CINEMATIC MULTIVERSE is a regular column where we run down the history and present production statuses of various comic book properties on Hollywood’s radar.
Today, we start with the Fantastic Four (FF) who made their first appearance in Marvel Comics in November of 1961. They were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby after Lee noticed that Marvel lacked a super-hero team like DC’s Justice League. The team consisted of their leader, Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) who was the smartest in the world, Sue Storm (The Invisible Woman) who was Richards’s scientific counterpart and eventual mate, Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) who was Sue’s hotheaded fighter pilot brother, and Ben Grimm (The Thing) who was Reed’s best friend, protector, and confidant. The FF would regularly face off against Victor Von Doom (Dr. Doom) who was a former classmate and jealous competitor of Reed’s. They received their powers from a cosmic shower that bathed them in radiation while in space.
THE FANTASTIC FOUR STARTS AND STOPS
The FF had three different cartoon versions of the team between 1967 and 1996. An attempt was made at a movie, titled The Fantastic Four (1994), a B-movie produced by Roger Corman and Constantin Film (which had acquired the rights in 1992) that was ultimately so ridiculously bad that it went unreleased.
20th Century Fox acquired the distribution rights to the Fantastic Four in the early 2000s. Fox then planned a new film version of the heroes in 2002 with Peyton Reed set to direct with Jude Law (Dr. Doom), Charlize Theron (Sue Storm), Alexis Denisof (Mr. Fantastic), John C. Reilly (The Thing), and Paul Walker (The Human Torch) all attached. Writer Doug Petrie described that project in this way:
The Fantastic Four movie will mostly skip the back-story and begin in a New York where the team already exists — in a world where, unlike X-Men, they are anything but antiheroes. They’re the biggest celebrities in New York City. To the world outside, they are the world’s coolest super-heroes. [But] when they get home, they just fight with each other about everything. They order pizzas and argue about who gets the better costumes and stuff like that. It’s a family comedy when they get behind closed doors.
The movie was also going to be set in the 1960s (1961 to be specific) and was set to be released in 2004 but never happened.
THE FANTASTIC FOUR AND FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER
On April 7, 2004, Tim Story was announced as the director of Fantastic Four. Later Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Michael Chiklis (The Thing), Chris Evans (The Human Torch), and Ioan Griffudd (Mr. Fantastic) were hired to star in the first official Marvel production of team.
The first two cinematic offerings from the Fantastic Four and 20th Century Fox seemed a reasonable alternative to the super-serious world of Wolverine and the X-Men. This version of the Fantastic Four had an MTV (TRL-era) and American TV commercial aesthetic that makes the movies look cheap today.
Fox’s first mistake may have been hiring Story as a director. He had built his success primarily on comedies like Barbershop and Taxi (which actually made money). The leap from those films to FF was somewhat confusing. Story tried to reason that there was a similarity in the team element between FF and Barbershop.
Fox’s second mistake was they tried to maximize its profits on this film by constraining the budget. The film was made for a remarkably low $100 million, which suggests that maybe it wasn’t all the director’s fault. The venture failed artistically.
In all, Fantastic Four was a a commercial success earning about $330,579,700 from theaters around the world. However, the film was savaged by critics and fans as a hollow counterpart to the X-Men franchise.
However, the commercial success of the first film led to a sequel that hoped to improve on the first. The Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) was also meant to be an introduction to the cosmic Marvel universe with Galactus and his herald the Silver Surfer. Again, this movie suffered from weak story and cheap feel (the budget for the sequel only increased another $30 million from the first).
FF2 only modestly improved in critical reception from the first but is still classified as “Rotten” by RottenTomatoes.com. Ultimately, this movie also made money to the tune of $289,047,763 worldwide.
Both films received mostly unfavorable reviews by critics, yet grossed over $600 million worldwide at the box office. Due to 20th Century Fox’s disappointment toward the box-office return of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a potential third Fantastic Four film and a Silver Surfer spin-off movie were put on hold.
In August 2009, 20th Century Fox announced a reboot of the Fantastic Four film franchise. Akiva Goldsman was hired as a producer and Michael Green was hired as the screenwriter. No news of the development of the reboot under Goldsman and Green ever surfaced.
It wasn’t until July 2012, that Fox would then announce that Chronicle (the found-footage super-hero movie) director Josh Trank had been hired to helm the rebooted FF with Jeremy Slater hired as the screenwriter. Subsequently the pieces began to fall into place for a full-fledged production reboot when comic book impresario Mark Millar was announced as a Fox consultant for the film in September 2012, then Matthew Vaughn was added as a producer a few week later and Seth Grahame-Smith was hired to polish the script in June 2013. Finally, in October 2013 Simon Kinberg was also hired to co-write and produce the film.
The cast for the reboot fell into place over the spring of 2014 with Michael B. Jordan announced to play Johnny Storm, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, and later Toby Kebbell as Victor Von Doom.
Kinberg recently spoke with Gregory Ellwood with HitFix at WonderCon and noted that their FF would be very distinct from other incarnations. Kinberg said, “It’s not the stories that differentiate them from each other. Sometimes the characterizations aren’t that distinct. It’s that the tone is different and in some ways [that’s because of the] lessons learned from the original ‘Fantastic Four’ movies, but also because of Josh Trank’s natural instinct for more realism, for more of a dramatic approach to things. This will definitely be a more realistic, a more gritty, grounded telling of the ‘Fantastic Four’ and no matter what people think about the cast.”
Also of note, there have been recent reports from Schmoes Know that there is no intention for this “more realistic” version of the FF to crossover with Fox’s other Marvel property, X-Men. A notion that has been around since late 2013:
No indications have been given how the larger FF universe will be used to fuel the rebooted franchise.
Filming for FF is scheduled to begin in early May 2014 in Louisiana with Baton Rogue as a stand-in for Central City, California. The film is set to be released on June 19, 2015 with a sequel already tentatively slated for July 14, 2017.