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Geekly Mailbag: Fantastic Four talkback

What happened?

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Fantastic Four is not the worst superhero movie ever. Not by a long shot. That honor still belongs to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which deserves extra negative credit for the sheer quantity of possibilities wasted. XMOW doesn’t know what to do with Deadpool, Gambit, the possibility of immortality, or the notion of a warrior who fought in every battle of the 20th century: It is a Wolverine movie where Wolverine is some dude named Jimmy who just happens to have claws, and it is a Hugh Jackman movie that is fundamentally incapable of making Hugh Jackman seem even remotely charming, which counts as some kind of crime against humanity.

But XMOW is bad in an acceptable, mediocre way. It is forgettable. Nobody will ever forget Fantastic Four: Not the behind-the-scenes drama, not the horrible box office, not the decision to wait an hour to give anyone superpowers, not anything. Last week, I vaguely defended the original mid-2000s Fantastic Four films, before trying to understand what happened with this new movie. Readers responded with their own theories.

With all the speculation about the new Fantastic Four movie and its failures–including your own excellent article–I feel like no one is questioning whether or not the fans made this happen. That is to say modern comic book movie fans are pretty sharp, and most fans of this property would rather see it in Marvel’s hands and part of the MCU. So if you were lukewarm on seeing this film anyway, wouldn’t that be enough? I remember fans calling for similar boycotts of Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Sony was shrewd enough to strike a deal with Marvel and give us what we want. Fox may not even have enough leverage to do that now, and Marvel might just get the characters back for cheap (and the MCU needs Dr. Doom, badly).  So I guess my questions is: did the fans will this movie to box-office disaster, or was it just that bad on its own merit?

Thanks,

Wes

Wes brings up a lot of interesting ideas, most of which I disagree with.

First off: What do we mean when we say “modern comic book movie fan”? Ten years ago, that would’ve meant: “Fan of the comic books who would like to see their favorite comic books made into movies.” Now? “Comic book movie fan” could mean “Fan of movies based on comic books, who has never actually read the comic books.” It’s been 15 years since Bryan Singer’s first X-Men, 13thirteen years since Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man, 10 years since Christopher Nolan’s first Batman, seven years since Marvel Studios started their cinematic universe with Iron Man. There are plenty of people — probably even a majority of people — who know these characters first and foremost and only from their onscreen incarnations.

Which is totally okay: It would be churlish, at this late stage, for someone like me who grew up collecting The Mighty Thor to complain that people who only know the Hemsworth Thor aren’t true Thor fans. (Although I would tell those fans that, if they ever want to actually see Thor do something interesting, they’d be better served with the comic books.)

But so, first off, I have to disagree with the idea that modern comic book movie fans are “pretty sharp.” Like, listen: The mainstream moviegoing population now is the modern comic book movie fandom. And they like good movies (Dark Knight!) and they like not-so-good movies (Age of Ultron) and they are sometimes indifferent to great movies (Hellboy 2) and sometimes they can just smell a stinker from a mile away (Green Lantern.)

Like, did “Fans” stay away from Amazing Spider-Man 2? I’m not so sure: If anything, I think the demographic for that (awful) movie is the demographic that keeps going to see these movies, no matter how bad their predecessors are. If anything, we should credit the mass mainstream public for the failure of Amazing 2, because most people saw Amazing 1 and decided that, all in all, they just didn’t care very much about the further adventures of Andrew Garfield’s hair.

I think that Wes’ main point is: Fans of Marvel Movies want all Marvel Movies to be made by Marvel Studios, so they are now rebelling against the Marvel movies that aren’t made by Marvel Studios. And…I dunno about that. Like, Ant-Man has currently made less at the global box office than Jessica Alba’s first Fantastic Four movie made in 2005 dollars. I don’t know anyone who necessarily hated Age of Ultron ​— although I really, really did — but the general shrug of indifference after that movie came out doesn’t exactly vibe like a ringing endorsement for whatever Marvel Studios is becoming.

Like, say what you will about the X-Men movies — they are weird, kooky, sometimes just flat-out terrible — they definitely feel different from the Marvel films. And I like it when movies feel different. Like, throughout comic book history, the very best comic books have been the work of creative teams who get to do their own thing, and the very worst comic books are massive megacrossovers where all the different tones and character arcs just get jumbled together into a stew. Do fans really want more stew?

It’s entirely possible that, after this failure, Fox will just hand the Fantastic Four back to Marvel Studios. It’s hard to see why they would hold onto the franchise — especially when Fox has finally entered its long-promised phase of Agressive X-Pansion, releasing three X-universe films in a single calendar year come 2016.

