The Big Picture

Fantastic Four (2015) had a promising concept but ended up being a complete failure due to a terrible script, odd casting choices, and studio meddling. The Fantastic Four franchise has never found success on the big screen, despite being popular in Marvel comics. Director Josh Trank and the cast faced numerous challenges during production, including budget cuts, script changes, and major action scenes being cut. The final result looked cheap and lacked believability, making it a tough watch. Josh Trank has since looked back on the film with mixed feelings.

There are blockbuster disasters, and then there’s Josh Trank‘s Fantastic Four (or Fant4stic, if you’re cool) from 2015 starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, and Michael B. Jordan. Both developed and released at the absolute height of the superhero movement, there is no reason that Fantastic Four should have failed… and yet here we are. Leading up to its release, people were stoked for a new take on Marvel’s first family, and understandably so. This film came out in the summer of 2015, a time in which superhero movies were all the rage, and then some. You couldn’t walk five feet without ending up in a line that stretched around a movie theater, waiting to be seated for a new Avengers or DC project. With Fantastic Four, we were promised a darker and more grounded portrayal of these classic Marvel characters, one that would keep them fresh and exciting for fans and newcomers alike. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly shake out that way.

The Fantastic Four Is Extremely Popular in Marvel Comics

Image via Marvel Comics

This is one of those films that misfired in just about every way possible. It had a terrible script, odd casting decisions, a promising up-and-coming director who unfortunately was paired with the wrong project, and more. But above all, there was a boatload of studio meddling. Yes, from both a critical and box office perspective, this reboot was a complete and utter failure. It’s a shame because, on paper, the influences and ideas for this movie honestly sounded pretty intriguing. Josh Trank has even been candid about the project in the years since, longing for fans to see the movie that he originally intended. Whether that would have actually been better, we’ll never know. All of that seems to be left behind, all the way back in 2015.

There was a time when the Fantastic Fourwere some of Marvel’s most popular superheroes, but their live-action films have never exactly taken off with moviegoers. So while comic book fans are likely familiar with this team, they aren’t exactly Marvel’s number one property on the big screen and need a bit of brushing up for general audiences. The Fantastic Four is made up of Reed Richards (the elastic Mr. Fantastic), Sue Storm (the Invisible Woman, which explains itself), Johnny Storm (the fully engulfed Human Torch), and Ben Grimm (a pile of rocks better known as The Thing).

They kicked off Stan Lee‘s first successful title for the Silver Age of comics, which is generally considered to have run from 1956 to 1970. This colorful cast of characters often ventured out on cosmic adventures, battled the likes of the metal-faced Doctor Doom and big-headed Galactus, and saved the Earth more times than anyone can count. They’re a bit sillier than many of Marvel’s more popular characters, but they’ve managed to keep going after decades upon decades. In fact, they will be joining the MCU under the direction of Matt Shakman. (But don’t forget about John Krasinski‘s take on Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.)

The Fantastic Four Has Never Quite Landed for Moviegoers

Before 2015’s Fantastic Four, the titular team had already been brought to live-action on three different occasions. There’s the failed 1990s Roger Corman production, as well as the two mid-2000s Tim Story films, Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Each of these had the typical light tone of the comic books, but none of them took the world by storm. Shoot, the ’90s movie wasn’t ever officially released! So once Josh Trank entered the picture, he was ready to do something new with these characters. Early word was that his reboot would be wearing a David Cronenberg influence, with the movie telling a story of characters whose bodies are changing without them knowing how to react. Sounds like a bit of an odd angle to go at with this particular team of positive and fun superheroes, but sure! Why not? I can get down with a new take!

Marvel’s Fantastic Four Doesn’t Make Sense as a Gritty Drama

What ended up coming to pass was a studio (20th Century Fox) that did not trust the artists that they hired at all. Casting approvals and script finalizations were delayed, the budget was hacked away by tens of millions of dollars, and major changes to the film’s story were being forced as filming began. Multiple major action scenes were cut from the film at the last minute, too, with the final edit of the movie being taken away from Trank. Studio interference drove the director to allegedly behave erratically on set, making production a total nightmare. Why studios don’t simply trust the people that they hire, we’ll never know. Word is that Fox wanted even bigger names for their titular team, but Trank got what he wanted in Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell. On paper, that sounds like the cast for a great movie. Once you actually look at who they’re playing, things get a bit hairier.


