Is it time to worry about the Fantastic Four movie?

Feature Mike Cecchini 12/5/2014 at 4:44PM

New developments about the Fox Fantastic Four movie still have us scratching our heads about what's going on...

Can you believe that in the fifty plus year history of the Fantastic Four that nobody has managed to really get it right on the big screen? That is, of course, unless you count The Incredibles, which nailed the spirit of the FF in ways that none of the movies that actually bore their name managed to do. The first attempt was the unfortunate, never-released (unless you're into the bootleg scene) Roger Corman produced version, then there were FOX's two big-budget endeavors, Fantastic Four (of course) and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer. The latter two, while they were met with a reasonable amount of box-office success, failed to really inspire audiences, and the franchise just sort of faded away.

But if 20th Century Fox has proven anything in the last few years, it's that they know how to keep their cash cows on life support. Did anyone ever imagine that the X-Men franchise would get back on track after the critical disasters that were X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the commercial dud that was X-Men: First Class? But here we are, six months later, not only still enjoying X-Men: Days of Future Past, but anxiously anticipating X-Men: Apocalypse.

So when word first hit that they were rebooting the Fantastic Four and creating a shared universe (we're still trying to figure out which word has been more popular this year, "reboot" or "shared universe") between their two major Marvel properties, it sounded like a good idea. After all, the idea of a "shared universe" across franchises was still a pipe dream when the last Fantastic Four movie had been in theaters. 

Fox recruited Josh Trank, the director of the generally well regarded found footage superhero film Chronicle (and the future director of a Star Wars spinoff movie) to helm the Fantastic Four reboot, with a screenplay by Simon Kinberg (he of both X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse), things looked bright.

But somewhere along the line, things appear to have gotten weird. We'll present you everything we know about the new Fantastic Four movie, and leave you to decide whether or not this is anything to worry about.

Let's start with the cast:

The Fantastic Four Movie Cast

Fox found their Fantastic Four cast in the form of Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell as Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards, Sue "Invisible Girl" Storm, Johnny "The Human Torch" Storm, and Benjamin "The Thing" Grimm, respectively. Particularly in the case of Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, the casting seems to skew younger than the traditional depictions of the characters, but that was quickly chalked up to this version of the story taking its influence from the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics rather than the traditional Marvel Universe.

Reg. E Cathey will play Dr. Franklin Storm, the father of Johnny and Sue, and likely the man who helps facilitate the acquisition of their powers. Toby Kebbell is the team's greatest enemy, Victor von Doom, while Tim Blake Nelson is Harvey Elder, the "eccentric and socially awkward scientist" who will eventually come to be known as the Mole Man.

So this is all fairly straightforward, right? After all, it's generally impossible to judge casting before we've seen a single frame of the movie. But that's part of the problem. We'll get to that in a minute.

The Fantastic Four Movie Story

There's an official story synopsis that should give you an idea of what this is all about:

THE FANTASTIC FOUR, a contemporary re-imagining of Marvel's original and longest-running superhero team, centers on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, which alters their physical form in shocking ways. Their lives irrevocably upended, the team must learn to harness their daunting new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

Fantastic Four writer/producer Simon Kinberg has been plenty chatty about various details while out on the interview circuit discussing X-Men: Days of Future Past. So far we know that it won't be based on any particular storyline from the comics. Nothing wrong with that. But, you see, when it comes to the rest of the movie, nobody can seem to get their stories straight.

A number of signs seem to point to an origin story a little different than the traditional Fantastic Four comics. Originally a group of astronauts (more or less) who get exposed to cosmic radiation, it sounds like the Four's powers may be extradimensional in nature this time around. Simon Kinberg told us a little about it in our interview with him:

"We’re definitely telling a younger story that the original films did. It depends on what books you look at. There are some, like the Ultimate books, that tell this story. So it is an origin story of the Fantastic Four, and it does follow them before they really know what a superhero is."

He also describes this as "a coming of age story" and promises that their origin story will involve "some sort of scientific travel." Yes, that sounds like Ultimate Fantastic Four (the 2004 update of the FF story by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, and Adam Kubert) to us, too. 

Initially FOX's intention was for their rebooted Fantastic Four universe to occupy the same world as their X-Men films, but in recent months, that suggestion has been walked back. In other words, don't expect any Reed Richards/Charles Xavier chess games any time in the future. For now, you can settle for the fact that X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn is one of the film's producers. 

None of this sounds like a problem, right? We've gotten used to origin stories that pull from different versions of character history in our superhero movies. The problem is that, historically, the Fantastic Four, particularly during their undisputed greatest era (by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby...arguably the finest sustained run by any creative team in comic book history), are a family, and there's an element of fun, even whimsy, surrounding their adventures. The Four are, after all, a family. An out-there family, but a family nevertheless. If you're not familiar with their adventures, think of the most heroic moments of The Incredibles crossed with some of the most dimension-warping madness of recent Doctor Who, and we suppose you're in the ballpark.

