Monday Morning Critic – Postmortem: What Went Wrong (And What Went Right) with Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four

MMC New>

It’s been long enough that figuring out why Fantastic Four did as poorly as it did has kind of disappeared. Those are usually “Top 5” or “Top 10” type pieces, of course, but figuring out the fallout from it is something that rarely happens. It’s usually because we’ve moved on from gazing at the car crash, of course, but sifting through the wreckage is far more interesting at this point. Why?

Because now the fun part of observing Hollywood begins; figuring out what went right, what went wrong and what went weird with a blockbuster film that failed to capture an audience both critically and commercially.

The one thing to remember about the film and television industry is that gossip never leaks unless someone wants it to. Thus the stories of Josh Trank for the past month or so, from his damage to the house he rented on location to the shenanigans involving cast emails, aren’t exactly surprising. When someone needs to be blamed, but no one can come out and get on the record to say so, then stories and rumors come flying out to set the narrative. You just have to wade through everything to figure out what went right and wrong about the film.


What went wrong: Hiring a director for a project of this magnitude before he was ready

Josh Trank has the potential to be a great director at some point in the future. You don’t make a film like Chronicle out of purely dumb luck; you have to have some talent to do that. Not every great young director says “forget it” and cashes in like Justin Lin did by making films where we’re expected to think of Vin Diesel as both the same size and same toughness as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. You have to think of directors like an NFL team drafting a quarterback.

Not every quarterback drafted high in the first right in the NFL turns out to be Andrew Luck. Trank doesn’t project as Akili Smith type of director right now … but if he were an NFL QB that’s who he’d be. Smith had one amazing season at Oregon, a great series of workouts and wound up being a top three draft pick because of it. Trank had a similar career to this point, winding up getting the keys to the castle in his second effort as a director because he made a great film and had been involved with several others behind the scenes.

If he fails again then people are going to view Chronicle as a fluke, nothing more.

He had a thin resume at best before being handed the reins of Four and a Star Wars film. Think about it for a moment; the guy who did Fantastic Four nearly helmed a side project in the most holy of geek film universes. Imagine the storm that would’ve occurred if he hadn’t been pulled from that film the week after Fantastic Four was in theatres.

Trank obviously needed more seasoning in the indie scene, to find his way into being a great director, before being thrown into the starting lineup. They thought he had Spielberg written all over him and wanted to get into the Trank business sooner than later. Turns out sometimes letting a guy sit for a couple years, earning his stripes, might not be the worst thing for anyone wanting to make the jump from indies to Hollywood proper.

Fantastic Four 2015 movie poster French

What went right: They had the right cast

The one thing people thought when they announced the cast of the reboot was that they had an amazing cast. Miles Teller and Michael B Jordan are going to be A-list leading men sooner than later, Jamie Bell is a terrific supporting actor and Kate Mara is the lesser known but more talented between her and her Girl with the Dragon Tattoo starring sister.

Even Marvel Studios hasn’t had a cast that stacked for a single origin film. If you had this cast for a $30 million drama you’d go “Wow, that’s a great cast” and would make plans to see this film. Getting a young, talented cast featuring actors on the cusp of being huge stars was an amazing coup that won’t be repeated.

Fantastic Four 2015 team photos

What went wrong: They were far too deep into production before realizing what went wrong

The one thing Fox should’ve done early is pull the plug on Trank, bite the bullet and spend more on a film that clearly wasn’t working. I’m not one to advocate studio interference in an artist’s vision but it’s better to spend an exorbitant amount now, and bring someone new in to salvage a film, than it is to have a film flop and go back to the drawing board again.

No one wants an Amazing Spider-Man 2 with their name on it.

Fantastic Four 2015 poster comic book style

What went right: They tried to salvage the film in post production

Fox did the right thing by bringing in a committee to neutralize Trank’s vision with re-shoots well after production wrapped. Sometimes you have to stop the bleeding and they did the right thing.

I’ll give them credit; they tried to edit this down into something better and wound up being unable to find it in post-production. If they just threw the film out there, as it originally was, I imagine my fairly generous review would’ve been a lot harsher.

Fantastic Four 2015 film poster logo icon

What went wrong: Not going with the time tested, Marvel approved formula

The MCU was created fairly simple by following a formula that has spread to DC, et al. Iron Man gave us a tone, pacing and style for the genre that has been aped relentlessly since it was released. Trank wanted something different, a grittier universe, but the writing is on the wall for that era of comic book film making. Unless you have Christopher Nolan working with you, or directing your film, you stay away from the dark tones of Batman Begins.

Jon Favreau’s ultimate legacy as a director might be that he created the comic book film formula … and not following what he did cost Fox a lot. This one mistake is potentially a game changer.


What went right: None of the cast will get too damaged from the film

No one in this cast is going to see a lot of career fallout from this. The blame for a bad film is going to go almost universally onto Trank’s shoulders, right or wrong. No one thinks the film flopped because Teller isn’t ready to be a headliner, or that Jordan isn’t the talent he appears to be, or that Mara doesn’t have the chops of her sister or even that Jamie Bell is a curse onto film.