Paul McCartney Almost Made a Silver Surfer Rock Opera

“A fanfare of one thousand electric guitars.”

Teller could be a good Reed Richards, but in 2015, he was too young and a bit too cool. Kate Mara’s persona is a bit subdued for the likes of Sue Storm. Jamie Bell just feels totally miscast as Ben Grimm, lacking the age and loudmouth nature of that character. Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch is the only one that feels like a solid choice, given his age and jock sensibilities. Racist internet trolls had to throw a huge fit and ruin the hype though, all because Johnny Storm is typically portrayed as a white character. The good side to this is that an artist got what they wanted. The bad side is… these picks are a bit odd. Maybe they would have been better if production wasn’t so troubled, but we’ll never know that for sure. Even Trank himself is an odd pick for the movie, given the only other film he had made was the dour found footage film, Chronicle. That being said, this was the beginning of the practice that we still see, where young and exciting filmmakers are ushered into bigger franchises after previously only making one small movie. Trank fit the bill, so Fox took a chance on him… only to backpedal after it was too late.

Because the budget was hacked to pieces, the movie ended up looking incredibly cheap. None of the action is believable, the green screen worlds look atrocious, and costumes, wigs, and The Thing’s CGI all look like Halloween costumes. For most other superhero movies, this would be a huge problem, but the 2015 Fantastic Four isn’t all that interested in being a typical superhero movie. A few of its body horror moments do actually work, like when Reed Richards first wakes up in a lab after having gained his elastic powers, or when Doctor Doom (Toby Kebbell) walks around a military base, telepathically blowing up soldiers’ heads. These moments don’t require flashy special effects. Instead, they rely more on their actors, as well as the tone and filmmaking style that Trank actually seemed interested in chasing. These bright spots are few and far between, though. By and large, Fantastic Four is a tough watch.

Josh Trank Has Looked Back on His Marvel Mishap With Mixed Feelings

Image via Marvel Entertainment

This was all made more fun by the fact that just before the movie was released, Josh Trank took to Twitter and said “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.” He deleted the Tweet soon after. However, in 2019, Trank hopped on Letterboxd and elaborated on his thoughts. In this review of his own movie, Trank said “The movie is ALRIGHT. I was expecting it to be much worse than it was. I literally haven’t seen it since like two weeks before it came out, and I was in a heavily fucking traumatized state of mind. Why? Eh, save that for another time.” He went on to praise the cast but then questioned whether or not they ended up making the movie that they initially hoped to. Don’t get your hopes up for a “Trank Cut” either, because he even goes on to shoot the likelihood of that down. The review basically wraps up with Trank recognizing the difficult circumstances that he was facing going into his second movie and seems to have a bit of peace about it all. Given what he was dealt, Trank deserves that at the very least.

Still, the movie only grossed $167 million on a reported $120 million production budget, so sequel plans were scrapped. Yes, a Fantastic Four 2 was planned for a June 2017 release date, but that got axed soon after its predecessor failed to reign in audiences. This was at a time when superhero movies were regularly and effortlessly grossing a billion dollars, so scoring a little over a tenth of that was not a good look. At the time of release, Trank was even signed on to make a Star Wars film but left that project after this experience to work on something smaller. It’s amazing how much can fall apart in the wake of one movie’s missteps.

In the end, on paper, Fantastic Four is a movie that sounds like it should have worked. Odd casting choices, a director who wasn’t exactly right for the job, and a mountain of studio interferences made that an impossibility, though. Even if the filmmaker and his cast didn’t perfectly fit the Fantastic Four mold, Fox should have just left it all alone. Surely they would have made a better movie than this. Let’s hope that, if it could be anything, that Fant4stic will forever be a reminder of why studios should leave their artists alone.

Fantastic Four is available to watch on Max in the U.S.

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Fantastic Four (2015)

Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

 This movie was a dis4ster!  Read More