Why were Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four such a mess?
The Fantastic Four were once Marvel Comics’ flagship property, but of the three attempts to bring them to the big screen, each has been a unique failure. The most interesting of these failures, however, is undoubtedly the 2015 attempt which failed in various ways for various reasons.
The film was directed by Josh Trank, then a promising independent director after his hit superhero drama. The Chronicle. The film is the third, and obviously the last, to face off against the superhero team from 20th Century Fox, and the filmmaker and studio appeared to be the lethal combination that killed the film.
Trank was the youngest director to open a film at the top of the box office, and after that level of success, especially with a new ownership, major studios were lining up to sign him. He was in talks for a Star wars cinema, a Venom film, and Sony would have approached him to make an adaptation of The shadow of the colossus. For various reasons, none of these projects moved forward with Trank. The project he stopped on was The Fantastic Four, after which he quickly took half a decade out of the cinema. He only released in the cinema since, a direct biopic in VOD on Al Capone. Work on The Fantastic Four seemed to change it.
Along with the hiring of the up-and-coming director, the film also gathered an impressive cast for the titular team. Miles Teller, star of Whiplash depicts a young nerd taking on Reed Richards. Kate Mara played Sue Storm, in a more ironic and sarcastic tone than what the character is used to. Jamie Bell plays The Thing like a strong-willed big brother type. Michael B. Jordan took on the role of Johnny Storm, bringing his signature charisma to The Human Torch. Many changes are made to the presentation of the characters in the comics, the group are now all roughly the same age, much younger than their comedic counterparts. Johnny is probably the closest to his typical style, but the whole team is presented with a new twist. Dozens of other actors were auditioned for the role, including a bizarre incident with Mads Mikkelsen in which he stepped out halfway.
A decent cast, a promising director, and a sequel slated for even before the film hits theaters, but things behind the scenes weren’t going well. After the film’s release and its terrible flop, the story of the disaster is a tangled web. Trank has a version, some of the actors have made public statements, parts of the stories have changed, but ultimately the story is one of creative conflict. Jeremy Slater, currently editor-in-chief of Knight of the Moon, was the original screenwriter selected for the project, but he and Trank disagreed on every aspect of the story. Slater said very little of his work has shifted to the screen between Trank writing his own script and Mr. and Mrs. Smith writer Simon Kinberg was brought in to co-write. Three discreet shots on the scenario of a film, none of which mix.
Trank had a particular vision for the film, very different from what the studio had in mind. Slater and Fox both seemed to want something in the vein of Marvel’s immense success Avengers franchise, but Trank was imagining something darker. He regularly referred to body horror classics like Fly or compared the film to the works of Tim Burton. Obviously, the studio disagreed, as Trank’s first two edits were turned down. The film began covers, identifiable on sight thanks to a comically awful wig worn by Kate Mara, to achieve a nicer tone. Avatar Editor Stephen E. Rivkin did the final cut for the film, obviously after plenty of scenes weren’t filmed, dashing any hope of a Snyder-style reissue.
While anyone who has watched the film can identify how hacked it was during editing, Fox representatives objected to Trank’s account of events. Representatives pointed to the erratic behavior of Trank, who was allegedly difficult to work with, and argued that he was fully supported by the company. The actors who worked on the film have different takes. Kate Mara has opened up about the difficulty working on the film, citing alleged misogyny on set without naming names. Toby Kebbell, who described the film’s terrible take on Doctor Doom, lamented that Trank’s film version was never released, claiming he had done something great.
Much of the chaos surrounding the production of this film has come from Josh Trank, seen either as a visionary author who could not escape studio interference, or as a selfish hack who refuses to work with others. The experience of working on this film clearly took him away from big budget cinema for many years. Along with the struggles with studios and colleagues, fans treated Trank horribly. The director has reportedly received countless death threats after deciding to make Michael B. Jordan the traditionally white character of Johnny Storm. It was just another piece of pressure put on a film that was already struggling to come out.
When The Fantastic Four eventually released, it flopped at the box office and was not well received. With everything that happened around the film, it seemed like a guaranteed failure. Ultimately, it’s the product of writers, director, studio, and fan base who each take the project in drastically different directions. on the big screen.
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