The failure of Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot is far more than just a simple flop. Even before the film was released, it was subject to powerful fan backlash, whether it was rage over certain casting choices or swirling rumours of reshoots and on-set meltdowns.
Now the reviews are in, and it’s an ugly picture. Years from now, whenever the superhero movie bubble bursts, it’s almost certain that the name of Fantastic Four (or ‘Fant4stic’, if you prefer) will be dredged up as an example of where it all started to go wrong. Despite promising trailers and a talented cast, the film has utterly failed; it took one of the most famous comic book names in the world and dragged it through the dirt, seemingly just to keep character rights out of Marvel’s hands.
What happens now? If Fox asking its own fans what to do with the franchise is any indication, they don’t have a clue either. However, there are a few directions the seemingly-doomed Fantastic Four can go from here…
1. Make a Sequel
The progression of Fant4stic is almost a sad parody of itself. It was supposed to wipe away the failures of the past and create a dynamic new franchise with potential crossover with Fox’s other properties. A sequel was announced before filming had even wrapped up. Then the problems began, Fox tried to bury the film with a review embargo, and we ended up with a 140-minute mess of colourless grit.
It’s unlikely that the planned sequel will go ahead at this stage, as it’ll be nigh-impossible to rise above the negative press of the first film. However, if Fox do decide to go ahead and make a sequel anyway, it’s not a total lost cause.
The studio is far from tanking, having revived its X-Men franchise and still fresh from the success of the excellent Days of Future Past. The fan reaction to the Deadpool trailer has been overwhelmingly positive. What’s more, Fant4stic is now an established universe. All the set-up is done, the characters have their powers, and now new stories can be explored that aren’t origins for the umpteenth time. All Fox needs is a competent director who can revive faith in the project and pick up where the first film left off.
2. The Rights Go Back to Marvel
Plenty of people are clamouring for this to happen. Many of those wanted it to happen long before Fant4stic was released, and now that the film has crashed and burned, their complaints seem completely justified.
Through great casting and clever directorial choices, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a stellar track record. There’s also a vibrant shared universe, years in the making and unique in the history of cinema. The fact that the Fantastic Four are an integral part of Marvel in the comics only adds fuel to the fire.
What may end up happening is essentially a repeat of Sony allowing Marvel to use Spiderman; Fox may decide that they want to keep the rights to the Fantastic Four, but strike a deal that lets all parties win. The Four will join the MCU, probably far too late to join in Captain America: Civil War, but it’ll be quite the homecoming for the fans nonetheless.
Alternatively, Fox may hand over the rights entirely in exchange for something else. This could possibly be large amounts of money, or they may want Marvel to lift the ban on the X-Men TV series they’ve been planning. However they get there, and whatever is done with them afterwards, it’s still a valid possibility that Marvel will be reclaiming its first family.
Speaking of TV…
3. Make a TV Series
The Fantastic Four haven’t had a good run in film. The best attempt thus far (the 2005 set of films) spawned a grand total of two films and turned Galactus into a big space cloud, with the worst (Fant4stic) sucking out all the joy and replacing it with body horror. No one seems to be able to make a Fantastic Four movie that properly captures the essence of the team.
It’s perhaps the least likely option, but they could always make a fresh start on TV. In the wake of superhero movies dominating the landscape, superhero TV shows have taken off like never before. DC is leading the game with Arrow and The Flash, soon to be followed by Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. Most of these are set in a dynamically expanding shared universe, with name drops and hints that suggest that DC is just beginning. More importantly, they’re pretty good.
Marvel has its own Agents of SHIELD, which despite a rocky start has developed into a great show all on its own, and Daredevil perfectly showcased the darker side of the MCU while steadily setting up the pieces for Defenders. No matter who the rights belong to, the timing couldn’t be better for a Fantastic Four show that tells a story in a more episodic format, as opposed to more big blue beams and anticlimactic showdowns.
At this point, it may seem like the franchise is cursed; however, given that the mid-nineties attempt was flimsy and well before the current era of comic book movies, and 2005’s version was in the fledgling stage when it wasn’t clear exactly what audiences wanted, it’s best to look at Fant4stic as a failure all by itself. There’s no reason these characters can’t be used in another setting, by a more competent filmmaker or as part of a greater whole. The stories are all there, and audiences know the characters well. So long as they stop switching Sue Storm’s hair colour in between scenes, and maybe give The Thing something to wear (socks?), there’s no reason the Fantastic Four can’t be a success on our screens in the future.