[This article contains spoilers for 2015’s Fantastic Four]
Fantastic Four is not a good movie. Even those who are positive about the movie say it falls apart in the third act. It has 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, flopped at the box office, and this leaves its sequel, currently scheduled for June 9, 2017, highly in doubt.
Before the film’s release, rumors surfaced about a highly-troubled production, and director Josh Trank, writer Simon Kinberg, and the studio, 20th Century Fox, tried to put a positive face on things and deny that things were going sideways. However, with the film failing critically and commercially, the dam broke, and Trank tweeted out on Thursday night, “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.”
Even if Trank hadn’t tweeted out that complaint, it’s clear from the theatrical cut that there had been heavy tampering. You needn’t look any further than Kate Mara’s terrible wig to see what was done during reshoots. Furthermore, the film’s “One Year Later” act break and lethargic climax feel sloppy and ham-handed. This isn’t the little nips, tucks, and compromises of Hollywood filmmaking. Something went wrong between Trank and the studio, and his tweet confirmed the bad blood.
EW spent the weekend sifting through the wreckage and trying to find who was at fault for this disaster: Trank or 20th Century Fox. Perhaps unsurprising, the blame likely falls to both parties.
On Trank’s side, it appears that he was volatile and difficult to work with:
“the rift on set was not about creative differences but rather combative and abusive behavior Trank demonstrated toward the crew, producers, studio and even the stars. It’s partly linked to Trank’s personal disputes – involving accusations of deliberate damage done to the house he was renting, as revenge over a dispite with the landlord – which sources say eventually manifested on set as hostility and frustration from Trank.”
But his abrasive personality became even more problematic because of Fox’s meddling:
“Some who worked on the film say Trank broke, for sure, but was driven to the breaking point by the studio, and that his clash was not with Kinberg but Fox production president Emma Watts. According to several individuals who worked on the movie, the studio delayed casting and script approvals, slashed the budget by tens of millions from what was originally promised during the development phase, and tried to force last-minute script changes to the film just as principal photography was beginning.”
Even when Trank and the studio managed to agree, things fell apart:
Fox executives desperately wanted to reboot Fantastic Four after the indifferently received big screen versions in 2005 and 2007, but they also bristled at many of the traditional comic book elements that defined the characters…
There was uncertainty about who should star. Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm was set from the start, but the studio wanted a different actor than Miles Teller for Reed Richards. Trank won that battle, even though he later developed a mutually disdainful relationship with the actor – but Fox insisted that Kate Mara be given the role of Sue Storm, and Trank treated her badly as a result. Some say he was cruel, others say merely cold. No one says they got along.
But the story that emerges is that both sides were to blame, and that the repercussions of Trank’s personality running up against a meddling studio led to disasterous reverberations throughout the production:
Different sources say Trank was indecisive, others say the studio was hemming and hawing on his choices. Either way, the script was not finalized until late in preproduction, and continued to change right through reshoots, which stalled crew workers who were trying to build sets, make costumes, props, and prep the movie. This created confusion and stress from the get-go that often boiled over among department heads trying to put together pieces of a movie that was still in flux.
EW goes on to report that their source say Fantastic Four wasn’t Trank’s “film anymore, and wasn’t from nearly the start,” although he was never fired. It sounds like basically his hand was forced, and that led to a lot of unhappiness, as I’m sure you can imagine when the film you want to make is dismissed, but you’re still going to get credit for the disaster the studio wants to create. “How much Fox was willing to listen to him by the end,” reports EW, “and whether his guidance and vision were any good, is where opinions split.”
And it’s what we’ll continue to wonder about until word surfaces about what Trank’s film from a year ago looked like. What did his third act entail? Did all of the pieces connect? On Collider Movie Talk, John Campea says “three really big action set pieces” were cut from the movie at the very last minute:
“They had agreed upon this vision for a film. And days before production began, Fox came in and made him pull 3 main action sequences out of the film. I was also told, the ending of the film was not even Josh Trank’s. At some point they hijacked the editing bay from him. To the point that the editing of the film was done without him.”
Even if Trank’s intended version saw the light of day, it wouldn’t stop Fantastic Four from looking cheap or give the actors any more chemistry or provide any more energy to their performances. We’ll never know if this alternate cut would have really won over critics, but the film’s problems go beyond the plot.
We also don’t know what lies ahead for Fantastic Four. I’m sure Marvel fans are hoping that the film bombing means the rights will eventually go back to Marvel Studios, but that still seems like a long shot. I would say a character-lease deal like Sony’s doing with Spider-Man would seem like a good opportunity, but Fox and Marvel hate each other, so loaning the Fantastic Four for another reboot or to be re-purposed by Kevin Feige seems unlikely. Perhaps Fox will just put its head down and soldier on with Fantastic Four 2, shitty box office and reviews be damned. It’s theoretically a valuable property, but how much worth it has depends on the beholder. And right now, in 20th Century Fox’s hands, it ain’t worth much, and I doubt its value will increase in the next two years.
Click here to see some of the footage that didn’t make the final cut, including a subplot involving the Fantasticar.