I’m sure by now you’re all well-versed in the grumblings permeating throughout the online as well as the offline community. According to popular consensus, the latest incarnation of Marvel’s First Family is a resounding failure. I’m here to tell you this is a gross exaggeration.
Despite cries for a public flogging, looting in the streets, and a rallying mob at the gates of Fox Studios with pitchforks and torches, I proceeded to purchase a ticket. I was either going to kick myself for wasting fifteen dollars or I was going to emerge from the darkness of the theater satiated; rarely – if ever – does a critic’s opinion dissuade me from seeing a film I’ve set my sights on. Besides, I loved all of the folks involved with this production. For it to be trending at a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes (it has since dropped to 8%), a rating even lower than that of Batman and Robin’s, it had to be pretty terrible, right? Well, as I was about to discover – not entirely.
Could the film have been grander in its execution? Of course. Was it a complete and utter disaster? Far from it. I think the biggest problem was that the film played like a small-budgeted indie flick with big-budget effects, if that makes a lick of sense. For a film like Fantastic Four, Fox needed to match the scale of their X-Men films. It should have felt like Days of Future Past, but it didn’t. Instead it played like a less fleshed-out Chronicle. Now, that’s not to say it didn’t have anything going for it. The cast was great and I loved the Cronenberg-esque, creepy science-fiction vibe it had. It made me cringe at the prospect of suffering a similar mutation, unlike the conventional superhero-movie formula which celebrates extraordinary abilities as a blessing. I also enjoyed the ideas it explored, one of them being the limits of Reed’s mutation. This is the first time I’ve seen him use his stretching-abilities as a disguise to not just transform himself into an object, but also into an entirely different person. It made so much sense I’m surprised none of the books have touched upon this tidbit before; or maybe they have and I’m just unaware of them. And for all of the naysayers out in the digital realm, Michael B. Jordan was fantastic as Johnny Storm. In fact, the entire cast brought their A-game to the proverbial stage. I even somewhat liked the design of Doom. It was weird and different, but it worked within the parameters of the story. Not the one I would have preferred, but certainly better than the last two go-arounds.
So, where did the mishaps transpire? Various online news outlets have reported on a few of them: Josh Trank’s erratic behavior, his isolation from the crew, his unwillingness to accept assistance in salvaging a film that was apparently in dire straits, Fox’s commandeering of his vision, their re-editing of his completed film – all of which have no solid confirmations, mind you; only he-said, she-said sort of rumors. I have a few theories of my own. I can’t help but ponder over and entertain an idea that Fox never meant for the film to succeed, that its production and marketing campaign was an elaborate and expensive ruse to merely retain the property rights. Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time such a scheme was plotted. Roger Corman’s famously unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four film suffered a similar fate, albeit without ever experiencing a theatrical run; only the cult-like following bestowed upon it through the bootleg-market. You’re probably thinking such an idea belongs in works-of-fiction, that a studio would never go through so much trouble and burn through so much money for a single property. To this I say – nothing’s out of the realm of possibility when dealing with the kinds of folks who run major Hollywood studios, true believers. Today’s film-environment being what it is, and the pervasive hunger for new and lucrative material being at an all-time high amongst every major studio, could something so outlandish be that unbelievable? Here’s another idea: what if Fox, knowing they were at a crossroads-of-no-return, decided a commercial-version of the film was a safer bet – putting them squarely in a “comfort zone” – because no matter what the abysmal final box-office take was, the veiled machinations to move these characters into a shared universe with the X-Men franchise were already in play? In other words, suffer a small sacrifice today for a jackpot-return tomorrow. At the very least, they knew their cast was solid if all else transmuted into poop. Whatever dollars they’d have to write-off for this film would surely be made up in another showcasing both properties. Crazy, I know. But not too absurd given the period we currently live in.
At this juncture, Fox needs to proceed with a plan to conjoin both comic book worlds. Their X-Men films are really good, and if they refuse to broker a Sony/Marvel type of deal with the Fantastic Four property, creating a shared cinematic universe for these characters could turn out to be the smartest move the studio’s made since bringing back Singer to revitalize their merry mutants.