This article contains mild spoilers for 2015’s Fantastic Four movie.
Over the past day or so, news surfaced about Doctor Doom, the villain in the forthcoming Fantastic Four reboot. Actor Toby Kebbell, who plays him, revealed that his Doom would be very different from the one in the Marvel comics; the character is, he said, an “anti-social programmer” and blogger whose internet handle happens to be – you’ve guessed it – Doom.
Needless to say, this latest sliver of news hasn’t gone down especially well in some quarters, and comments sections on websites all over the world are full of jokes like “Fantastic 4Chan”. For Fox, this seems to be the latest in a string of poorly-received news stories, and all from a project which – on the face of it – should have a fair bit going for it: the studio and producers behind the X-Men movies – Simon Kinberg and Matthew Vaughn – and a director with an extremely good first feature under his belt (Josh Trank).
Yet somehow, next year’s Fantastic Four seems to inspire anger with just about every announcement that’s emerged from its production – not that all that much has really come out yet, when you really look back. So what do we really know about Fantastic Four so far?
Plans for a new Fantastic Four movie began in 2009, just two years after the release of Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. Like its predecessor, 2005’s The Fantastic Four, Rise Of The Silver Surfer had made money, but didn’t exactly set the world on fire either critically or financially. The decision was therefore made to start again from scratch, initially with Akiva Goldsman as producer and Michael Green hired as the screenwriter.
Things seemed to gather pace in 2012, when director Josh Trank came aboard. Trank had just directed Chronicle, a highly impressive debut that was like a found-footage fusion of Carrie, Akira. Shortly after, Matthew Vaughn and Simon Kinberg, who’d previously been involved in the X-Men franchise, were listed as producers, with Kinberg co-writing the script with Jeremy Slater.
Script rewrites continued through 2013 and into the start of this year, by which point the project – simply known as The Fantastic Four – had started to amass its cast. And it’s here that the first sparks of controversy began to emerge.
Kate Mara was cast as Susan Storm, Michael B Jordan as her younger brother Johnny Storm, Miles Teller as Reed Richards, and Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm – also known as The Thing. The initial ripple of consternation camefrom Kate Mara and Michael B Jordan being cast as siblings – for some, changing Johnny Storm’s ethnicity was already a step too far.
Then things started getting really weird.
At around the time of that casting news, in February this year, a Fantastic Four synopsis emerged. As you’d expect with a piece of news like this, it was quickly shared around the web, appearing on all kinds of movie and comic book sites, including this one. Then some lawyers working on behalf of Fox wrote to all the sites who shared that synopsis – including us – and threatened legal action if they didn’t take it down.
Oddly, Josh Trank then came forward and stated that the synopsis was a fabrication. “The only truth in that plot description is that there are four characters named Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny”, he said. It seems strange that lawyers working for Fox would go to so much trouble – that is, writing strongly-worded letters – to all those websites over some false information, particularly when said letter stated that, “It also spoils the theater experience for fans who do not want to know even the rough storyline beforehand”.
At any rate, filming got underway in the spring of this year, and ran through to August. And it was during filming that a few more morsels of information emerged from the project.
In June, Fox president of production Emma Watts revealed that The Fantastic Four would have a found-footage feel, just as Trank’s previous film Chronicle had. “It’s Josh, so it can’t not have that feel. That’s his talent, that what he does, and that’s what excites him about it”.
Simon Kinberg seemed to echo this sentiment at around the same time, when he described The Fantastic Four as “grounded” and “gritty,” and similar in tone to Chronicle and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man:
“It’s a much more grounded, gritty, realistic movie than the last couple movies. If I had to say, the tone of it would be somewhere on the spectrum between Spider-Man and Chronicle. The other movies were even further on the spectrum of being goofy and fun than Spider-Man.
For those worrying that the reboot will lose the playful nature of the Fantastic Four comics, Kinberg stated elsewhere that it would retain “a sort of optimism” and also the “dysfunctional family” dynamic between its hero quartet. He also revealed that the script would take inspiration from Mark Millar’s Ultimate Fantastic Four, which imagined a much younger take on the Marvel characters.
Unfortunately, some of Kate Mara’s statements in July didn’t exactly do much to keep fans of the comics on side. Speaking to Esquire, Mara revealed that she hadn’t read the comics, and was told that doing so “wasn’t necessary.”
“Well, actually he told us that we shouldn’t do it because the plot won’t be based on any history of anything already published,” Mara said. “So I chose to follow his instructions”.
While that latest nugget of information was sinking in, another strange thing happened. An image purporting to be from the set of The Fantastic Four, showing a bust of The Thing, appeared online, but was swiftly taken down again when Fox’s lawyers sent out more stern letters (we replaced our picture of The Thing with one of a scowling mushroom). An image of Toby Kebbell’s Doctor Doom (now known simply as Doom, of course) had a similarly brief existence.
All of this brings us more-or-less to the present, and Kebbell’s revelation that his character will be an “anti-social programmer” called Victor Domashev, not Victor von Doom. He also added that he liked “the lo-fi way he did it [directed],” describing the film’s tone as “ultra-real.” Once again, this latest description of a key character from the film was met with more than a little cynicism.
What’s most unusual about The Fantastic Four is just how little we’ve officially seen from its production. While its level of secrecy is refreshing in some ways, it also seems strange that Fantastic Four‘s creators haven’t tried to get fans on-side with a teaser trailer, a production still or a poster – anything to change the tone of internet discussions. Wouldn’t it be better to give potential moviegoers something tangible to discuss, rather than rumours, leaked (and swiftly taken down) images and awkward character descriptions from its stars?
Yet while many other major movies for next summer have already begun their marketing drive – Batman V Superman’s even been laying its stall out, and it’s not out until 2016 – nothing’s been seen from The Fantastic Four. In late October, when asked about the status of its first trailer, Kinberg said:
“I don’t actually know when it’s coming out, but I’ve seen all the footage from the movie. I was there for pretty much the whole shoot. It is a very different film from the others, and one that I think is very different from other superhero movies.”
We’ve read the argument that Fox could be waiting until the effects are ready before it puts out a Fantastic Four trailer – anything to avoid the negative reaction the Green Lantern trailer was met with, which appeared to contain shots with unfinished VFX. But given the reaction to the changes made to the character formerly known as Doctor Doom, Fox will surely be thinking of putting something out sooner rather than later.
We’ve heard repeatedly that this incarnation of Fantastic Four will be entirely different from the previous two films created within Fox, and possibly different from the stories from the comic books. That may yet prove to be a good thing, especially if the film can find a way to distinguish itself from what Marvel’s been doing over the past few years while also satisfying readers of the original stories.
The faster Fox can get Fantastic Four‘s fans on-side, the more time it has to build up an air of anticipation around the film, rather than suspicion.
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