Looking Back at Fantastic Four and the Film that Never Was
“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
Josh Trank made this infamous tweet 3 years ago, after the embargo lifted for his film, Fantastic Four. Critics lambasted the picture, calling it dull and inspired, as well as generally just a huge mess. It is perhaps one of the most scathingly reviewed films of all time and you would be hard pressed to find a person, fan or critic, that would go to bat for it. It was decidedly not good. However, what went down behind the scenes of Fantastic Four is perhaps far more complicated than some have given it credit for.
When Josh Trank was first hired to direct the film, it was a pretty universally praised choice. People loved his debut feature, Chronicle (myself included), and it had been years since the last onscreen iteration of the Fantastic Four. The trouble started however with something that is all too common in the film/superhero nerd community: blatant, bitter racism. The cast for Trank’s film had been announced including Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, and Michael B. Jordan. A truly fantastic cast that any reasonable person would be happy with, but seeing as Johnny Storm had originally been depicted as white in the comics, the casting of Michael B. Jordan left some in an absolute tizzy. However, no one wanted to admit to their flagrant racism and instead opted for the absurd critique that it “doesn’t make sense” for Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara to be siblings given their difference in skin color. Never mind that mixed race families are, y’know, a thing. This unfortunate nontroversy is what seemingly began the hate campaign against Josh Trank’s little engine that couldn’t.
Following this, production had been somewhat quiet, with only the most minor of plot details being let out such as the inclusion of Doctor Doom and the Four finding themselves in the Negative Zone. That is until every filmmaker’s worst nightmare came true for Trank: set pictures leaked. Boy, they weren’t pretty either, with those images being grainy looks at our costumed heroes on a green screen stage with a giant frame of reference Thing that fans everywhere gawked at. No filmmaker wants their film represented by such crude pictures, but with this film in particular, it just gave the haters more ammunition for their campaign against it. Josh Trank’s unique vision directly clashed with fans who were determined to hate it, sight unseen, which spread like wildfire until suddenly everyone had a bone to pick with the film and its director.
All of this alone would be a nightmare for any high-profile production, but what really sank the ship here is the classic Hollywood horror story where a studio decides they don’t like your film and force you to change it for them. Josh Trank clearly was aiming for a sort of gonzo sci-fi/horror film in the vein of David Cronenberg which is immediately evident in the film’s first hour, but Fox was not too happy about this. What they wanted was a more traditional superhero film in the vein of a Marvel Studios picture: easy to sell and perfectly safe. It came down to reshooting around half of the film, in which Trank reportedly was not too happy to play ball, leading him to apparently be locked out of the editing bay as Simon Kinberg went to go and redirect half of the film. An unconfirmed report described Trank as having been erratic on-set, starting verbal spats and perhaps even a physical altercation with Miles Teller, along with upwards of $100,000 damage to the house to which he was living during the film’s production. Trank vehemently denied the claims, and it’s hard to not see why they were likely bogus, seeing as it clearly was an easy way for 20th Century Fox to shift the narrative from “Fox ruins young director’s film” to “young director ruins his own film.”
The result of all of this is a film in which you can almost pinpoint the exact moment where it shifts from Josh Trank’s film to a new film entirely, free of any creativity or intrigue. Josh Trank’s original flick featured Galactus, the Mole Man, and so many other fantastic elements that one can imagine would have resulted in a terrific film that broke the mold while staying true to what fans love. It’s a shame when directors are hired and not given the creative license to actually direct the film they had wanted to. People often accost studio filmmaking as the “death of original cinema” and claim that superhero movies are killing the medium, when that’s simply not true. The real death of cinema will come when we no longer let directors create bold and fresh studio pictures that set new norms and precedents, rather than adhering to what has already worked before. With all of this in mind, it is truly unfortunate that we’ll never have the privilege of seeing that film and that Josh Trank, regardless of what happened, was thrown into “Hollywood jail” over something that we can conclude was not ultimately his fault.
That’s reality though.
Written by: Scott from Twitter.