Hi Darren,

Just got back from watching FF with my two oldest kids.  We waited around for the cut scene, you know…the cut scene?

Pffft.

Anyway I Googled FF when I got home (I don’t Google and drive), came across your article, and smirked.  It may have even been a sardonic smile, I’m not sure.

FF is a delightful turd blossom in full bloom.  I only wish the studio had somehow tied in Starship Troopers.  Maybe playing on a television in the background or something.

Or perhaps Doom’s black hole machine (Avengers Stark Tower portal scene anyone?) could have sucked up a drive-in movie-plex playing Twister, with the tornado scene on-screen.

So many possibilities.

And the dark corridors with flickering lights and blood splattered all over the walls?  Straight outta The Walking Dead.  I kept looking for a cameo by Andrew Lincoln.  That would’ve been a sweet Easter egg.

Now that I think about it FF, was actually everything I like in a flick all mashed up into one big messy helping, that drips off one side of the plate.

FF is the Left Shark of summer movies.  It loves itself – that’s real – and that’s what matters. 

Chad

We all like to have a good laugh about Cinematic Universes and how funny it would be if a studio announced, tomorrow, that a couple of ridiculous franchises that they happen to own are getting a mash-up. But here’s the thing: If this movie had been called Fantastic Four vs. Predator, could it have possibly done any worse?

Hell, wouldn’t the plotline of a superteam fighting a galactic hunter have created something completely different from any other movie that has ever existed, and therefore, something more appealing to a moviegoing public that has already seen another superteam movie this summer?

Or what if they greenlit The Fantastic Four Die Hard, where terrorists take over the Baxter Building and only John McClane can help Reed Richards something something? This is so goofy and I guarantee it would have made at least $30 million at the box office just from lookie-loos.

IMO. The reason it is flopping is they messed with canon.

Johnny and Susan Storm are biological siblings, not one black and one white.

This movie is so bad I wouldn’t even pirate it.

I haven’t even see the teasers or trailers.

The previous FF movies were not bad, but not great either.

The best one, IMO, is Roger Corman’s unreleased Fantastic Four.

Which can be found via bittorrent if you look hard enough.

—Geoff

Reading closely, I actually think that Geoff has not seen the movie. Which makes me a little suspicious. The problem with our current cultural conversation about movies is that most people are talking about movies they haven’t seen yet: We decode trailers and casting rumors, we analyze box office data, but the big secret is that all of that stuff is secondary, and even kind of boring. Movies are movies: Even bad movies are movies.

Before anyone flies off the handle, I don’t think Geoff is criticizing the movie for casting Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm — just criticizing the movie for shaking up the canon. Guys: The canon of Fantastic Four is pretty goofy. In the original iteration, a brilliant scientist and his socialite girlfriend and her dumb kid brother and some brawler steal a spaceship to beat the Communists, or something. Plenty of good comic book movies shake up the canon, and plenty of good comic book movies choose very specific parts of the canon to focus on while ignoring the other stuff.

Anyhow, the problem with this movie isn’t that they messed with the canon. The problem is that they had at least five different mission statements which worked completely at odds with each other:

1. To tell a completely new and radically reconsidered version of the Fantastic Four’s origin story.

2. To tell a version of the FF’s origin story that would be entirely recognizable to fans of the comic book.

3. To tell a very small-scale, dark, character story devoid of the usual superhero theatrics.

4. The feature all the usual superhero theatrics.

5. To set up a large-scale franchise that could theoretically intersect with the X-Men franchise someday.

The result was a mess.

Great article. As a long time fan of the Fantastic Four and comics in general, I really felt the lack of familiarity with the source material. Something like that can really save a film. The Hobbit trilogy is basically schlock without the little intimate touches, the little nuances and cues that remind you how much the filmmakers loved that world.

Just a dumb comedian thought I’d share

Great articles man huge fan.

—CW

This, I think, is the much bigger problem. You can shake up the canon all you want to, but you should at least have a sense of what makes the source material work. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series ditches large reams of plot, but you always get the sense that Jackson is trying to translate the feel of those books: The sense of a whole huge world of shockingly realistic epic magic.

With Fantastic Four, I’m just not sure anyone involved really knows or cares what makes the comics work. The FF are a family; they hang out; they squabble; sometimes they set off on incredible cosmic adventures beyond all imagination. None of that was present in the movie: By comparison, imagine if someone tried to make a Spider-Man movie where Spider-Man is a middle-aged single dad living on a farm.

Which would still be better than Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Keep the conversation going: Email me at darren_franich@ew.com

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