About the one element not being blamed for the Fantastic Four’s meagre $26.2M opening is superhero box office fatigue. The film opened at #2, and was the worst “opening frame” for a superhero film since Green Lantern. And the finger of the blame game is being posted squarely at director Josh Trank, with the Wrap even wondering if his quickly deleted tweet blaming studio interference was the cause:
On Sunday, one box office analyst told TheWrap that Trank’s online outburst might have cost the film $5 million to $10 million — especially since fans of comic-book movies tend to be less swayed by official critics than by auteurs like Trank who are seen as more authentic defenders of comics culture.
I place this in the “consider the source” camp, as if there’s one thing moviegoers play even less attention to than reviews it’s quickly deleted insider backbiting tweets. However there seems to be a lot of blame to go around with EW summarizing a juicy chronicle of Trank’s seeming bad behavior, studio cold feet and rewritten finales:
But since this article was initially published, several high level sources close to Fantastic Four – spoken to independently of each other – have told EW the rift on set was not about creative differences but rather combative and abusive behavior Trank demonstrated toward the crew, producers, studio and even the stars. It’s partly linked to Trank’s personal disputes – involving accusations of deliberate damage done to the house he was renting, as revenge over a dispute with the landlord – which sources say eventually manifested on set as hostility and frustration from Trank.
Not all these new sources agree, however. Some who worked on the film say Trank broke, for sure, but was driven to the breaking point by the studio, and that his clash was not with Kinberg but Fox production president Emma Watts. According to several individuals who worked on the movie, the studio delayed casting and script approvals, slashed the budget by tens of millions from what was originally promised during the development phase, and tried to force last-minute script changes to the film just as principal photography was beginning.
However, some paint a more sympathetic picture of Trank, as someone who didn’t want to put on a smiling face after having his reputation crushed by all the stories coming out, and the resultant loss of a Star Wars directing gig.
And maybe the Internet itself is to be blamed for some of Fox’s heavy-handed course correction. Simon Brew at Den of Geek reminds us that it was an early leak of the plot that set off fan derision, with the blogging Doctor Doom and reported dark tone not going over well with the interned and Fox getting cold feet:
The catalyst for said doubts seemed to be the adverse internet reaction to story details that emerged online. If you remember, a synopsis for the movie at one stage found its way onto the internet, that was roundly debunked. That was until lawyers acting for 20th Century Fox contacted websites that had run it – including this one – and send a legal takedown letter to them. All of a sudden, it seemed what had been debunked was actually true. After all, why threaten legal action otherwise? That notwithstanding, by this stage Trank and his team were well into making the film, but it seems that Fox saw the adverse reaction to the new take on Fantastic Four, and decided things needed to change. Simon Kinberg, who has been pivotal to the firm’s recent X-Men successes, was one of those on board to help. Alterations were clearly ordered, seemingly from the studio side
Even more stories about Fox’s interference have come to light , with Trank removed from the final cut of the movie and expensive action sequences removed:
This information has apparently been corroborated from a second source. If true, this lends some credence to Trank’s claim that this was not his version of the movie. If some major set pieces were removed that were integral to the story it certainly would be difficult to recover with production getting under way. We do know there were major reshoots, the cost of which eventually led to the film losing it’s planned 3D release. It is obvious there was an attempt to make a really inexpensive movie here, which backs up the idea that Fox would kill the big action sequences. And if he wasn’t involved in the final edit? It becomes difficult to lay the final product at his feet if he didn’t have a say in it.
This mess has led to questions over the current career path for indie filmmakers—make an indie hit and get shoes in a District 13 style lottery to make a huge action movie for a studio tentpole—Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World being the poster child for success. The theory goes that young indie filmmakers are easier to control than studio vets. But who is really to blame when the machine runs off the rails?
Trank is hardly the first director to dash himself against Hollywood’s rocks, but this time, few seem to be taking his side. The general sentiment seems to be that Trank knew what he was getting into, or should have, and that either way he should keep his mouth shut. (Edgar Wright put eight years into “Ant-Man” before Marvel removed him, and you don’t see him whining on Twitter.) It’s possible that Trank’s original version of “Fantastic Four” was a trainwreck; his collaborators on the film have been vague and tepid in their defenses, and his “Chronicle” screenwriter, Max Landis, suggested that Trank was “not prepared going in to not FIGHT like hell, but WORK like hell.” But it’s unnerving to see purported film fans with virtually no knowledge of what actually happened reflexively side with Fox and Marvel and against Trank, as if the corporation that’s already screwed up the Fantastic Four’s story multiple times is somehow blameless.
Finally, leave it to the Guardian to suggests that the original plot of the movie was a metaphor for Trank’s own Hollywood journey:
Viewed this way, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a stand-in for Trank himself: smart, talented, ambitious, interested less in money than in “making a difference”, ripe for disillusionment. Like many a would-be film-maker, Reed starts at an early age on do-it-yourself projects at home, and after an extraordinary success, is lured to a better equipped facility, the slick, well-funded Baxter Building, where he is invited to repeat his brilliant if juvenile work on a much larger scale (not unlike Fantastic Four, made for over $100m more than Chronicle). Yet scaling up also brings much greater scrutiny and less independence, as various parties run by older men start to take a close interest in the talents of Reed and his equally youthful colleagues. Reed and his newly empowered buddies Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) do their best to forge a new identity for themselves working either inside or outside a corporate machine that seems determined to exploit them to its own ends, while Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) strives to go it alone and maybe even bring down the whole system.
As you can see the new Fantastic Four movie has become the vehicle for any auteur vs. Hollywood/little guy vs the man narrative you want to put out there. My own interpretation? The original concept of the film was “different” and probably wouldn’t have been that well received in a world that loves Disney/Marvel’s breezy formula, but the studio sensed disaster early on and knew who could take the blame for a movie that never really had a chance. The biggest question now? What happens to the already scheduled sequel planned for 2017? Hard to see that getting much traction. And so will Marvel welcome its founding franchise back to its cinematic universe? More to come.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.