The Six Year Death of Fantastic Four, Explained

By  · Published on August 8th, 2015

20th Century Fox

Fantastic Four’s release this weekend is the climax of long, molasses-slow car wreck. Naysayers and rumor-mongers have been anticipating the crash for years. Turns out that yep, they were right on the ball. The phrase “colostomy bag of a movie” is not one to be thrown around lightly.

But to make things convenient for everyone, we’ve assembled all the bad press surrounding Fantastic Four into one easily digestible timeline. It’s our chronicling (sorry) of the doom (sorry) of this summer’s final superhero venture.

March 9, 2009: It Begins

Can you believe we’ve been dancing this dance for six years now? That’s when it all began- in early 2009, just two years after Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer hit theaters, the first rumors broke (from an anonymous source on IESB- via MTV) that Fox was already planning a reboot. The words “edgier,” “mature” and “dark” were thrown around. Although it was still 2009, and I don’t think people were as fatigued over dark and edgy superheroes as they are now.

Five months later in August, Fox would confirm the reboot.

January 13, 2012: Josh Trank Approaches Fantastic Four

Three years of mishmash follow (Kiefer Sutherland as the Thing, anyone?) and now we’ve got the first mention of Josh Trank alongside the Fantastic Four reboot. Fox was very pleased with his work on Chronicle (still weeks away from release at the time) and planned to give him the chance for a similar film on a bigger scale.

Variety notes, just as they did when confirming the reboot, that Fox will hold onto the Fantastic Four rights so long as they continue to pump out Fantastic Four movies, forever. This is an ill omen.

November 12, 2013: Fantastic Four Gets a Release Date Bump (And Then Another)

Fox originally set Fantastic Four for a March 6, 2015 release date, but in 2013 they bumped it back to June 19. This, ostensibly, is a good sign; June is much more competitive territory than March. At this point there was still no bad press surrounding Fantastic Four. I’m guessing Fox figured their Trank/First Family combo would be a very solid contender.

A year later, Fox pushed it back again, this time to August 7. This, ostensibly, is not a good sign; August is typically much lighter territory than June. We’ve also reached the point where Collider, in reporting on the story, is commenting on the bizarre absence of any Fantastic Four promotional material from Fox. They’re still cautiously optimistic, though.

May 2, 2013: The Human Torch Might Be Black and the Internet Explodes

Another year passes and we’ve got our first solid casting news- Michael B. Jordan taking “multiple meetings” with Fox about playing Johnny Storm. It made sense at the time. Jordan was a super-hot commodity after Fruitvale Station and he already had a solid relationship with Trank after Chronicle.

It was also our very first Fantastic Four media shitstorm. Angry comic book fans derided the casting choice, en masse, for not having a comic-accurate lighter skin tone. And for the now-necessary inclusion that either Johnny or Sue had to be adopted, once Kate Mara joined the film.

I have no idea how this racial-swapping outrage stuff works. Black Human Torch? People get pissed off. Black Electro? No one cares. Black Heimdall? So pissed. Kingpin? Crickets.

Fan rage boiled over in message boards and comment sections for a few years, but seems to have lessened into a light simmer after Jordan’s “the hell with you” essay and continued approval from Stan Lee.

March 14, 2014: Fox (Allegedly) Tries To Throw Out The Whole Damn Movie

Here’s our first little inkling that maybe- just maybe- Fantastic Four is headed for disaster. Last year, Bleeding Cool reported that Fox was wildly displeased with Trank’s Fantastic Four and wanted to jettison all of it. Fire Trank. Shred the script. Replace at least a chunk of the cast, given the mention of “casting issues” in Bleeding Cool’s report.

It was never confirmed, but for what it’s worth, Bleeding Cool stuck by their story, hard. Screen Crush followed up with some high-level folks at Fox, who said the whole thing was BS. Bleeding Cool didn’t care and asserted their own source- just as high on the ladder, allegedly- was in the right.

April 20, 2014: Fantastic Four Will Indeed Be “Gritty” and “Realistic”

As was rumored way back in 2009, Simon Kinberg confirmed at Wondercon 2014 that the new Fantastic Four would be all brooding and scowly.

“This will definitely be a more realistic, a more gritty, grounded telling of the Fantastic Four, Kinberg stated to the crowd, after championing the film’s “unique tone” (something of a disagreement there).

Just as fun, Gregory Ellwood begins his piece on the news with a reassurance- apparently, coming from Kinberg himself- that Trank’s Fantastic Four is totally happening and is not at all the horror show that the rumors make it out to be.

20th Century Fox

July 14, 2014: Kate Mara Never Read A Single Comic (And Didn’t Have To) for Fantastic Four

Speaking to Esquire Mexico (and run through Google Translate by ComicBookMovie), Mara caused quite a few fan-stomachs to turn when discussing her role as Sue Storm.

