This might sound like a severe understatement, but 20th Century Fox’s contractually obligated Fantastic Four reboot is not really performing to the expectations of anyone except perhaps those of us who have followed its troubled development for years and viewed the underwhelming trailers.
The studio’s latest attempt to launch their other major Marvel Comics property as a sequel-ready franchise to rival their X-Men series has been slaughtered by critics, pilloried by audiences, and right now, nothing short of the news that Fox has entered negotiations with Marvel Studios to retake ownership of the First Family of the House of Ideas’ cinematic destiny will satisfy the Fantastic Four’s furiously frothing fan base.
Kicked off by a hastily deleted tweet from the reboot’s director Josh Trank that revealed his original cut of Fantastic Four was radically different from what Fox ultimately released to theaters, the film’s already depressing box office fortunes have been plagued by a series of stunning developments that have torn away the veil of studio propaganda with impressive zeal. Trank’s battles with Fox execs began early in the project’s history and failed to desist as Fantastic Four went before the cameras.
The hair-curling backstage horror stories continue to surface, and the media fallout from Trank’s tweet compelled the young filmmaker to retain a high-powered lawyer just in case Fox decides to unleash their considerable legal wrath upon him.
One of the most vocal complaints directed at Trank’s grounded interpretation of the Marvel super-team has been the film’s noticeable lack of action set pieces. This could be attributed to the studio’s decision to cut the budget down to a rather thrifty $120 million (a lot of money, but for a major Hollywood studio’s summer tentpole blockbuster wannabe, it’s pretty cheap), but without some dazzling action sequences to punctuate the character-driven scenes, there was little point for this reboot’s existence other than for Fox to use it as an excuse to keep the rights from reverting back to Marvel.
One sequence that was hinted at in the trailers but found to be absent from the final cut in its intended form involved Jamie Bell‘s Ben Grimm, now in his heroic rock monster guise as the Thing, kicking ass and asking questions never for the good ol’ U.S. of A. It would have taken place after the one-year time jump that followed the Four getting their superpowers.
Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican has used interviews conducted with a dozen sources involved in the making of the reboot to reconstruct the sequence as Trank had initially conceived it:
A Chechen rebel camp in the wee hours of the night. There’s no explanation for where we are, but there are soldiers speaking a foreign language, and they are loading up some heavy-duty weaponry.
Crews are filling truck beds with the gear, preparing to mobilize – then a siren goes off. Everyone freezes, and one by one they turn their faces to the sky. A stealth bomber whispers by overhead, and a large object falls from it, streaking through the air at great speed.
The object – a bomb, a missile? – collides with the earth in the center of the camp, sending debris in all directions. The soldiers take cover, then tentatively emerge and walk toward the crater, where there is a giant pile of orange boulders.
Slowly, the rocks begin to move on their own, becoming arms, legs, a torso, a head …
This rock-figure lumbers out of the smoke, and the soldiers level their weapons – then open fire.
As The Thing lurches into view, bullets spark and ping off his impenetrable exterior.
Rather than some elegant, balletic action sequence, The Thing moves slowly and deliberately. He’s in no hurry. The storytelling goal was to show the futility of firepower against him as he casually demolishes the terrorists. It’s a blue-collar kind of heroism.
When it becomes clear this rock-beast cannot be stopped, the surviving Chechen rebels make a run for it – and that’s when a hail of gunfire finishes them off.
From the shadows of the surrounding forest, a team of Navy SEALS emerge with their guns drawn and smoking. The cavalry has arrived, but the enemy has already been subdued.
The film would then have shifted to a bird’s-eye view of the camp, an aerial shot showing waves of American soldiers flooding in to secure the base. Just when it appears the American soldiers may be ready to clash with the rock monster, The Thing gives them a solemn nod, and they clear a path. He lumbers past them, almost sadly, a heartsick warrior. Then he boards a large helicopter and is lifted away.
According to the EW article, sources close to Fox attribute Trank’s indecisiveness over this action scene resulted in its being deleted in the first place, but there are others who claim that the director wanted it in his movie from the beginning and even went as far as to create a “previsualization” of the sequence so that the production’s visual effects team could start their work bringing it to life.
Trank’s efforts to inject some heavy duty action into his movie were sadly for naught:
Late in production, when Fox executives realized they had a comic-book movie in dire need of action, sources sympathetic to Trank say they agreed to finance the scene – but Trank was not allowed to participate in the filming. As a result, the crew returned with footage shot in documentary hand-held style – which didn’t match the previsualization, or the planned digital effects, and also clashed with the visual style of the rest of the movie.
It was then that, according to sources close to Trank, “the exasperated director chose to kill the scene entirely.”
Surprisingly, Fantastic Four is still playing in theaters around the world. Check it out if you want, or read Adam Frazier’s recent review first and maybe that foolish urge will go away soon and you’ll realize there’s probably a better movie to watch on Netflix.