By this point, “Fantastic Four” has had more virtual ink spilled about it than would seem to be justified considering how brutally mediocre the film is, and much of it has been focused on trying to sort out who did what on the film, and how much of it is or isn't the film that Josh Trank set out to make.
This kind of post-mortem moment can be really frustrating to watch, though, because of how everyone assumes certain things as fact. There is no one who has written more pointed and cutting criticisms of Fox, particularly under the leadership of Tom Rothman, than I have, but this time, I think people are siding against the studio without knowing what really went on in the process. Fox knew what their reputation was when Tom Rothman was running things, and they've been working hard to shift that perception by changing the way they approached collaboration.
Over and over, I've heard, this s a new Fox, and they try to back the filmmaker as long as they can. Bryan Singer's having a very different experience with “Days Of Future Past” and “Apocalypse” than he did when he made his first two “X-Men” movies for the studio, and Matthew Vaughn left “X3” over the way things worked, but apparently had a much better time when he returned to make “First Class” for the studio. The “Deadpool” that audiences will meet in the theater in 2016 is not the same guy who was wedged awkwardly into “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and I'm willing to bet the Gambit from that film will bear little resemblance to the one Channing Tatum will play in “Gambit.” In each of these cases, we're seeing a more faithful approach, or at the very least, a more specific approach, filmmakers making big choices about these properties and the studio supporting them.
Josh Trank may have fired off his disgruntled Tweet late Thursday night, but there are things about what he said that don't sit right with me. Trank had the studio's support on this film far longer than would seem justified because Fox was so very aware of how it would look if they pushed the young filmmaker off of his movie. They made him work for the greenlight before they decided to go ahead with the movie, and whatever Trank wants to say about how he was handled, he was the one who directed the film. The studio wasn't making daily changes or forcing him to shoot material he didn't help create. They were doing everything they could to keep him on schedule and on budget, and they surrounded him with crew that they trusted. They wanted this film to work. Even when things weren't working, the studio still worked to find a way to have Trank solve those problems. He may claim that his cut a year ago was amazing, but that opinion was not shared by the majority of the people working on the film. There were internal conversations at that point about potentially scrapping everything. That's how strong the concerns were. Even so, they decided to back Trank while looking for ways to fix the movie, and the end result is the film audiences largely didn't bother to see in theaters this weekend.
Everything I've heard would indicate that the studio will move forward with a “Fantastic Four” sequel. It may not make that original 2017 date, but they're definitely planning to make it. The next filmmaker in is going to start from a difficult position, and they're going to have to work hard to create their own movie while starting with some of Trank's choices intact. For better or worse, Trank was given room to define these characters, and his signature will remain on the next film no matter who writes and directs it. The next movie will be a reaction to this one. What remains to be seen is whether or not this incident overall will test Fox's resolve to try to support their filmmakers. It would be understandable if they suddenly reverted to the way things used to be, when you did what Fox said or they would just steamroll you.
There's one delightfully weird footnote to all of this.
When the most recent season of “Arrested Development” was released, people pored over every detail of it, and one of the weirdest jokes was, as I commented at the time, built on a punchline that took several years to land. There's a running subplot in the season about Tobias (David Cross) and his production of a completely illegal copyright infringing production of “Fantastic Four” that stars a woman who appeared in the scrapped '90s version of the film, shot as a quick bid to retain control of the rights to the characters.
At one point in the episode, “A New Start,” Josh Trank shows up as a process server, handing Tobias the notice that he's being sued for infringement. At that point, Trank hadn't even started shooting the movie. He was still the hypothetical director of it at that point. If the studio had pulled the plug before they made the film, it would have become a very different weird connotation to his appearance, but now, there he is, forever linked to the series in the strangest possible way.
“Fantastic Four” is in theaters now, and “Arrested Development” is on Netflix.