May 1, 2020
Fantastic Four (2015), a recap (part 1 of 7)
Welcome to our very first patron-only recap! The full article is available to those who pledge at least $1/month on the Agony Booth’s Patreon page. Patron-only recaps will be written by me in the same style as the movie recaps I wrote when I started this website way back when. My goal is to post a new recap installment every week, but there may be occasional delays through April due to my concurrent work on Star Trek: Discovery recaps.
In 2015, 20th Century Fox achieved a remarkable feat: At a time when comic book movies and Marvel superheroes in particular were seen as a license to print money, they still managed to make a massive bomb out of their reboot of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Even more remarkably, the film somehow grossed far less than the universally derided movies it was rebooting.
The signs of the film’s impending doom (no pun intended) were obvious from the start: There wasn’t a trailer, a teaser trailer, a poster, or even a photo of the cast released until two months prior to its release. There were discouraging remarks made by the cast during interviews; Michael B. Jordan, who plays Human Torch, said the four main characters were like “kids” who “have disabilities now that we have to cope with”. Toby Kebbell, who plays Doctor Doom, explained that his character was actually “Victor Domashev”, an “anti-social programmer” who goes by the name Doom on “blogging sites”. (The Domashev thing never made it to the finished movie, presumably due to online backlash.) And most telling of all, there were rumors aplenty about director Josh Trank being a nightmare on the set.
Trank directed the 2012 found-footage film Chronicle, a solid superhero/supervillain story that was as much of a deconstructionist take on the genre as Unbreakable. Fox hired Trank on the strength of Chronicle to presumably do the same thing for the Fantastic Four, and create a gritty, grounded take on their origin story. But it seems the studio got cold feet, especially considering this was happening around the same time Marvel Studios started making billions off lighthearted, high-flying, and decidedly non-gritty superhero stories, and so they tried in vain to course-correct the movie midway through production into something more fun and formulaic and familiar.
Reportedly, Trank didn’t react well to the increasing studio interference. He had to fight to have Miles Teller play Reed Richards (and then ended up fighting with Teller on the set). The studio forced him to cast Kate Mara as Sue Storm, and he treated her like crap as a result. There were stories that Trank would show up to the set (possibly high?) and withdraw into a big black tent and not speak to anyone the entire day. There were stories that Trank wanted the performances to be as devoid of energy as possible; he would do take upon take and deliberately instruct his cast to deliver their lines even more flatly than the last time. There was even a bizarre report of Trank getting evicted from a house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the film was being shot, with the owner filing a civil suit claiming Trank caused $100,000 in damages to the property.
And then a day before the movie opened, Josh Trank decided to tweet this: