The latest superhero blockbuster from Twentieth Century Fox, Fantastic Four, is one of those movies where the story behind its production is more intriguing than the plot of the movie itself. Following Fantastic Four's release and the cascade of scathing reviews that it received, as well as the dim box office reception, sources have begun to come forward to offer insight into the making of this film - and just what exactly went wrong.
Movie productions are large machines with lots of moving parts, so it would be unwise to try and build a complete picture out of the anonymous accounts that have emerged so far. With that said, we have been able to piece together a rough timeline of events. According to reports, Fox agreed to make a certain version of the movie with director Josh Trank, and then days before production told him that he could no longer include the three main action sequences. The studio continued to throw interference and confusion into the mix throughout the production, and after the shoot was complete Trank was apparently fired and wasn't at all involved in the editing process.
That's just one side of the story, however, and the very earliest rumors of trouble on the Fantastic Four set indicated that Trank's behavior was aggressive and erratic. One anonymous source claimed that Trank had caused a great deal of damage to the house he was staying at in Baton Rouge, and other sources have said that he demonstrated "combative behavior" while on set. Now THR has collected together a wealth of new testimony from inside sources and Fantastic Four crewmembers that reinforce many of the things we've heard before and reveal some disturbing new details.
The rumors about Trank inflicting damage on the production house, according to THR's latest sources, were very true. The director allegedly caused more than $100,000 worth of damage and, after the landlord attempted to evict him, defaced photos of the landlord's family that were in the house. The landlord then filed a complaint with the local law enforcement and filed a civil suit, the contents of which have been sealed. Trank declined to comment on this situation.
On the set of Fantastic Four, things were apparently tense. One crewmember described Trank as being "extremely withdrawn," and said that he "built a black tent around his monitor" in order to "cut himself off from everybody." When it came to directing lead actors Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell, however, one source said that Trank was a little bit too hands-on: "During takes, he would be telling [castmembers] when to blink and when to breathe... He kept pushing them to make the performance as flat as possible."
One source offered an explanation for why Fox told Trank to do away with the expensive action sequences and allegedly slashed his budget by tens of millions of dollars. Fox, according to this source, had doubts about Trank from the start and the idea of firing him was suggested before the film even went into production. His success with Chronicle was enough to save him at first, but as the film progressed the studio saw that the shoot wasn't going well, and attempts to clean it up only made things messier. THR describes the events thus:
"As filming wound toward an unhappy close, the studio and producers Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker engaged in a last-minute scramble to come up with an ending. With some of the cast not fully available at that point and Kinberg juggling X-Men: Apocalypse and Star Wars, a lot of material was shot with doubles and the production moved to Los Angeles to film scenes with Teller against a green screen. 'It was chaos,' says a crewmember, adding that Trank was still in attendance 'but was neutralized by a committee.' Another source says the studio pulled together 'a dream team,' including writer and World War Z veteran Drew Goddard, to rescue the movie."
Many critics (read the Screen Rant review) have noted that Fantastic Four feels tonally and structurally disjointed and that the studio's hasty reshoots are obvious (Mara's bad wig is a giveaway). Ultimately it seems that what ended up in theaters was an odd mish-mash of Trank's vision (hampered by the stress of the shoot) and Fox's attempt to 'fix' it.
This story seems to represent a clash where neither side was exclusively to blame. After all, Trank's first sci-fi feature, Chronicle, pleased audiences and critics alike, and aside from a few critical duds Fox's X-Men movie universe has enjoyed a great deal of success. There are still many pieces of information missing, but from what we can tell the making of Fantastic Four was a saga that only got messier with each successive attempt to clean it up.
What all this means for the future of the franchise remains unclear. Fox hasn't officially canceled the sequel, and Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson has said that the studio "remain[s] committed to these characters," but it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing Fantastic Four 2 in theaters when summer 2017 comes around.
Fantastic Four is now in theaters. Deadpool opens February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016; Gambit on October 7, 2016; Wolverine 3 on March 3, 2017; Fantastic Four 2 on June 9, 2017; and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.