No-one will come out of this smelling of roses. In the wake of what might be the most high-profile flop in this golden age of comic book movies, and the possible death stroke to one of the more recognisable comic book properties in regards to living on film, assassins – they come in the night. Fantastic 4 is likely to top out at $55-60 million domestically, a ghoulish figure for Fox and the people associated with the film. Amidst that, add dreadful reviews – possibly even more negative than Tim Story’s early 00s take on the property -, persistent stories of on-set warfare between studio, and perhaps another Marvel property that seems to be dying a death away from the great mothership.
The studio seems keen to pin it on bright young thing director Josh Trank, and vice versa. Several articles ran in the Hollywood Reporter and other such publications about Trank’s awful and unprofessional on-set behaviour, which painted the picture of someone out of their depth: a young man promoted before his time, unable to handle the pressures of a big-budget studio film. Trank, meanwhile, took to his Twitter account to say that his ‘version’ of the film has little to do with what ended up in cinemas, and would have gotten good reviews if only the studio hadn’t gotten cold feet and taken the project away from him.
As in all things, there are two sides to every travesty, and reality is probably a combination of both stories. I imagine Trank might have made a more ambitious, distinctive piece of shit, but a piece of shit nonetheless, since the studio felt spending millions of pounds on re-shoots was justified after seeing his version a year ago. As the awful and mismatched cast was put together by Trank, and the script full of tin-eared dialogue has his name on it, I don’t quite believe the notion that this is fully on Fox. Talent does like to pin it on the studio when things go wrong, and fans like to follow that particular narrative. It’s convenient. It helps them hold onto their preconceptions of genius in an increasingly compartmentalised and scheduled film world that seems to have no use for the unpredictability of the concept. Yet just because you want something doesn’t make it so, and I think a film like Fantastic 4 only happens when everyone chokes their lines in glorious harmony – director, actors and studio alike. If it’s everyone’s fault, then isn’t it nobody’s?
The question is, once the rubble is sifted through, what happens? Fantastic 4 as a franchise is almost certainly going to take a semi-permanent seat on the bench. Fox will be resistant to the idea of selling back to Marvel. Comic book franchises are the holy grail these days and they won’t give up without one more shot, probably making something similar to the Fantastic 4 of the 00s and pretending it’s something new. Trank, however, will probably be the worst affected. He has already lost the Star Wars film he was preliminarily attached to due to this catastrophe, and is probably going to be considered toxic by any studio project of any kind of budget for a while. I’m not quite sure he’ll reach Andrew Stanton (who made the studio-killing John Carter) levels of isolation from the system, but it could be a hard few years for the man who had the world at his feet not so long ago.
Fox sure will be angry about the ruins of their multi-universe plans of combining the 4 with X-Men though now – an idea now completely untenable. Sleep with the light on, Josh.