The Fantastic Four have not had the smoothest of rides with regards to transitioning from comic books to the silver screen. In two separate film incarnations, Marvel's first family has stumbled. Neither of the two versions of the characters has grasped the imagination of the audience and there seems to be a malaise surrounding the characters now. But, without the intervention of the producers, it could have been so different.
Not So Fantastic Four
In the '90s cartoon, the Fantastic Four's theme song states this:
Reed Richards is elastic, Sue can fade from sight,
Johnny is the Human Torch, The Thing just loves to fight!
2015's Fantastic Four barely seemed to show any of this and it really didn't have that much fun doing it either. The FF have always been fun, with Reed's supreme intelligence juxtaposed with Ben's no-nonsense Yancy Street attitude; the team had a great balance. Unfortunately though, Fantastic Four was a disaster. Both critics and fans alike met the reboot with discontent; the film reeked of desperation. It was obviously a last-gasp attempt to retain the rights to one of Marvel's most famous properties.
The development of Fantastic Four was very fractious. Reports emerged that the producers had lost faith in Josh Trank's vision for the film. As a result of this, many details about the film were changed and reshoots were ordered, leading to Kate Mara's terrible wig and a whole new ending to the film. This was made obvious by the rushed nature of the third act of the film.
Not long after the film was released, Josh Trank tweeted something rather cryptic:
Now of course, you would expect a director to defend their film, just as a musician would defend their music if it was slated critically or an athlete defends a poor performance. But a year down the line, it seems that we might have some evidence to support Trank's claim. The original screenwriter, Jeremy Slater, has revealed his original intentions for the film:
"In addition to Annihilus and the Negative Zone, we had Doctor Doom declaring war against the civilized world, the Mole Man unleashing a 60-foot genetically engineered monster in downtown Manhattan, a commando raid on the Baxter Foundation, a Saving Private Ryan-style finale pitting our heroes against an army of Doombots in war-torn Latveria, and a post-credit teaser featuring Galactus and the Silver Surfer destroying an entire planet. We had monsters and aliens and Fantasticars and a cute spherical H.E.R.B.I.E. robot that was basically BB-8 two years before BB-8 ever existed. And if you think all of that sounds great...well, yeah, we did, too. The problem was, it would have also been massively, MASSIVELY expensive."
Galactus destroying a planet and a finale featuring the FF fighting an army of Doombots? I know what you're thinking — this sounds like it could be a Marvel Studios film, and yes, it does sound more entertaining than the flop we ended up with. So what went wrong?
Writers Vs. Producers
Because of the disjointed nature of the film, it seems that at some point the producers lost faith in the direction it was taking. The first half of the film is actually promising, a slightly more grounded take on the FF's origin, which focusses a lot more on the characters. The problems arise after a title card that reads "one year later" appears and the film totally changes direction, rather than showing the characters dealing with their newfound powers and seeing them learn how to use them. This is a key part of any origin story.
Take Sam Raimi's Spider-Man as an example. After Peter Parker has been bitten by the spider, he wakes up and discovers his vision has improved and he has also developed muscles. His next day at school sees him getting his lunch stuck to his newly sticky hands and accidentally beating up the school bully. Fantastic Four offers none of this. The title card means that the audience rejoin the characters with full control of their powers, Sue and Johnny are both working to perfect their abilities while Ben has become a government agent:
This key arc in the characters' development is missed because of the intervention of the producers. It seemed that they had become scared of the vision Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank had for the film. It is almost as if they had decided to play it safe and try to make a more conservative approach to the film. This obviously didn't work.
The third act of the film is very rushed, to the point that the final battle in the film is actually the team's first conflict. Straight away they are plunged into battle against Doctor Doom and they manage to defeat him. Compare this to The Avengers and you will see that there is a big difference. During the scene when Loki is captured and interrogated, Black Widow manages to discover that Loki seeks to unleash the Hulk on the Helicarrier. This comes to fruition and the Avengers have to fight off both one of their own and Loki's invading forces. This first conflict galvanises the team and teaches them how to work together. There is logical path to follow.
It's a shame that the intervention of the producers led to Fantastic Four taking a massive change in direction, though this could be explained due to the time constraints they were working under. Fox had to release the film or the rights for the characters would revert to Marvel. Perhaps the original vision for the film would have taken too long to create so the producers felt they had to fast track the film. It is unfortunate that this led to a disappointing film. For many years Fantastic Four comics were the biggest seller in Marvel's output, so many fans are still clamoring for a film adaptation that does them justice. Marvel's first family was an integral part of many of the biggest events over the last 50 years. But thanks to Fox, they are completely absent from the MCU (and probably will be for some time to come).
Do you feel that the initial plan would have improved 2015's Fantastic Four, or do you think it is beyond help? Are the wishes of producers compromising the quality of movie storytelling? Let me know what you think in the comments!