The reasons why “Fantastic Four” was such a fantastic failure include elements of all of those arguments, but it’s a great reminder for the movie industry that we don’t just want a comic movie, we want a good movie first and foremost.
“Iron Man” demonstrated that you could be respectful to the source material and create a hit movie. Marvel Studios has followed-up that initial success with a string of progressively bigger movies. Their formula is actually quite simple–respect the source material, don’t apologize for the comic-book-elements and have fun.
Hollywood executives have a short attention-span and an exceptionally high ego. Even with a clear proven formula, they still want to “fix” things. When executives start fixing things we get “Fantastic Four.” It’s a great lesson for Hollywood. Every film executive just got the message that comic movies can be spectacular failures. That’s a good thing for everyone who loves movies.
“Fantastic Four” was a failure before it opened. The core audience for the movie was insulted in almost every way possible. The insults are instructive to anyone in the head office who wants to avoid the opening weekend of “Fantastic Four.”
The Fantastic Four comic was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early 60s. The basic concept behind the comic is a dysfunctional super-powered family fighting against powerful enemies that use arcane magic and super-science. The family loves each other, but they also get on each other’s nerves. In the right hands that concept could create a unique and successful movie.
Unfortunately, Hollywood sees a lot of problems with The Fantastic Four. The characters are too old. The characters are not diverse enough. Doctor Doom uses magic which, for some reason, is a big issue in comic movies. The villains and situations are weird. “Stretching” is a goofy power. The family dynamic is dated. In the eyes of a Hollywood executive, these things need to be fixed to make the movie better.
A studio suit looks at Reed Richards, with his 50s-style daddy demeanor and greying temples and figures that a young demographic will not want to see a movie about that character. The solution? Make everyone young. So, what makes Fantastic Four different from other comics is automatically excised at the roots.
Doctor Doom, who is a classic formidable foe, and was the original Darth Vader, has to share an origin with the main characters because it makes the movie plot so much easier. Unfortunately, you lose the reasons why he’s such a bad ass when you remove his comic biography.
It’s also obvious that the creators of “Fantastic Four” were embarrassed to be making a comic movie. Instead of embracing what makes the comic fun and interesting, we are given a grim cynical universe. If you don’t want to make a comic movie, then do something else.
Marvel Studio’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” featured a group of obscure characters including a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree. Instead of apologizing for the weirdness they made jokes about it and invited you to enjoy the ride. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was one of the highest-grossing films of 2014.
There are rumors that Fox is considering bumping a “Fantastic Four” sequel in favor of a sequel to “Deadpool” based solely on audience reaction to one trailer. “Deadpool” is getting such favorable buzz because it was highly influenced by the source material. Everything Fox did wrong with “Fantastic Four” they seem to be doing right with “Deadpool.”
It’s ironic because the Deadpool movie faced certain doom before leaked test footage and heavy campaigning by its star Ryan Reynolds spurred a swell of fan support that brought it back to life. Fox executives clearly didn’t understand the adult humor and Deadpool’s habit of breaking the fourth wall, but that’s what makes the property stand out, and that’s why fans fought to have it made.
The failure of “Fantastic Four” is great for the movie industry. It is a graphic reminder to studio executives that slapping “Marvel” on a movie poster will not guarantee success. You still have to make a movie that people want to see.