They were in a film that failed on every level and had a director that ruined their performances. That’s the career legacy of this film, nothing more, and no one is really going to see a setback in the types of roles they get offered because of it. Trank bears the burden for this, right or wrong, as you won’t be seeing any of the four principles taking third leads in Saturday morning sitcoms because of it. This isn’t a Showgirls type of flop the wrecked people; this is an ordinary flop with one viable scapegoat. It’ll sink one ship, Trank’s, and no one else will take on too much water.


What went right: The film flopped, hard enough to cause Fox to rethink their post MCU strategy

No plans have been made for the sequel to this film, obviously, which had a tentative 2017 release date on the schedule. With rumors floating that Disney may be back in play for the rights to the franchise this is a unique time for the genre and two studios of note.

Sony has come into a working agreement with Disney for Spider-Man and one can see the Mouse house getting at least creative control back to the franchise right now. They got back the rights to use Daredevil, Ghost Rider and the Punisher once upon a time and it’s not all that surprising that they are rumored to be involved in taking back this franchise.

Right now it’s the Fantastic Four and the X-Men who exist outside the purview of Disney … and the latter have a functioning, profitable and strong franchise arrangement going. With Disney being able to turn Guardians of the Galaxy into a substantially profitable franchise, despite their not being a substantial part of the American pop culture lexicon previously, one imagines that they could make a Fantastic Four film that makes an unconscionable amount of money.

Could Fox find a financial reason to either work with Marvel, sell them the right back or at least lend them the property and take a chunk of the profits? At this point everything has to be on the table because waiting until the rights expire to make another bad film that loses money isn’t fiscally reasonable or responsible at this point.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

I reviewed Straight Outta Compton, currently in theatres.

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

In The Dark Poster

This week’s DVD – … In The Dark

It’s always interesting to see what people you talk about movies with do when they’re working. One of the guys I regularly banter with is David Spaltro, who I’ve written about a handful of times in this space. Full disclosure: we’re friends on Facebook and have spoken regularly for some time on film, and other things, as he has been a valuable person to chat with on a number of occasions. Thus it’s a quasi-personal and professional friendship, I suppose, for lack of a better word.

Too often writers don’t disclose this and that bothers me.

David’s also a regular on the indie scene and I was pleasantly shocked when he went into production with a genre film after his first two pieces were more character studies. Thus I finally had a chance to sit down to check out …In The Dark, Spaltro’s take on the supernatural possession genre.

Simple premise. Bethany (Grace Folson, who had a supporting role in Things I Don’t Understand with Spaltro earlier) is possessed by something. Or she’s crazy. We’re not really sure. It’s up to skeptical Veronica (Lynn Justinger) and parapsychologist Fiona (Lois Kearne) to figure out what’s happening.

I’m always curious when a director makes the leap into horror films. Horror as a whole I usually compare to pro wrestling because of its most ardent fandom; like 90% are usually tolerable but it’s that 10% that make it bad for everyone. Most times I tend to think of horror as a good intro to film-making; genre films are fairly easier to make than character studies because you can always default to the tropes and give the audience what they expect. The best of horror holds up with every other genre; it’s just that you have to wade through a lot more garbage to get there than with a lot of genres.

It’s the same with action films, too, by the way. For every Halloween or Die Hard there’s a million sequels, copycats and outright rip-offs that make the clichés and stereotypes of bad film come true on a regular basis.

Demonic possession films are really tough to pull off because every film gets compared to a cinematic classic: The Exorcist. The supernatural is a difficult because all we have our the tropes from films to guide us; in reality there is no such thing as the paranormal and anyone who discusses practicing witchcraft or casting spells is usually a charlatan or someone in need of a mental health professional. Thus any film needs to walk that fine line because the natural reaction is skepticism.

Spaltro does something interesting with the film and gives us that but not in the usual way. This isn’t a tale of a priest coming to terms with his faith, which is the usual way to do a possession film. It’s easy because we want to believe that not all priests are devout servants of God …. Plus the test of faith is a cinematic cliché that still works.

I enjoyed the film, despite not being a horror fan, because Spaltro worked the basics of the genre fairly effectively. Throw in some great cinematography, especially for an indie, and this is a film that looks like it costs significantly more than it likely did. My only problem with the film was the ending, which is a little too open ended. It’s not an awful, film-killing one but it’s a generic one for the genre. I get it, it’s very rare for a horror film to not leave something up for a sequel, but I’ve never been a fan of that genre trope.

I’m not sure when it gets released, most likely onto VOD, but it’s definitely something worth checking out.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

American Ultra – Jesse Eisenberg is a pot head who also happens to be a super assassin. Shenanigans ensue.

See it – It’s a hard R rated action comedy in the vein of Shoot ‘Em Up. I can dig that.

Hitman: Agent 47 – Another attempt at launching the succesful video game franchise into a movie franchise happens.

Skip it – This reminds me of The Bourne Legacy; it sounds like a good idea on paper but it looks like a turd.

Sinister 2 – The thingie that killed Ethan Hawke is back.

Skip it – It’s a horror sequel. ‘Nuff said.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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