Fantastic Four: anatomy of a Hollywood disaster

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Hollywood observers have had their eyes turned to Fox Studios, home of the maligned Fantastic Four reboot. The film opened last weekend to a dismal $26 million, well below studio estimates of $40 million and in second place at the box office amid the worst reviews for a superhero film in almost 20 years–since Batman & Robin. It may well set the standard for the nadir of the genre and become a punchline for years to come not unlike, well, the unreleased Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four from the 1990s.

Fantastic Four reboot was doomed from the start

Shocking details continue to emerge regarding filming, with director Josh Trank set squarely in the line of fire. Trank, a promising director with only one film on his resume (acclaimed indie Chronicle) was maligned during filming amid reports of combative and erratic behavior, including $100,000 worth of damage to a rental home paid for by the studio. Moreover, reports of extensive studio-mandated reshoots were reportedly directed by producer Simon Kinberg, and according to one rumor, Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn. The reshoots were said to be difficult considering the schedule of the cast, with lead Miles Teller (himself the subject of a maligned Esquire interview) only able to film one day a week due to prior commitments. Reviews often criticized the obvious parts of the film shot after principal photography, with star Kate Mara’s hair changing to a different colored wig from shot to shot. Fox announced plans for a sequel ahead of the film’s release with X-Men director Bryan Singer tipped to helm the project. Trank, for his part, tweeted this ominous remark on Friday:

josh-trank-fantastic-four-tweet

Trank’s tweet almost disappeared instantaneously, but not before going viral. New reports center on the tension between Fox and Trank, laying more blame on the studio. Fox reportedly would not approve casting until the eleventh hour and demanded script changes after shooting had begun. The rough cut that Trank mentioned in his tweet also contained at least 2 more action sequences which Fox demanded cut. Trank, who was set to direct a Star Wars spinoff film for Disney, found himself removed from the project this spring. His departure would seem less suspicious if the Fantastic Four reshoots hadn’t filmed around the same time, and if producer Simon Kinberg were not shepherding the Star Wars series at Disney.

x-men-the-last-stand-5058a0aae2ba5Fox, for its part, has a history of meddling in tent-pole films, especially with greenhorn directors: Alien 3 saw massive infighting, with director/scribe Vincent Ward fired shortly before filming began and replaced with David Fincher. Fincher clashed with studio bosses, and Alien 3 made it to theaters a depressing, ugly, mess. X-Men: The Last Stand outraged X-Men fans and almost crippled the series–now Fox’s crown jewel–and was said to be the result of the studio rushing the project out of a grudge against Bryan Singer, who agreed to direct Superman Returns for Warner Bros. X-Men Origins: Wolverine did little to redeem the series, director Gavin Hood distancing himself from the film amid rumors that Richard Donner–husband of producer Lauren Schuler-Donner–had been flown in to override Hood’s authority. The finished film withered at the box office, and it was only after X-Men First Class that the franchise began to recover.

doctordoomIt seems that recovery isn’t in the cards for Fantastic Four, at least not at Fox, and not in the near future. The studio had teased a possible X-Men crossover, or having the two exist within an expanded cinematic universe. Over the weekend, the studio dialed back the crossover talk before denying it outright, suggesting instead an X-Men/Deadpool crossover–two major forthcoming franchise boosters for the studio. Ironically, the rush behind this Fantastic Four appears to parallel that of the Corman version of the early 90s: both were rushed into production not because of an audience for the material, but to prevent the film rights from reverting back to Marvel!  It’s no secret that Disney/Marvel desperately wants access to the Fantastic Four universe, which contains characters like Dr. Doom and Silver Surfer, aliens like the Skrulls and Kree, and the world-crushing Galactus. So long as Fox retains the film rights, all these elements are off limits to Marvel. This incarnation of the Fantastic Four team came together just before the option was set to expire, and even with this flop version, Fox retains the rights for another 5-7 years. Marvel may yet get the characters back in a deal akin to a pact with Sony, which owned the rights to Spider-Man. Following last year’s flop of The Amazing Spiderman 2, Sony cut a deal with Disney/Marvel to give up claim to the character in exchange for a portion of profits from films that utilize the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The same could happen with Fantastic Four, though should Fox decide to proceed with a sequel or yet another reboot, Marvel will have to keep their hands off. That said, if anyone is celebrating the release of this tragic Fantastic Four incarnation, it has to be Marvel, wringing their collective hands, plotting to add yet another Saturday morning cartoon to their slate of live-action film releases.

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Acclaimed essayist, author of SEX, DRUGS & SUPERHEROES and THE PASSION OF SERGIUS & BACCHUS.

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