But early on, Simon Kinberg promised that "We're approaching it in a much more realistic, grounded, science rather than science fiction way." Well, that's fair. It hasn't hurt the X-Men franchise any, right? But then, you see, virtually every member of the cast has said something worrisome or eyebrow raising. 

Michael B. Jordan described it as "a gritty film." Not a word most people are looking to associate with the Fantastic Four, to be sure, and it makes you wonder about some of that loose "found footage" talk that's popped up around the movie as well (although, to be fair, it's extraordinarily unlikely they're going that route). He also described the team's costumes as "containment suits," which sounds like maybe their powers aren't quite under control. 

Miles Teller promised that this movie is "different in every way" from the previous films (this is a good thing), but then expounded on how they're "making them real people in how they exist day-to-day. People wanted it to be taken more seriously than the kind of Dick Tracy, kitschy, overly comic-book world." Not that anyone was expecting the Fantastic Four to take the Dick Tracy approach, but, whatever...

But then comes the latest revelation, courtesy of Doctor Doom himself, Toby Kebbell. Victor Von Doom is, for the purposes of this movie, Victor Domashev. Fine. We understand how audiences might be skeptical of a "Doom" surname. But instead of a young scientific genius (with royal blood), he's a "very anti-social programmer" with the blogging handle of "Doom."

But this isn't even the strangest part about all this...

The Fantastic Four Movie Controversy

Amidst all the above concerns, which I'll admit, can be chalked up to fan nitpicking, there's the fact that Josh Trank deleted his Twitter account early in the production (and was briefly replaced by a prankster who gave carefully worded, reasonable sounding answers...we took the bait), and has remained pretty quiet during the entire affair. That's not weird. The man has work to do. But (there's always a but), when you compare him to directors on other high-profile projects, particularly ones coming under fire from fans, you'd think he would surface a little more often to rally the troops. 

When the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con came and went without so much as a mention of the movie at the Fox panel, that sounded some alarm bells. We've still seen not so much as a logo for this movie. Not a stylized four on a black background. You can forget about things like a teaser trailer or even an image of the team in costume. 

In fact, the only images we've seen from Fantastic Four have been leaked behind the scenes shots, including a rather convincing looking model of Ben Grimm in Thing form, and what appeared to be Doctor Doom. We'd show you the pictures, particularly that version of the Thing, but we've already received our share of angry letters from 20th Century Fox lawyers, and aren't about to go down that road again any time soon. Rest assured, the Thing looked very cool, although we confess we weren't too sure of what we were looking at in the images that purported to be Doctor Doom (they probably were).

You would think that just in the interest of damage control, Fox would have shown us something by now, assuming, of course, that they are happy with what they have. While chatting about this with Den of Geek's Don Kaye, he suggested that it's possible that Josh Trank delivered the movie he wanted to make (yay!), but that it wasn't the movie that Fox expected or wanted (uh-oh). Presumably they hired Mr. Trank knowing he'd pursue the kind of grounded approach to superheroics on display in Chronicle (and from all the quotes we've heard from people involved, this one is all about "realism"), so they might not have any reason to complain.

But then there's what might just be the ugliest part about this entire affair: the persistent, increasingly credible rumors that Marvel Entertainment are sidelining the Fantastic Four in the comics and in their merchandising arms, in an attempt to undermine the marketability of this film. Marvel are ending the Fantastic Four ongoing series and disbanding the team. This is all in service of a larger story, mind you, and these events happen with clockwork regularity in comics. They just don't usually happen the same summer that a movie with a nine-figure budget is about to hit the screens. The FF aren't all that visible on current Marvel Comics marketing, either. We realize Marvel would probably love to make FF movies of their own, but perhaps this isn't the way to squeeze the competition.

I suppose there's another way of looking at this. Maybe Fox have just taken the JJ Abrams "mystery box" approach to the next level. Forget about leaks and rumors. We can't report if we don't know anything. On the other hand, maybe all of these out of context quotes from a young cast that has probably been told to say nothing, but have to give some kind of answer when asked, would be met with less uproar if the studio would show us something.

The Fantastic Four is now on its third release date, having been shuffled initially from March to June (indicating, perhaps, that Fox had more faith in the project than initially thought), and then again (and hopefully finally) to August 7th, 2015. Hey, if Guardians of the Galaxy can thrive in August, then why not this?

Also note that Fantastic Four 2 is scheduled to arrive on July 14th, 2017. Let's see how this one does first, shall we? You can also find our complete superhero movie release calendar right here.

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