so they take the trip without telling anyone and chaos (and powers) ensue.
Not really the stuff of heroes.
You know when a movie is bad? When Marvel kills off its actors — except Michael B. Jordan, who redeemed himself by playing Erik Killmonger in Black Panther — in a comic.
You can’t really blame Kate Mara. She wanted to read the comics to prepare and Trank explained to the cast that it was unnecessary as the film was an original story not based directly on the comics. Well, at least she met Jamie Bell on set and they got married. She was also allegedly bullied by the director on set, which isn’t as bad as getting into a fistfight with him, as Miles Teller discovered.
It’s sad because this movie had every chance to succeed. I still can’t fathom how a script isn’t locked down on projects with this much money and so much on the line. But hey — I just write about movies. I don’t write movies.