Cultural Junkdrawer – ‘Fantastic Four’ – What Went Wrong Part 1: Giant Mutant Killer Bees!

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Well, it’s come and gone; the Fantastic Four reboot hit theaters this weekend and ended up with about a $26 million opening. Falling far short of the studio’s projected take; even losing out to Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation in its second week. In an age where Superhero movies are the dominant species of the blockbuster movie landscape, not having a tremendous opening is perceived as a failure (even Ant Man’s $58 million dollar opening had some grumblings from the more cynical corners). The opening Fantastic Four had requires a visit to the thesaurus for descriptive words related to “Flop”.

While not Catwoman or Batman and Robin level of bad, the general consensus is that the movie is, at best, dull. Dull; the ONE thing a movie about super powered beings fighting evil where the world hangs in the balance shouldn’t be. But let’s be honest here; there has been a dark cloud hanging over this production from the get-go. I believe the proper term is “Bad Buzz” and the new FF has had it like a swarm of angry mutant killer bees since day one. Some bad buzz has been deserved, some has been due to bad decisions, some is the result of a dog-pile mentality that permeates our culture in general and what passes for entertainment journalism in specific. Maybe this project was doomed from the start. Maybe, if the circumstances and choices were different we’d have a great movie on our hands. Only the Watcher knows for sure (yes, I know Uatu is gone, it was a good line, shut up). Instead I’ll just have to go over the events leading up to this weekend and try to form an evenhanded and clear-eyed picture.

I’m going to preface this with the fact that I have been a set electrician (and occasional grip in non-union days) for movies, television, music videos, playmate of the year profiles, and other projects working in the film/video based medium for over twenty years now. The day to day weirdness that is a film crew’s life is just standard operating procedure; giant twenty foot wide fireballs lose interest when there is fresh pizza being put out. All night in a metal basket eighty feet in the air is a good excuse to get some writing done. Martin Sheen helps you move set decorations. Things like that. But I can tell you this – the day to day task of mounting a production is Olympian (and at the same time Sisyphean) in its scope. A wide array of people of all different temperaments and life experience have to gather together, usually at 6:00am Monday morning, drink bad coffee, quickly scarf down a breakfast burrito, then hop in a van to go do and witness pretend weird shit for twelve to fourteen hours.

Even in the best of circumstances there is a constant fight against chaos, confusion, and entropy and that’s all before the first shot of the day. Experienced crews can mitigate this but bad weather, internal politics, personality conflicts and plain ole clumsiness can create unanticipated variables. Josh Trank hasn’t done himself many favors in this timeline but I have sympathy for a guy thrown into a sharknado tank with little or no experience to anchor him. Going from directing Chronicle, a $12 million budgeted found footage flick with zero expectations to Fantastic Four, budgeted at ten times that amount with Fox looking to start another tent-pole on par with the X-Men (front loaded with all the studio intrigue, meddling, and wankery that implies) would roughly be the equivalent of someone saying to you “Hey, I like how you drive your 98’ Chevy Impala. Here is an M1 Abrams tank, go pick up the kids at soccer practice!” You might be able to pull it off but there is bound to be collateral damage.

It pulls a little to the left so watch out for pot-holes… and whole villages.

It pulls a little to the left so watch out for pot-holes… and whole villages.

In short, movies are big unwieldy machines that could fly apart for any number of reasons. One of those reasons being constant scrutiny by the media and fans at pretty much every stage of the process. Doubly so for comic book properties.

With that out of the way here we go…

2005, 2007 – Fox’s first stab at comic’s first family. Some fans have never quite gotten over these movies or forgiven Fox for them. For all their short comings there is, at least, a goofy sense of fun to them. Mostly though the bar is set pretty low for the reboot to overcome.

August 2012 – Marvel offers Fox an extension to their Daredevil license in trade for regaining the rights to the Fantastic Four (along with Silver Surfer and Galactus). Fox refuses possibly thinking “They can have Daredevil back. Nobody can make that property work anyway. We tried with BEN AFFLECK for Chrissakes!” At this time Josh Trank is developing aa FF reboot.

May 2013 – Michael B. Jordan is cast as Johnny Storm. Reactions from the most depressingly racist to concerns about “Screwing with established characters!” flood social media. None but a few seem to recall that Heimdal AND Nick Fury were originally white in the comics. Michael B Jordan might not have years of cinematic bad-assery to his name like, Sam and Idris, but he’s a great actor and a true fan of the Human Torch. Jordan is getting the best reviews of the cast and has been nothing but a class act the entire time. In retrospect this was one of the truly good decisions made in the process. At the time, though the grumbling started.

March 2014 – Rumors surface on Bleeding cool from a “Well connected source” that Fox wants to boot Trank, dump the script he wrote with Simon Kinberg, AND get rid of the cast. Six months before shooting is to start. Hmmm, studio doesn’t like the director, script or cast but if cameras don’t start rolling by a deadline rights go back to Marvel. This, of course, coming from a major comic news site just adds fuel to the fire.