“I’ve never been a fan of comics, I’ve never actually read one. I was going to for this movie but the director said it 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. So I chose to follow his instructions.”

This is not a big deal at all. Bryan Singer didn’t want anyone reading comics on the set of the original X-Men, lest some other writer’s interpretation of the character mess with his own (the cast smuggled ’em in anyways, but still). And plenty of performers aren’t comic aficionados before getting cast in a Marvel movie.

Mara even clarified her comment, claiming she said that the film wasn’t based on a specific comic storyline, but still based on the comics in general. Nonetheless, it became yet another layer of bad vibes surrounding Fantastic Four.

July 25, 2014: First Fantastic Four Set Photos Leak Online

As filming on Fantastic Four was underway, somebody with finely-honed iPhone skills nabbed photos of the Thing, Doctor Doom and a tiny chunk of the Human Torch’s left hand. The general public seemed fine with the updated versions of Ben Grimm and the visible 7% of Johnny Storm, but Doom was met with rejection. In his pre-viz state, he looked like a weird mummy in head-to-toe plastic wrap.

October 13, 2014: Marvel Cancels All “Fantastic Four” Comics

At 2014’s NY Comic-Con, Marvel confirmed (as had been rumored in the past) that they’d no longer be producing “Fantastic Four” comics of any kind. Their reasons at the time weren’t 100% clear. Was it an outright siege tactic against Fox? Was it just about the comic line’s dwindling sales figures?

It wasn’t until this year that the truth came out: yeah, it was totally the siege thing. Because Marvel also forbid writers from creating new X-Men members, stripped the Fantastic Four and X-Men from their t-shirts, posters, toys, statuettes and have been hard at work replacing Fox-owned Mutants with Disney-owned Inhumans in the Marvel comic universe.

Do your kids want official, movie-licensed Fantastic Four toys? Too bad. Maybe they can clank a couple of empty Fantastic Four soda cans together.

November 10, 2014: “Doctor Doom” Is Just, Like, His Blog Handle, Man

In an unrelated interview for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Toby Kebbell made the mistake of telling Collider exactly what Trank had planned for Doctor Doom:

“He’s Victor Domashev, not Victor Von Doom in our story. And I’m sure I’ll be sent to jail for telling you that. The Doom in ours ‐ I’m a programmer. Very anti-social programmer. And on blogging sites I’m ‘Doom’.”

Again, the outrage fires burned bright. Bright enough that Trank and Fox actually went back, scrubbed out every utterance of the word “Domashev” and shot a quickie closeup of “Von Doom” printed on a piece of paper. Problem solved, I guess.

November 26, 2014: Josh Trank (Allegedly) Trashes His Rental House and Crew While On Drugs

By far the nastiest rumor on here, a poster on the Tiger Droppings message board (it’s for the LSU Tigers football team) alleged that Trank was a terror while on set in Louisiana, destroying the rental house he was staying in (on Fox’s dime), mistreating the crew and “[showing] up to set late or so high he couldn’t speak almost everyday. Some days he didn’t show up at all.”

Some of which (the property damage, at least) would be semi-confirmed in a THR piece, a few months later.

January 15, 2015: Fantastic Four Goes Back for Reshoots

Once again, Bleeding Cool reported that Fox was not thrilled with the Fantastic Four Trank had given them. It was “a mess,” there was “major disquiet,” and Fox was demanding reshoots to the tune of several million dollars.

A day later, Kinberg clarified the situation- yes, there would be reshoots, but only for three or four days. Nothing major. Along with another round of compliments, praise and seriously, it’s not the disaster you think it is.

January 26, 2015: The Fantastic Four Media Blackout Ends

Actual good news! Despite zero official information- stills, clips, promotional images, synopses, etc.- about Fantastic Four in the years since it was greenlit, Trank granted Collider (and the world) an image of Jordan in an honest-to-god superhero costume. He even sat down to discuss the movie in earnest.

According to Trank, the total blackout up until that point was “consciously decided” upon by Fox and himself. Which echoes what Kinberg first said (that they were waiting to finalize the visual effects) back in October.

The first trailer dropped the very next day, and was actually pretty solid. Very Interstellar.

April 27, 2015: Reed Richards Doesn’t Actually Stretch. Wait. Yes He Does.

Here’s a quick mini-controversy that blew over in less than a day. Hitfix’s Donna Dickens noticed that the official Fantastic Four site included a very odd fact about Reed Richards: he doesn’t actually stretch. Rather, per his character bio, he “can warp the space around him, and appear to stretch his body.”

Fans were very rankled. For a couple hours, at least. Then Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny got in contact with Kinberg, who explained the warping stuff was just a gritty, grounded write-around for why a dude can stretch like taffy. And in the movie, he’ll just stretch like taffy. Eventually Fox amended the site and now Reed stretches like he always did.

