Cut & Print: What’s Up With the Fantastic Four movie
Is anyone looking forward to the new Fantastic Four reboot film coming out in less than two weeks?
Perhaps no one wants to know the answer to that question more than the executives at “the studio that brought us X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
No film genre is bigger for films than the superhero genre, and fans often bite at the bit to examine each and every second of footage or snippet of insight from the latest offerings in the genre before they are released, and all of this speculation all serves to actually help promote the film. These days, “word of mouth” has expanded to Facebook groups and internet message boards, as we live in a world where links, pictures and theories can be easily shared and examined. People – myself included – have examined every frame of footage in that mammoth Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer. They’ve found nuggets of a bigger DC expanded universe in the Suicide Squad trailer, and created theories about the upcoming The Batman solo films. This is all nothing new: the Marvel Cinematic Universe has benefited heavily from this kind of talk, and, to a lesser extent, the X-Men films have as well.
Now here’s the point: The Fantastic Four film is less than two weeks away from release, and the film has generated a good amount of curiosity (as most often do) but it’s debatable if that curiosity has translated at all into genuine anticipation. Are people excited to see this film? There was reason to be excited, as the two dreadful Fantastic Four films of the 2000’s are being ignored, and there is fresh talent both in front of and behind the camera. The cast is practically a checklist of names that Hollywood has begun to pay attention to (Miles Teller just won unanimous praise for his role on Whiplash, and Michael B. Jordan has secured his future with a string of what looks to be a string of great films. Who doesn’t want to see him in Creed?) One of the writers of the solid X-Men: Days of Future Past helped pen the screenplay, and director Josh Trank proved himself for having a good eye for telling these kinds of stories with a film called Chronicle.
So now we get to the big question: With all of that talent that Fox has put behind this film, why has nobody seen it? Or – more to the point – if anyone has seen it, why has the studio placed an embargo on reviews for the film, forbidding any reviews (positive or negative) from getting out until the day of the film’s release. Just think: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation was set to be released in December, but was bumped up (not delayed, but pushed up) five months ahead of schedule, for a late summer release, and previews were being shown to critics weeks ahead of that date. Paramount is super-confident in what is now the fifth film in the Impossible franchise, and they have a reason to be: the reviews are glowing. If Fox had confidence in their new superhero film, they’d start allowing reviewers to publish their thoughts so as to help build up the hype.
That’s assuming the movie is good. They could have a real turd on their hands. Or, they could be thinking: Just release it, see how much much money we can salvage from it in that opening weekend before bad word of mouth does us in?
But the real question is this: Can a Fantastic Four film ever be good? The Roger Corman movie from the 90’s was awful, but it also was made for about fifty cents and was never planned to be released (if that sounds strange for you, Google is your friend. Look up the history of that film). Yet, the admirable about that film is just how close it got to the comic books, both in story and in how the characters (all the characters, including Dr. Doom) looked. No star-power whatsoever… and no one who was even capable of actually acting, but it looked as close as you can imagine to the comic books considering the limitations of the time.
The Tim Story films of the early 2000’s are reviled, particularly (and ironically) by the target audience of comic book fans. The films might have employed CGI to good effect, so that the four hero’s powers are properly realized, but the films themselves were a bit too cheesy, a bit too jokey, and a cinematically flat.
No, they are just awful films.
Yet in those films, we see the characters close to how they appeared in the comic books, and the heroes have the powers they do in the comics. The Fantastic Four is what it is: can a reboot, even a “gritty” one, really make the Fantastic Four better? Will it be different enough? While special effects have advanced considerably since the early 2000’s for creating environments, they haven’t really changed all that much across the board. The T-1000 in Terminator Genisys really doesn’t look any different from how a similar character looked in T2, which was made twenty years earlier. The “flame-on” effects for Michael B. Jordan’s Human Torch look about the same as the “flame-on” effects from the earlier films. And there’s only so many ways to make a guy stretch, or a woman create force fields. We’ve seen this before. The simple fact is that the Fantastic Four’s powers are generally going to look the same now as they did they did then, and they wouldn’t even change much if they waited another five years to make the film.
Is the concept of the Fantastic Four really the more interesting with the changes that we do see in the trailers? These changes include the uniforms (which, unlike the previous versions, seemed designed to best control each of their individual powers) might be less campy and more functional. Also, instead of the team acquiring their powers from outer space as a result of some accident, the new film’s origin story involves some inter-dimensional travel to another real called the Negative Zone, and something that happens there leads them to acquiring their new abilities. All of these aspects might take on the flavor of being different and new, but one would be stretching it (forgive the Richard Reed-esque pun there) to say it was all that fresh, and enough to call for a multi-million dollar reboot. In the end, the film will likely follow the same path the 2005 Fantastic Four film (as well as pretty much every superhero film of this type) as our heroes must adjust to having and implementing their new powers. The difference this time is that we’re supposed to take this a bit more seriously.
The real problem – something that makes a property like the Fantastic Four rather uncinematic right from its core concept – is that there are four main characters. It is no easy feat for any screenwriter to service four main characters, which is why it’s generally not done. Sure, the X-Men films seemed to have a lot of main characters, but the first film in that franchise was written very smartly written in that it gave us a point-of-view character in Wolverine, cast him to perfection, and he was performed in such a way that the audience could always relate to him even as the film itself was building a complex world with many more characters. Of course, the original Star Wars film had four main characters, but only in the strict sense of the word. As much as everyone loves Chewbacca, he was always more of a sidekick in that grand adventure where we are following the three leads of Luke, Han and Leia, and while Han and Leia were integral to the how the story played out, the main character was always Luke. Even the recent Guardians of the Galaxy film has one character, Peter Quill, who was intended to be the main protagonist. Yet, Fantastic Four is an altogether different animal trying get comfortable in a world run by more traditional storytelling rules: it has four main characters. They might each have different powers all of which the screenplay must address, but they don’t seem to have different enough ideologies. One can only respect the Fantastic Four as one of the first and most influential comic book hero team-ups, but just because the concept of a team-up of this nature works on the printed page doesn’t mean that it will work in a film. Do these characters have wholly different ideologies that make the evolution between each other compelling?. They might, at least when it comes to solving problems or getting things done, but they all acquired their powers together – as a team. They start their tenure as superheroes as a team, and that’s where they end up, and that might explain why they aren’t as interesting in a film as other superheroes are. Both The Avengers films, as well as the upcoming Batman v Superman, all get a lot of story mileage out of the fact that each hero has a unique background that shaped his or her philosophy. That seems to be more interesting – at least for the popcorn-eating crowd eager for a good time – than having four main characters who all share the same exact pivotal event that has changed their lives forever.
The marketing machine behind this film seems timid, especially compared to other films of the genre. A 3-D release was, as of a couple of weeks ago, cancelled, and the early reactions to the film haven’t seen the light of day. There have been rumblings (who knows for sure if any of it is true?) that Trank was a bit difficult to control on and off set, and that Simon Kinberg was brought in like a pinch-director to keep the project on track. None of this paint a great picture of what this film will be like, but the project could really be damned because the Fantastic Four concept just isn’t suited to the medium.
We will have to see in less than two weeks. For all we know, the film could earn a best picture nod around Oscar time. Reminds me of a a little film that came out in 1977, called Star Wars, that the studio at the time had no faith in. It went on to revolutionize cinema and get that best picture nod.