Josh Trank, Fantastic Four, and the blame game

Fantastic Four is a film with problems - but that doesn't mean the Hollywood system should chew up and spit out its director.

Even those who enjoyed the new reboot of Fantastic Four would more than likely agree that all wasn’t well with the film. Its last act in particular has the hallmarks of a compromised committee-driven reshoot, and in the absence of firm information on just what happened behind the scenes – a story that we may not find out for some time to come – the usual internet game of filling in the blanks is well underway.

The known knowns: reviews have been less than enthusiastic. Box office projections have been revised downwards. Everything else? It’s a little trickier to pinpoint thus far.

The stories we’ve heard suggest, simply, that Fox lost confidence in the take on Fantastic Four that Josh Trank was pushing for. That at first, it was eager to make the film that he put forward, but began to have doubts once the project was underway.

The catalyst for said doubts seemed to be the adverse internet reaction to story details that emerged online. If you remember, a synopsis for the movie at one stage found its way onto the internet, that was roundly debunked. That was until lawyers acting for 20th Century Fox contacted websites that had run it – including this one – and send a legal takedown letter to them.

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All of a sudden, it seemed what had been debunked was actually true. After all, why threaten legal action otherwise?

That notwithstanding, by this stage Trank and his team were well into making the film, but it seems that Fox saw the adverse reaction to the new take on Fantastic Four, and decided things needed to change. Simon Kinberg, who has been pivotal to the firm’s recent X-Men successes, was one of those on board to help. Alterations were clearly ordered, seemingly from the studio side.

Chatting to Collider, Toby Kebbell – who plays Dr Doom in the new Fantastic Four – confirmed that changes were made as a result of the internet backlash. You may remember that his character was set to be a computer hacker by the name of Victor Domashev. Reshoots changed this, and we’d guess other facets of the character, to name him Victor Von Doom again.

As is common with big movies, there were further reshoots for Fantastic Four, but again, we’re hearing they’re not as extensive as had been reported in some quarters. That said, the film clearly was a different beast at one stage. Director Josh Trank, who has been caught in the crossfire of some ugly internet chatter, tweeted and quickly deleted the following…

It doesn’t sound like the last year has been much fun, for either Trank or Fox.

The studio has been down this road on a Marvel property before, of course, when relations between it and director Gavin Hood were said to have been testing over X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But again, the argument to that is that filmmaking should sometimes be about battles and conflict. If everyone is agreeing, something’s usually wrong.

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But still, the particularly worrying side of this is that it feels as though cinema is moving into dangerous territory, when the direction of an in-production film can be influenced so notably by internet reaction. Where blogs, articles on film sites, comments, and social media reaction, can lead to a creative change. There’s a reason why filmmakers make films, and people like ourselves write websites. They’re different disciplines, and storytelling in particular is a talent that not that many people have in abundance.

I’ve read pieces over the last few days that suggest that Fantastic Four‘s muddled last third is the result of studio interference, while others have laid the blame at Trank’s door. The truth, of course, is we don’t know for certain. There are certainly clues, but the rush to conclusions at the moment seems to be being done with a scarcity of solid facts.

I do think that Josh Trank should be given some slack though. We’ve written before about how directors off the back of one smaller-scale success are being plucked for major blockbusters, and we’ve seen a successful conclusion to such a story with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World earlier this summer.

With Fantastic Four, the mechanic clearly didn’t work as well. And what’s particularly depressing is seeing – again, in some quarters – an eagerness to chew up and spit out a man who’s already proven that he can direct an impressive movie.

Is he, as some have suggested, a one trick pony? Again, no idea. Notwithstanding the fact that having one good trick is no small achievement in itself, it won’t be until he’s made three or four films that we’ve a better idea of the range of Trank’s work.

But right now, he’s a human being, seeing the film he’s worked on for the past couple of years being torn apart in front of his eyes. I can’t help but feel for him there. He surely deserves a little bit of slack. As was pointed out to us on Twitter on Friday, what if social media had existed in the era of Alien 3? Would a young David Fincher have been ripped apart by the internet, and thus never made Fight Club, Seven, Gone Girl,and other greats?

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Fox, one way or another, will probably admit that things went wrong here. That whatever moves it made to protect its substantive investment didn’t work. Where this leaves its plans for Fantastic Four 2 remain to be seen.

For now, what we have is a situation nobody was after: a Fantastic Four reboot that nobody seems particularly happy with. The studio screened it late, which is rarely a sign of confidence. Trank’s Tweet suggests that the final cut wasn’t anywhere close to his. And perhaps worst of all, us mere punters, who fork out to see the film, are the ones that have been let down.

Nobody is a winner here. But the ongoing rush to be judge and jury doesn’t help either.

We also went beyond the review on Fantastic Four in our latest podcast…