May 1, 2015: The Hollywood Reporter Slams Josh Trank

Just after Trank announced he wouldn’t be directing a Star Wars Anthology film after all, THR published an in-depth piece on all the behind-the-scenes crud from Fox’s Fantastic Four shoot.

Crud like Trank’s dogs causing nearly $100,000 in property damage (just as those LSU guys said). And that Trank was “erratic” and “very isolated.” And that Kinberg, producer Hutch Parker and last-minute hire Steven Rivkin had to come together and finish Fantastic Four in Trank’s absence.

According to a THR source, Trank was “like one of these kids who comes to the NBA with all the talent and none of the character-based skills to handle it. There’s equipment he doesn’t yet have.”

A month later, Trank and Kinberg fought back against the THR piece, Trank arguing that his three pugs and a Boston terrier couldn’t possibly accrue that much damage, and Kinberg calling the years of backlash against Trank “surreal and unfair.”

May 23, 2015: Matthew Vaughn Definitely Didn’t Do Any Fantastic Four Reshoots

Superhero News broke two stories in May– that Fantastic Four wouldn’t be in 3D after all, and that producer Matthew Vaughn, not Trank, directed all those previous reshoots.

The 3D thing proved true, but Trank stepped in on Twitter to denounce the second rumor, adding that he’s never even met Vaughn in person. Still, the Fantastic Four shitstorm swelled just a little bit bigger.

June 23, 2015: Denny’s Unleashes its “Slamtastic 4” Menu

Behold: the true demise of Fantastic Four. June 23 was the first day you could walk into a Denny’s and order any of their six Fantastic Four-themed dishes, including the “Thing Burger” and “Fantastic Four-Cheese Omelette.” Screen Crush’s Matt Singer walked into a Denny’s and ordered all six. He’s published other things since then, indicating that he didn’t die from doing so.

You should absolutely read Singer’s play-by-play of what it’s like to nearly OD on breakfast meat. Then, deride Denny’s and its stupid Thing Burger, which is named after a Jewish superhero yet includes bacon and mixes milk and meat. He’s seconds away from eating one in the commercial. This isn’t right at all.

July 12, 2015: Kate Mara and Jamie Bell Were at Comic-Con, and No One Cared

This wasn’t revealed until months later, but the day after Fox’s Fantastic Four presentation at this year’s Comic-Con, Mara and Jamie Bell wanted to meet some Fantastic Four fans in person. So they walked out amongst the crowds to get a coffee. And presumably to get recognized, and then hang out with some comic junkies.

Says Mara: “not one person…not one person noticed us.”

This is the movie equivalent of a pile of dead canaries outside a coal mine.

July 27, 2015: Fantastic Four Gets the “It’s Going To Suck” Press Embargo

Or maybe this is. New York Magazine/Vulture editor Kyle Buchanan tweeted another sign of certain doom, just a week before Fantastic Four’s release: that Fox’s press embargo on the film would lift the day before it comes out. Near-universally, this is only something that happens when someone’s expecting a movie to take a critical beating.

FANTASTIC FOUR embargo lifts… 4pm PST the day before the movie comes out. Hmm. (That’s for online. Print embargo lifts day of release.)

— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) July 28, 2015

Although after the embargo news broke, Fox quickly moved it one day earlier.

August 5, 2015: Miles Teller is a Giant Dick, Says Esquire

In what was almost surely meant to give a press boost to Fantastic Four, Miles Teller did an in-depth profile with Esquire. That profile was not positive. At all. Here it is, if you’re curious.

I went through the whole thing- the piece outright calls him a “dick” four times, mentions his “dickishness” twice and makes one overt reference to his actual, anatomical “dick” (plus a second time with “cock”). More than anything, the piece is about his physical appearance and his bro-like qualities, like referring to Joaquin Phoenix, who he’s never met, as “Joaq.” Apparently his agent does that constantly and he picked it up out of habit.

After it was published, Teller (and later, his three Fantastic Four teammates) all derided the Esquire piece.

August 7, 2015: Josh Trank Finally Bad-Mouths Fantastic Four

I very much doubt this is the last we’ll hear of the Fantastic Four hate-parade, but given that it happened on Friday, it’s the last one we have for right now. Trank, in a moment of realness, tweeted this:

“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.”

Then he deleted it, but not before the entire world grabbed a screencap:

Eventually, someone plied with enough booze and/or frustration will gush about what really happened with Fantastic Four. Until then, the last six years are a solid enough explanation for the cinematic colostomy bag we ended up with.

I greatly look forward to whatever Fox is planning for Fantastic Four 2, which they locked into their schedule a year and a half ago.