Fantastic Four

By Tim McEown

Mailed on August 16, 2015

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Dear Josh Trank

Dear Josh,

I would be lying if I said I didn’t see this coming. Your Fantastic Four has lived under a pall of doom (pun-intended) since its conception. And it has certainly fulfilled all that negative promise—not only is it tanking at the box office but it’s currently standing at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. That failure, in turn, has engendered a lot of nasty finger pointing.

On Thursday you went nuclear with this tweet, in essence disavowing the film. Whatever ended up on the screen, you wanted everyone to know that it wasn’t representative of the film you wanted to make. Since the release there have been a more than a few stories about how early and often the studio stuck its finger in your pie. 20th Century Fox ostensibly scrapped three agreed upon action sequences as well as removing the final edit from your hands. So it may well be that this version of Fantastic Four isn’t really yours.

What is it then?

Mostly it’s an incoherent mess. The film manages to avoid anything resembling excitement in its meandering travels. The characters are wafer-thin, and the performances range from surprisingly muted (Miles Teller) to stilted (Kate Mara) to occasionally charming (Michael B. Jordan) to nearly invisible (Jamie Bell).

The plot is a Frankenstein’s monster: pieces of the foundational story grafted haphazardly onto whatever the studio decided to replace it with. It has no flow and makes no sense. Secondary plots appear and disappear like soap bubbles, and whatever motivates the characters seems as much a mystery to the actors portraying them as it does to the rest of us.

Visually this monstrosity bears no resemblance to your nuanced work on Chronicle (the surprise indie hit that got you this gig in the first place). Where Chronicle was a film that was made for twelve million that looked like it cost a hundred and twenty, Fantastic Four looks like the reverse. It’s poorly lit, the staging is clunky, and the CGI would have been laughable in the first Spawn movie.

Part of the problem assessing this film lies in trying to figure out what parts are yours and which parts were reshot by the studio. Fully 1/3 of this film is studio reshoots and that is by 20th Century’s admission, which means it is probably closer to 1/2. The whole film is riddled with the kind of inconsistencies this sort of meddling produces. Just watch Kate Mara’s wig as it appears and then vanishes in the same scene. This occurs in at least two different sequences in the film.

There was a brief, promising moment midway through the film just after the titular four have returned from the mysterious Planet Zero. All four of them have been exposed to an unnamed radiation/goop that conferred (inexplicably, but by then I had given up hope anyway) different powers on each of them.

Here you managed to do something really interesting (I assume this was you since the ambiguous consequences of obtaining superpowers like these was the theme of Chronicle); I didn’t see it coming, but the transformation sequence was darkly effective. The physical changes each one of them suffers through are played as Cronenberg-esque body horror. It was absolutely chilling. If the rest of the film had operated anywhere close to that level, it would have been remarkable.

Whoever is ultimately to blame—and I tend to think there is more than enough to go around—what I am most concerned about is whether or not this whole experience has undermined your credibility (or simply eaten your soul) to point that you’re effectively finished as a filmmaker.

That would be a shame. If nothing else I hope (probably in vain) that the studios will understand the consequences of hedging their bets. If you hire an auteur, then give him enough rope to hang himself. Because the short leash doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.



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