April 2014 – Co-scripter Simon Kinberg uses the dreaded words “Gritty” and “Realistic” to describe the script. “Gritty and realistic” is good for say… Batman, a guy swinging from cables fighting street crime, but for a team with a guy made of orange rocks? He is apparently unaware that these two words are loaded weapons filled with cliché bullets, strange for a scriptwriter. Somewhere, shortly thereafter, he became aware because the next interview he adds “…but still fun.” There might’ve been a time when this slip up would’ve been breezed over. That time no longer exists. Those firmly settled in the “They don’t understand the property” camp have another talking point.

July 2014 – Kate Mara, for some reason doing an interview for Esquire Latin America, says Trank told the cast not to bother reading the comic. “He told us that we shouldn’t do it because the plot won’t be based on any history of anything already published.” Radar goes up in the fan community because: 1 – the statement lends even more credence to the “They don’t give a shit about the source material!” naysayers. A bad move when Marvel studios is killing the box office by honoring the source material. 2 – The statement is misguided at best because the plot is a form of the Ultimate Fantastic Four origin co-written by Mark Millar, a man that Fox studios is paying an ass-load of money to guide their Marvel properties. Are people not talking to one another down at Galaxy Way? Was Millar grabbing some Haggis down at the local Scottish deli at the time? Representatives for Mara try to put a Band-Aid on a now festering wound by revising her statement with EW on-line.

September 2014 – Two months into principle photography Fantastic Four is moved from a June release date to what has been traditionally considered the summer movie dumping ground of August. Not too damning in of itself (Guardians of the Galaxy, last year’s Box office silver medal, was released in August) but coming from a production that doesn’t have anything in the “win” column and many, many vocal fans feverishly searching for signs of weakness, its viewed as a vote of no confidence.

October 2014 – Marvel comics cancels Fantastic Four comic. Paired with the “No more mutants” decree Marvel appears to be declaring war on Fox.

November 2014 – Fox probably considers, too late, to fund some workshops for the cast on talking about the movie’s plot points. At least a freggin memo kids…

Toby Kebbel, who is playing Doctor Doom in this reboot, says this during a Collider interview “”He’s Victor Domashev, not Victor Von Doom in our story. I’m a programmer. Very anti-social programmer. And on blogging sites I’m ‘Doom.'”

Social media hums with responses ranging from derision to outrage to “I told you so!” At this point the bad buzz has Juggernaut momentum. Nobody I know of even tries to make some snarky connection to Doom’s new origin and the on-line tormentors bludgeoning a movie that nobody has seen a frame of.

OK; HOW can Doom be screwed up so many times? He’s an egomaniacal blow hard with a bad attitude and whole country to exploit. He is what most bad guys aspire to! I’m talking posters up in villain college dorm rooms between that one of Bob Marley smoking a huge spliff and Al Pachino as Scarface! He’s like Donald Trump except with better hair, a metal mask, and the chops to back-up his boasts. Like Kim Jong Un but interesting! Of all the tough points to sell in a Fantastic Four movie Doom shouldn’t be one of them. Yet somehow a Megalomaniac with monstrous intellect and resources somehow isn’t even on the table.

Late November 2014 – The bad buzz starts coming from places that don’t usually provide them – the crew. Word leaks out about Trank acting erratically on set “Trank showed up to set late or so high he couldn’t speak almost every day. Some days he didn’t show up at all. He treated crew terribly.” There are also reports of Trank trashing the house he was living in during the shoot.

As I’ve said, I’m crew. I didn’t work on FF, since it was shot in Louisiana, but I DO know crew that work down there. And I had heard such talk here in LA when an ass-load of reshoots were going on earlier this year. When I contacted these people to verify any of the rumors and to also get a bead on if crews down there might be prone to talking shit I got this: “Trank wasn’t allowed to talk to the cast without a studio rep in attendance.” With others supporting the impression that he was “A disaster”. I can imagine Trank feeling straitjacketed and ill-equipped to handle the pressures of a giant project collapsing around him. He was also bearing the brunt of the ill will on the internet. Still, other directors have had to deal with similar situations: Del Toro, Fincher, Singer… shit even Burton! Even with Fox possibly making this a self-fulfilling prophecy; no pass on this one, Josh.

December 2014 – Even the more professional social media is acknowledging the “Bad buzz” perpetually hanging over this project. Legitimizing its credibility even further. Just ask Birthmoviesdeath editor Devin Faraci.

January 15th 2015 – Damming with faint praise an editor on the film says about the silence from the marketing department “I really have no idea! In my personal opinion, the movie isn’t a complete trainwreck.” Reshoots start, this is about the time I hear loose talk about the chaotic state of the film.

January 17th 2015 – An anonymous executive (unclear if it is a Fox exec it should be noted) tells Bleeding Cool that the film is “A mess”. Bleeding cool also gets wind of Fox considering cutting their losses entirely.

SEE YOU THURSDAY WITH THE SECOND EXCITING INSTALLMENT:
The first trailer is met with yawns!
Marvel and Sony join forces!
Studio execs compare notes, contracts with Satan!
Bryan Singer points away from the widely mocked Apocalypse picture circulating around!
DEADPOOL!

 

 

Anytime Costumes

One Response

  1. Michael P. Shipley August 14, 2015 Reply

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