Film For someone who is super sensitive to spoilers to the point of ignoring trailers, pre-publicity interviews and often chooses whether to watch a film based on the poster, I've become quite addicted to reading reviews of the new Fantastic Four film. I have been very much spoilt but nevertheless hope to see it next week even if it does mean traipsing into an Odeon. This then isn't a review. It's a commentary on the concept of making a Fantastic Four based on watching Rotten Tomatoes like a hawk.
For all I know, the current 9% score is unbelievably harsh and unwarranted but every single review is essentially saying the same things. That a decent cast, trying their best, is working up against a poorly thought through concept based on a misunderstanding of the original comic book then made worse by clear studio interference leading to reshoots that lead a narratively nonsensical chronological time jump into a finale which is poorly set up. That exposition replaces convincing interpersonal relationships and that key characters barely have a conversation.
All of which is terribly weird and sad. Josh Trank the director seems to be under the impression that his own brilliant concept has been destroyed by the studio, but if reports are correct, he'd already fundamentally misunderstood what the characters are about anyway, starting with the cast and working sideways, so there wasn't anything much anyone could do. To an extent I have some sympathy with the studio who were presumably expecting one film, he delivered something else and they've tried to fix it in post.
Trank's idea is sound. But it seems a shame to bend an existing property into something it isn't rather than try something new. Or as seems to be the case, Chronicle again. The reason the MCU has been such a success is that its not embarrassed about these characters as they appear in the comics and embraces them and when it knows its a fairly hard sell it puts that on-screen as per Ant-Man, in which Paul Rudd character voices the audiences's concerns about the ridiculousness of the whole then embraces that ridiculousness, so we do too.
But I don't believe the Fantastic Four is hard. The various versions which have appeared on Saturday morning television all seemed to get their head around the concept of a famous family of superheroes fighting the weird and surreal and even the Tim Story films, for all their weaknesses, got some of that. The Incredibles did too as it shamelessly borrowed the concept and even most of the super powers. Yet Trank, with his "superpowers as disability/body horror" concept simply doesn't.
Here's how you structure a Fantastic Four film:
Prologue: Doom and Richards. In the style of Sneakers. Reed and Victor at the moment during the first science project, shit happens, Doom's scarred. Reed goes on to graduate. Cut to:
First half hour: Introduce the characters. About the only change I'd make is having Reed and Sue married already thereby underscoring the concept of family early. As for the rest of it I wouldn't vary the origin too much. Reed's research project is in financial difficulties which is what leads him to ...
First turning point - the experimental test flight. Do the rocket thing. Rockets are exciting.
Second half hour: The four discover their powers and what they can do with them with Ben dealing with his deformity. Leading to ...
Second turning point: They very visibly use their powers for good and I wouldn't go for a conventional disaster. I'd have the Mole Man. I'd have a recreation of the cover of the first issue. The whole media is there so cut to ...
Doom watching the whole business in his castle in Latveria. He's a bit cross about the whole thing.
Third half hour: The fame. All of that business. Basically they're the Ghostbusters so we have a montage sequence in here too of them fighting various foes. In the midst of this we have Doom plotting, plotting. But he doesn't want to take over the world, he already rules his own kingdom. He just wants revenge.
Third turning point: This is where it gets tricky. In the comics he kidnaps Sue which in today's terms is a bit rubbish. Or drops a rocket on the Baxter Building. I suspect it would be more interesting if he kidnaps Reed and it's up to the rest of the team to save him with a geopolitical issue in relation to them invading another sovereign nation.
Fourth half hour:
They go in and save Reed. Huge battle sequences of the Fantastic Four fighting armies, the twist being that they won't hurt anyone. Perhaps, just to cover all the classic 60s bases, Doom's somehow in an alliance with the Skrulls (a previous experiment having attracted their attention) and Reed's been replaced by one of them?
All of which looks predictable and cliched but as I discovered during my film studies degree, people tend to like the repetition of genre films, that it's the variation in formula they like and although you can dump that formula, you have to be very smart about how you do it or you can get it terribly wrong and things can go badly.
Of course the ideal scenario would be for Fox to now do a Sony and lease the right to the F4 back to MARVEL so they can appear in the MCU.
But the problem is, much as they're in the process of re-conceiving the Inhumans to act as their version of the mutants, large chunks of the FF concept have already turned up in The Avengers films, notably the idea of having famous superheroes who're idolised by the populace and who don't really have secret identities.
Not to mention the alien invasion idea which would be perfect with the Skrulls has been done too.
Plus if they can just about get away with not having the whole team turn up in the individual films when the shit hitteth at the end, having a Fantastic Four in the verse not helping Thor fight Loki really begins to stretch credulity.
None of which is to say I wouldn't wish them not to at least try. SHIELD still has its problems but that's heading into a third series.
Since we're taking this to its natural conclusion, some casting suggestions for the MCU Fantastic Four:
Matt Smith is Reed Richards
Kristen Bell is Sue Storm Richards
Zac Efron is Johnny Storm
Woody Harrelson is Ben Grimm
Sam Riley is Victor Von Doom
Sigh. If only.
Updated: If only FOX and Trank and everyone involved with this debacle had been able to watch this first: