Screenwriter Max Landis gained plenty of notoriety following the success of 2012’s Chronicle, which he wrote, and he subsequently remained in the spotlight via Twitter, where his candid and sometimes brash thoughts have a way of catching folks’ attention. His second produced feature film as a screenwriter is the stoner action-comedy American Ultra, which opened in theaters last week, but he’s been busy in the time since Chronicle working on a number of other projects that may or may not eventually come to fruition.
He revealed one such project just a couple of weeks ago, when in the wake of Fantastic Four’s disastrous release (directed by Chronicle helmer Josh Trank), Landis took to Twitter to reveal the first few script pages from his take on Fantastic Four that he pitched to 20th Century Fox. Landis admits the timing was a tad inconsiderate, but this tiny preview of his work was received quite positively from those who thought the version Fox actually made fell short (read: almost everyone). And now, in a wide-ranging and unsurprisingly candid interview with The Daily Beast, Landis has revealed even more about his vision for Fantastic Four, which he pitched to Fox as an answer to Marvel’s Avengers:
“My Fantastic Four was an on-the-run movie. It begins with their origin, which is an illegal Branson-esque space launch where they want to go see this thing. They become the biggest celebrities in the world, except then they wreck and they get these horrible powers. The government is hunting them and they split up, and you really get into the dynamics of these people as they’re learning to control their powers. So the origin takes place in the first two minutes and then you learn it’s a character movie. Avengers had just come out, and I wanted to present Fox’s superhero team so that any one of them could beat all of the Avengers, and any one of them could be the villain of an Avengers movie. Reed Richards is indestructible.
Sue Storm can control light. Johnny Storm can burn hotter than the sun. The Thing is impossibly strong, and you can’t hurt him no matter what you do. I thought, what a cool idea, that these four friends have accidentally become gods.”
Landis went so far as to imagine an entirely trilogy arc with a twist on the Doctor Doom character:
“I had Doctor Doom as a good guy, one of Reed’s college friends, and my whole movie he’s trying to find and help them but it wasn’t clear if he was good or bad—until the finale of the movie when you realize his connection to Reed, and that they’re best friends. The audience who knows Doctor Doom thinks he’s going to turn bad, but the movie ends with him saving them. And in the sequel he’s probably good, too. You know, you Sam Raimi-Spider-Man it—at the end of the sequel he gets all fucked up and shows up in the Doctor Doom armor. But then in the third movie he’s like, ‘What have you done to me?’”
Landis’ Fantastic Four never got past the pitch stage as Fox obviously opted to go in a different direction, but the scribe was so excited after the pitch that he wrote 50 pages of the script anyway. And it actually sounds like a fun take on the comics characters that would have fit in well with the superhero movie landscape we live in now. Ultimately, though, it’s clear that Fox was really set on making a grounded, gritty iteration of the material instead.
One Landis project that did get to the script stage (officially anyway) is Chronicle 2. The first film was a surprise success for the studio, so they commissioned a script for a follow-up by Landis with the hope that Trank would return to direct. Ultimately Trank moved on to bigger projects and Fox wasn’t thrilled with Landis’ take on the follow-up, so the sequel has yet to move forward—and likely won’t.
Landis previously spoke about his vision for a follow-up that involved the creation of a female supervillain, but he tells The Daily Beast that he actually came up with two different pitches for a Chronicle sequel. First he explains Fox’s reaction to his “dark” take on a follow-up film:
“I don’t want to shit-talk Fox, but it really became clear that Chronicle is not a movie they would have made if they knew what they were making. So when I wrote the sequel to that movie, they said, ‘This is dark. Where is the aspirational fun stuff? This is a dark dramatic thriller about superheroes that’s found footage. No one’s going to want to see this.’”
How dark? Well the female-centric follow-up, titled Martyr, featured a schizophrenic protagonist:
In another Chronicle sequel pitch entitled Martyr, Landis focused on a new female character: Miranda, a schizophrenic villainess-in-the-making who faces off with reluctant superhero Matt after the death of her anarchist boyfriend. “There’s this really interesting moment where she’s turned into this supervillain, she has a mechanized suit—like a real thing they can build now that would cost $20 million, but if you’re a genius you can do it—and she’s totally insane, living in this house with garbage everywhere, filming herself and talking to the camera on drones like it’s her boyfriend” says Landis. “It’s one of my better scripts. It’s very dark. It’s not Chronicle. It has a much happier ending than Chronicle!”
This seems to be the version Landis spoke about in 2013, but he also details another take that would have brought all three of the main Chronicle characters back via time travel:
The pals with secret super powers graduate from high school but then go on the lam across the world as government forces hunt them down. They discover a new power: the ability to manipulate time. “The end of the movie is the government descends on them, there’s this whole fight, it’s very scary, Andrew is killed. Matt is killed. Steve’s alone and he’s being closed in on by the government going, ‘This didn’t happen this way.’ The government’s going, ‘Put your hands in the air!’ Steve looks at the camera and goes, ‘This didn’t happen this way.’ And just like that, it rewinds to the beginning of the second act of Chronicle 2 and you see them being filmed by these French girls that they were hanging out with, and you see Steve go, ‘We’ve gotta go.’”
Both pitches sound ambitious and, admittedly, somewhat comic book-y, but that’s kind of what Chronicle was. It’s easy to see Fox had a desire to repeat Chronicle in a sequel without turning it into a fully fledged superhero film, even though Chronicle itself was a superhero movie—albeit of a very different sort.
Ultimately it sounds like neither Landis’ Fantastic Four nor either version of Chronicle 2 will see the light of day, but it’s certainly fascinating to hear what could have been from Landis himself. What do you think, readers? Would you have been interested in either one of these Chronicle sequels or would the change have been too jarring? Sound off in the comments below.