As 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four was about to hold its Thursday night preview, director Josh Trank tweeted four sentences that reshaped the entire narrative surrounding the film. His words, which were deleted pretty quickly, brought our attention towards a vision that we were robbed of and exonerated the labeled creator of any wrongdoing.
“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
Fantastic Four was met with ridiculously harsh reviews for being a soft-boiled attempt at bringing the Marvel team to the big screen for the third time. The studio meddling and clashing with Josh Trank, his erratic behaviour, and the numerous rewrites and reshoots that saw Kate Mara’s Sue Storm rocking a cheap wig — it’s all out in the open. While the disastrous take on the Fantastic Four is behind us and Marvel Studios is hard at work to bring us a more authentic version of the characters, one can’t help but wonder what Trank would have brought to the table.
What was Josh Trank’s “fantastic” version of the film that he believes would have gotten great reviews? It’s hard to perfectly decipher considering how muddled the narrative surrounding the film is. Fox made numerous last-minute script changes, including pulling three major action sequences, and slashed millions of dollars from the film’s budget days before cameras were set to roll. One of the biggest grievances was the numerous reshoots that took up almost a third of the final product, which were obvious because of Kate Mara’s blonde wig. Despite the production being a complete mess, we do have some inkling of Trank’s original vision, which he teased in interviews, as well as some deleted footage to help us scrap together the pieces.
We briefly saw Jamie Bell’s The Thing as a military puppet in Fantastic Four, mostly through archival footage shown on military computer monitors, but the original vision of the film had the character’s military exploits shining. The big centrepiece shot in the trailer was that of The Thing jumping out of a military air carrier and landing on a humvee in enemy territory. Right afterwards, we could have expected a giant action sequence that would have shown off just how powerful Bell’s take on the character was, as well as his forced allegiance to the military. This action scene was supposed to take place right after Reed Richards (played by Miles Teller) escaped the facility and would have served as our anchoring time-jump moment. Apparently, much of this scene was shot hand-held style, which made it jump out like a sore thumb when Fox ultimately took over the film. The footage that was shot was most likely retooled to be shown through the archival footage.
Tim Blake Nelson’s Dr. Allen served as the harbinger of the exploitation, using the team for his own scientific and political interests. During an interview, Nelson confirmed that he signed on to play Harvey Elder, who would go on to become The Mole Man. His character’s name seems to have been changed in post-production just like Doom’s. In fact, his death takes place at the end of the film, which seems to be a product of the reshoots.
Toby Kebbel’s villain was originally going to be called Victor Domashev. Josh Trank’s original script saw him as an anti-social programmer with an internet persona called “Doom.” A bit cheeky but it worked with the grounded and cynical take that Trank wanted. In the final cut, Kebbel’s character is called Victor von Doom. His new name was added with ADR and is only spoken by off-screen characters, signalling that this was a product of the lengthy reshoots. If the character’s name was changed, it’s hard to imagine that there weren’t key scenes featuring Victor that were stripped away, especially the ones that showed off his blogging abilities.
In the theatrical version of Fantastic Four, Doom was awkward and stilted, with the character barely resembling his comic book counterpart. One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when Doom is walking down a hallway, killing members of the facility’s staff. It’s a genuinely haunting scene and could have worked much better if we understood Doom’s purpose throughout the film. A cut scene seen in the trailer gives us a small but perfect look at what Doom could have been like if he had any actual intentions. After returning from Planet Zero, Doom’s body is strapped and being inspected by the powers that be. Here, Reed and Victor were going to have a conversation, where the former revealed that something would be coming from Planet Zero. When asked “What?”, Doom replied with a somber “the answers” (or “Doom” depending on which trailer you saw). It’s unclear what answers would have been presented but an early draft of the script written by Jeremy Slater had Galactus in the film. Could Galactus have been “the answers”?
Just as Doom was paper thin, so were the titular heroes who brought him to justice. While Miles Teller’s Reed Richards and Kate Mara’s Sue Storm received semi-substantial character development, Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm and Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm were relegated to generic caricatures of their comic-selves. When taking a look at the trailers, we can see that there’s a fair bit of footage left on the cutting room floor focusing on Ben and Johnny before they got their powers. