By Ashley Pauls
Box Office Buzz
I went to the theater this weekend to see a superhero movie. I wanted that movie to be “Fantastic Four,” because I wanted to believe this would be a fresh start to the franchise. The trailers looked promising, the cast members had all done solid work in other films. However, I just couldn’t get past the Rotten Tomatoes rating — now sitting at a dismal 9 percent — and decided to see “Ant-Man” again instead (which turned out to be just as fun the second time around). Apparently, many filmgoers also chose to skip this superhero flick, and the “Fantastic Four” reboot debuted to less than $30 million, behind “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” in its second week.
Since I haven’t seen “Fantastic Four,” I can’t comment on exactly what went wrong with this movie. Is the 9 percent rating too harsh? Maybe, but audience scores aren’t much better, hovering around 25 percent. Reviews call it dull, flat, dreary and soulless — and a missed opportunity.
So, what happened? Why did this movie flop so badly, and why is Hollywood still struggling to bring this famous superhero team to the big screen while so many others — X-Men, Avengers, etc. — have found box office success?
Piecing together rumors from the film production, it sounds like Josh Trank, director of this “Fantastic Four” reboot, and Fox, the film studio, clashed on set, and Fox ended up reworking the film. Whether the movie would have been better if Trank had been allowed to work with less micromanaging, we’ll never know. However, lack of a cohesive vision is never good for a movie, and this likely contributed to the disjointed product that flopped in theaters. It also could be Trank just wasn’t ready to be called up to the big leagues. His previous film, “Chronicle,” was a well-received but small budget superhero indie, and it could be the “Fantastic Four” reboot wasn’t the best creative fit for him.
A more difficult question to answer is why the “Fantastic Four” franchise as a whole just can’t seem to get off the ground. None of the films have managed to break the 50 percent mark on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve only seen the second film, “Rise of the Silver Surfer,” but I remember it wasn’t good. In some ways, this turned out to be a blessing for Marvel and Captain America fans, because it freed up Chris Evans, who played the Human Torch, to cross over to the Avengers team. But I’m sure this is frustrating for Fantastic Four fans, who’d like to see this team succeed on the big screen.
I don’t think the issue is the source material. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made blockbusters out of more difficult concepts and decidedly D-list characters: “Guardians of the Galaxy” beat the odds and proved with the right actors, director and script, you can pull off pretty much any comic adaptation. And if Marvel can also make us buy into a hero who shrinks and runs with ants, then an elastic man and a man made of rock aren’t impossible protagonists.
It’s not too late for “Fantastic Four.” After all, Christopher Nolan was able to resurrect the Batman franchise after “Batman and Robin.” However, I do think it’s time to let the franchise sit for a while. Let memories of these flops fade, and then — very carefully — bring them back to audiences. Fox probably still doesn’t want to do this, but maybe they should let the rights go back to Marvel, who can work this team into its overall cinematic universe (this worked out very well for “Daredevil”). Another suggestion I’ve heard is going retro with the film; perhaps setting it in the past can help distance it from the other flops in the franchise. Maybe it’s time to find another villain besides Doctor Doom; tease us with other adversaries, then build up to this major villain.
So, what do you think? Can the Fantastic Four franchise be saved? If so, how? Or, should Hollywood just let this concept go and pursue other superhero projects?