There’s a new Fantastic Four trailer. We should probably talk about it, right?
Well, there wasn’t supposed to be a new trailer, but then it leaked because the studios aren’t very good at sopping those kinds of things from happening [see: Batman v Superman, Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One]. Now, it’s here. It sets up the basic plot, showcases everyone using their superpowers, and gives us our first glimpse at Doctor Doom.
Does it all seem a little familiar? If so, that’s probably because there was already a Fantastic Four movie ten years ago (and a sequel eight years ago), and although this new version has an African-American Johnny Storm and better special effects it does not appear dramatically different, right down to re-using Doctor Doom as their first villain and setting him up as a bad guy out for revenge (apparently). As Forbes argued, “This Fantastic Four trailer sells a film that is not so much an original or different interpretation of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book, but rather like someone took the 2005 Tim Story origin story film and hit buttons marked ‘younger,’ ‘darker,’ ‘gritter,’ and ‘more real-world.'”
I have no sentimental attachment to the Fantastic Four characters through comic books or cartoons. The first two live-action films aren’t without some entertainment value, more so the first one than the sequel. However, they were mostly miscast, looked relatively cheap, and have aged quite horribly. That would seemingly make them ideal candidates for a more mature reboot, but what grand story is there really to be told about a family of superheroes and their best bud who gain kind of goofy powers through exposure to cosmic rays from outer space. Even if you take it deadly serious, drop all of the characters ages by around a decade, change up the family dynamic by making Sue and Johnny an adopted, mixed-race brother and sister pair (or possibly not related at all), and alter the origin of their powers (from another dimension) you are still stuck with four characters whose powers do not translate as easily to the screen as others.
Yes, the Fantastic Four are a historically important comic book team, and the original films did not capture the darkness and cultural relevance present in the Fantastic Four’s early comic book days (or so I’m told by Fantastic Four fans). Director Josh Trank (Chronicle), writer/producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Star Wars: Rebels) and Fox are apparently working hard to honor that with their new cinematic iteration of the group, which stars Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, Jamie Bell as The Thing and Toby Kebbell as Doctor Doom.
There is precedent for a comic book film franchise moving from regrettable camp (Batman & Robin, the 1990 Captain America) to badass feats of serious filmmaking (Batman Begins) or at least surprising and pleasant competence (Captain America: The First Avenger). Josh Trank (Chronicle) clearly has big plans for legitimizing the Fantastic Four as worthy film characters. However, regardless of tonal shifts and advances in technology won’t someone like Reed “Mister Fantastic” Richards and his patented stretching ability always look kind of goofy? Is he perhaps best either left as a cartoon character, or in more light-hearted material like the original Fantastic Four films to be enjoyed by less discriminating younger audiences? I find myself skeptical that a super serious approach will ever truly work for Fantastic Four, although it was pretty much their only option after where they went with it in the earlier live-action films. I am at least encouraged that the new trailer has a couple of jokes.
Back when the first trailer arrived, I took a deep dive into the film’s reportedly troubled production history, which mostly amounts to one source saying, “OMG, it’s a trainwreck!” and another saying, “Um, no it’s not!” I applauded them for delivering a trailer which actually intrigued, leaning toward sci-fi where the original films leaned fantasy and suggesting body horror imagery in those places where the original films prioritized light-hearted, family friendly entertainment. However, I expressed serious doubts about the likelihood of the actual source material translating to anything particularly worthwhile. Now that the second trailer is here, I find myself leaning more toward indifference. Everyone’s powers look better than their earlier cinematic counterparts, and I like the suggestion that there will be a literally painful period of adjustment as they adapt to their powers. This doesn’t look bad; it just looks a tad generic, a conclusion I admittedly might only reach because I’ve now seen one too many Christopher Nolan-esque trailers.
What about you? What do you think? Did this trailer really do it for you in the way the first one did not? Or vice versa? Do you wonder if I maybe watched a different trailer than you because how else could I so clearly have missed the brilliance Josh Trank is delivering? Let me know in the comments.
The Fantastic Four opens August 7th thus allowing it time for a big promotional push at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con mere weeks before the release date.