The 'Fantastic Four' try to get their franchise footing

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The "first family of Marvel" has had some growing pains.

While Marvel's X-Men and the Avengers have built their big screen empires into well-oiled billion dollar franchises, the Fantastic Four have floundered with never-was and the never-should-have-been adaptations. First there was the Roger Corman-produced film that was killed before it hit theaters in 1994, and then two critically loathed, but decently profitable attempts in the mid-2000s with future Captain America Chris Evans as the Human Torch.

The Fantastic Four are among Marvel's longest-running series and most beloved groups. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the scientists-turned-superheroes were relatable and wry in their interactions as a team — even when they weren't fighting supervillains. When it debuted in November 1961, it was a refreshing revelation that helped inform the Marvel voice and set a path for Iron Man and Spider-Man.

The family aspect is derived from the brother and sister pairing of Sue and Johnny Storm, the bond between the four after they get powers, and the fact that Sue and Reed Richards eventually become Marvel's most stable couple.

But the movies have yet to get them right, or devise a structure to introduce them to fans and potential fans.

So much like Sony's two Spider-Man reboots, Fox is trying again to resurrect the first family with a cast of fresh faces in Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell, and a promising but essentially untested director at the helm in Josh Trank. The film opens Friday.

Trank's breakout, the found footage sci-fi thriller "Chronicle" was the kind of sleeper hit that can make a novice filmmaker's name in Hollywood. Produced for a mere $12 million by Fox, "Chronicle" ended up making $126 million worldwide in 2012.

It would also be the unintentional tryout that made Trank a no-brainer to revive the thematically similar "Fantastic Four." Fox set Simon Kinberg, who'd already succeeded in helping craft the worlds of "X-Men: First Class" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past," to produce and co-write the origin story.

Trank cast his "Chronicle" star Jordan as Johnny Storm/Human Torch, who suggested his "That Awkward Moment" co-star Miles Teller for the part of the genius scientist Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic. Mara and Bell came aboard too as Sue Storm/Invisible Woman and Ben Grimm/The Thing and they were off, each knowing that success could mean a multi-film, multi-year commitment.

Bell said Trank promised his cast a "small, human approach" to the larger-than-life story about a these humans who get superpowers after a violent accident. Mara said she latched on to the proposed tone and his ambitions to make a "completely different and a modern take on the comics."

Teller, who has been transitioning between the indie and studio world with roles in "Whiplash" and the "Divergent" films was intrigued by the opportunity to be part of something this size. He'd also been impressed with "Chronicle."

"(Trank) talked about the body horror of it and how these kids were going to have to deal with this trauma before they could harness it. Before they could combat evil Doctor Doom, they were going to have to transition to that place. I was interested in the transition of it," said Teller.

Late game reshoots caused some speculation that the film had problems. But, reshoots are fairly standard for big films. "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" are just two examples from this year of films that required them and ended up working for critics and audiences in the end. It was mostly a headache getting the cast — all of whom were off shooting other films — into the same room.

In the midst of this, eyebrows were further raised after Trank's mysterious no-show at the fan event Star Wars Celebration, and his subsequent abrupt departure from the "Star Wars" anthology film he had been slated to direct. His statement referenced wanting time to "pursue some original creative opportunities."

Though Trank did appear at Comic-Con, he's not been a fixture on the promotional circuit for "Fantastic Four," and was not made available for this article.

The cast are both diplomatic and unspecific about Trank, citing his vision, his intensity and his preciseness as a director.

"From 'Chronicle' to 'Fantastic Four' he had the workload quadruple. 'Chronicle' is not an (Intellectual Property). There were no boundaries to the world that he could create," said Jordan. "When you're dealing with a property that's been around for 40 years, you have to kind of stay true to that history. 'Fantastic Four' is probably one of the hardest comic book properties to develop into an actual movie because there are so many different story lines and each character needs its own attention and arc. It makes it very hard to make that into a film."

"We all wanted to fit into Josh's ideas. We wanted to make sure we were all in the same film," said Bell. "I think that's inevitably what we did."


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