To say things got ugly for 20th Century Fox’s “Fantastic Four” would be a profound understatement. Plagued by rumors of on set woes, everything spilled over in the last few days with director Josh Trank disowning his film on Twitter, and more word about studio interference and indecision coming to the surface. Whether or not Trank could’ve made a better film if left to his own devices is open to debate, but it certainly couldn’t have been worse than what audiences received this weekend. The stink of failure was all over the movie which opened in second place, with numbers far behind the 2005 and 2007 iterations. However, while the familiar cry has started for Fox to strike a deal with Marvel and let the comic book studio reclaim ownership of their characters, if there is one silver lining for Fox, that scenario doesn’t necessarily need to happen. There is a way Fox can hang on to the property, make that planned sequel for June 9, 2017, and hopefully finally do right by “Fantastic Four.”
To be clear, “Fantastic Four” is in no uncertain terms a disaster, creatively, financially, and by most any other metric you can imagine. This time around, Fox is in an arguably better position than where Sony was after two “The Amazing Spider-Man” films. Those highly expensive films weren’t able to escape the shadow of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, which still stands as something of a classic in the comic book movie genre (even if “Spider-Man 3” is a mess). Sony also made the mistake of attempting to build a huge cinematic universe for their new webslinger, but they couldn’t execute. Audiences mostly shrugged at seeing the same story told with newer outfits, with the “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” earning nearly $50 million less worldwide than its predecessor, on a much higher budget. Couple that with fanboy criticisms, and an overall lack of excitement about a third movie, and Sony was left in an the awkward position of having big plans for an unreceptive and diminishing viewership.
While the “Fantastic Four” are classic characters, they have yet to have a defining big screen movie. And certainly, three varyingly lousy versions aren’t a great argument that Fox should be given another chance.But this property is far too valuable for them to just hand it over to a rival, particularly given the eventual connections it could have with their already mighty X-Men universe. While Spider-Man was just as valuable, if not more, to Sony, they are definitely still playing catch up in the comic book movie game compared to their rivals, so it only made sense for them to team with Marvel. Fox is very much a major player, and if they want to leap to the Marvel/DC playing field, “Fantastic Four” will have to be part of that formula. But how can they do it?
Keep The Cast
If there is any one thing that survived the critical mauling “Fantastic Four” received, it was the cast, and they are worth keeping around. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, and Michael B. Jordan are the exact kind of talented, rising young actors you want to anchor a franchise, and Trank was completely right to fight for them. Fox would be foolish to let go of this ensemble, with the profile of each actor only due to get bigger in the years ahead.
Hire A Director, Trust Their Vision, And Get Out Of The Way
Anytime hundreds of millions of dollars are spent, there will be more suits involved in making decisions. Perhaps Trank and Fox could’ve been better at finding the compromise that so many filmmakers and studios do when making tentpole movies. In the case of “Fantastic Four,” one really wonders how many people at Fox agreed on the direction they were taking the movie.
“I’m a huge David Cronenberg fan, and I always viewed Fantastic Four and the kind of weirdness that happens to these characters and how they’re transformed to really fall in line more with a Cronenberg-ian science fiction tale of something horrible happening to your body and [it] transforming out of control,” director Josh Trank said in the run-up to the release of his film, later adding: “I just kinda jumped to ‘body horror’ in my head. ‘Chronicle’ is about the evolution and strengthening of unique powers. This movie is really viewing them as a curse.”
Whatever notes of sci-fi body horror Trank may have been looking to put into his movie are completely lost in the final result. The movie is scotch-taped together with a rushed disjointedness that gives some weight to those rumors of the director being left out of editing room.
At some point along the way, it seems that Fox panicked at the idea of taking a risk with “Fantastic Four,” and then veered towards making a far more traditional film. At the same time, they were reportedly cutting three big action sequences presumably as a cost-saving measure. These are the necessary actions the suits take to make sure they keep their jobs if the film underperforms, but they wound up mangling things even further, and driving the director to the brink rather than problem solving in a manner to benefit everyone involved. If Fox does go ahead with “Fantastic Four 2,” they need to hire a filmmaker, commit to the vision they bring to the table, give them the resources they need, and then get out of their way. And Fox doesn’t need to look much further than their own “Planet Of The Apes” movies which not only were massively successfully, but allowed Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves to shine and put their stamp on the material.
How “Fantastic Four 2” Can Still Work
One of the few smart choices Fox made was to not connect “Fantastic Four” directly to the X-Men, nor leave a big cliffhanger ending that needs to be resolved by a follow-up. Should they keep the cast and move forward with “Fantastic Four 2,” they don’t need to reboot anything, but rather, it would be something more akin to a soft restart. Changes to the dour aesthetic can be made without being too jarring, the story can refer to the events in this film, but easily move on, and again, by keeping the same cast, Fox can steer the entire ship in a new direction from “Fantastic Four” without having to toss everything out and starting over. Both financially and creatively, it’s a sensible approach.
However, all of this is predicated on Fox learning from their mistakes. It will require the studio, who spent much of the year in damage control mode, to stop pointing fingers, and look at what happened on their end to allow “Fantastic Four” to turn out they way it did. That’s not to absolve Trank of any responsibility of his role in what played out, but at the end of the day, it’s Fox’s money and decision making that drove the enterprise. It will also mean a very delicate PR dance in the weeks, months, and even years ahead as Fox needs to really sell fanboys and audiences that they finally found the right formula. The sequel will require the sort of introspection that Hollywood isn’t often good at doing, but it’s the only way “Fantastic Four” will live to fight another day, at least under Fox’s roof.