We’ve finally found the opposite of teflon: It’s whatever the new Fantastic Four movie is made of. Ever since Fox’s reboot of the Marvel superteam was announced, the film has proven constitutionally unable to generate the slightest bit of anticipation or goodwill. In a world where even the most minor pieces of superhero-movie news are treated like gifts on Christmas morning, nearly every nugget about Fantastic Four arrived on the blogosphere like a lump of wet coal — and many of the filmmakers’ attempts to stem the bad buzz only succeeded in making it worse. To celebrate the occasion of its release (when we learned that it’s just your garden-variety bad), let’s relive the 18-month parade of ominous news, from the initial announcement to the eventual backstabbing and recriminations.
March 14, 2014: A Bad Beginning
The first signs of trouble appear a few weeks after the cast is revealed, as anonymous sources tell Bleeding Cool that Fox is looking to fire director Josh Trank and writer Simon Kinberg and dump most of the actors. Though none of that comes to pass, the pump is primed for bad news to follow.
April 20, 2014: Another “Gritty” Remake
The movie’s promotion gets off to a bad start when Kinberg tells HitFix that the new Fantastic Four will be “gritty” and “realistic,” two buzzwords that, for many fans, have come to symbolize the most ponderous aspects of modern blockbuster cinema. As if picturing the snarky blog posts that would spring from his announcement, Kinberg assures Collider that the movie is “still fun.” It is the first of many clarifications to come.
July 15, 2014: Abandoning the Comics?
New Invisible Woman Kate Mara causes a stir when she tells Esquire Latin America that Trank told the cast not to bother reading the comics: “He told us that we shouldn’t do it because the plot won’t be based on any history of anything already published.” Mara’s reps later tell EW that the actress really meant the movie would be based on the general history of the Fantastic Four, rather than one specific comic-book story line.
September 18, 2014: An Ominous Release-Date Shift
The film’s release date is moved from a prime weekend in June to a much-less-competitive one in August.
November 10, 2014: Dr. Doom, the Redditor
In an interview with Collider, Toby Kebbel reveals new details about the film’s portrayal of supervillain Dr. Doom. “He’s Victor Domashev, not Victor Von Doom in our story,” says Kebbel, “I’m a programmer. Very anti-social programmer. And on blogging sites I’m ‘Doom.’” The change of Doom from Eastern European dictator to angry internet commenter is roundly mocked, and months later, Kebbel tries to walk back his comments as only “rumors.”
November 26, 2014: Rumors of a Director’s Breakdown
The first anonymous reports emerge suggesting that the film’s production in Louisiana did not go smoothly. “Trank showed up to set late or so high he couldn’t speak almost everyday,” writes one widely circulated comment on an LSU fan message board. “Some days he didn’t show up at all. He treated crew terribly.” Other posts allege that Trank trashed the film’s sets, forcing Fox executives to fly down and apologize for his behavior.
December 9, 2014: A Whisper Campaign?
BirthMoviesDeath editor Devin Faraci reports that he’s been hearing “very bad stuff” about the movie. “Some of the stuff I can’t share, some of the stuff is too vague for an article,” he tweets as a follow-up. “I’m just getting bad buzz.”
January 13, 2015: A Confused Editor Speaks
As fans start to wonder why Fox isn’t doing more to market the movie, a person purporting to be one of the film’s editors shows up on Reddit and leaks the new Fantastic Four logo. When asked why the studio hasn’t released any footage or photos from the film, they respond, “I really have no idea! In my personal opinion, the movie isn’t a complete trainwreck.”
January 15, 2015: Fixing a Hole
The cast and crew reunite for reshoots. One anonymous executive tells Bleeding Cool that the movie is “a mess.” A follow-up story implies the studio has considered scrapping the film altogether.
January 26, 2015: The Filmmakers Play Defense
Trank and Kinberg do damage control in a long Collider interview. The radio silence, they explain, was to create a sense of mystery around the project. “We’ve consciously decided to not release anything official,” says Trank. “In this day and age people have come to expect that artists are going to give everybody information on Twitter about what they’re doing, but not every artist is like that.” They say the reshoots, too, are totally normal. “The vast majority of movies now do pick-ups of some scope and scale,” says Kinberg.
January 27, 2015: A Slight Vindication
The film’s teaser-trailer finally arrives, promising a science-heavy version of the team’s origin story. Fans adjust their panic dials to “cautiously optimistic.” Much of the footage from this trailer does not show up in the finished film.
May 1, 2015: A Career in Jeopardy?
Trank leaves his next project, a Star Wars stand-alone film. Though he insists he’s bowing out for personal reasons, THR reports that tales from the Fantastic Four set led Disney executives to reconsider handing him responsibility over part of the treasured franchise. Anonymous sources say Trank was “erratic” and “very isolated,” and allege that he trashed his studio-provided house, causing $100,000 in property damage. The director, they say, was “like one of these kids who comes to the NBA with all the talent and none of the character-based skills to handle it. There’s equipment he doesn’t yet have.” A Fox spokesman says the studio is “very happy with the film” but admits that “there were some bumps in the road.”
June 4, 2015: The Filmmakers Play Defense, Part 2
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Trank explains his decision to leave Star Wars: “I want to do something original after [Fantastic Four] because I’ve been living under public scrutiny, as you’ve seen, for the last four years of my life … And it’s not healthy for me right now.” He and Kinberg, who was also interviewed, swear that all the rumors about his bad behavior on set are completely false. “None of those facts were true – and any of the facts that were true were spun in such a maliciously wrong way,” Trank says. “It feels sometimes like I’m living in a Paddy Chayefsky script … Every misconception that could possibly be made about this has been made to a hilariously satirical degree.”
July 27, 2015: Keeping It Under Wraps
As our Kyle Buchanan notes, the movie’s online review embargo is set for 4 p.m. PST, the day before it comes out — generally a vote of no confidence by the studio. Within 24 hours, it is moved up a day.
August 2, 2015: The Stars Speak Out
With less than a week to go, Fantastic Four has not yet been screened for critics. The four leads tell the BBC that’s totally normal, since they haven’t seen the film, either. Miles Teller offers a less-than-reassuring take: “Rarely are films of this size critically well-received. This is not a movie we’re going to go on RottenTomatoes and it’s going to be at 80 or 90 percent.”
August 3, 2015: The Filmmakers Play Defense, Part 3
Kinberg makes a last-minute effort to turn the tide, telling EW, “I am proud of this film. It is not a disaster.” He says Trank became a punching bag early, and it never stopped: “ I think there was something about Josh’s identity that made him a good target … People were either rooting against [him], or his personality troubled the press. So it just got viewed differently than any other movie.”
August 5, 2015: Cover Boy
Teller lands an Esquire cover story to celebrate his arrival as a blockbuster leading man. It paints him as kind of a dick.
August 7, 2015: The Ritual Airing of Grievances
As Fantastic Four opens to terrible reviews, Trank goes on Twitter to disavow the finished product. “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this,” he writes in a quickly deleted tweet. “And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”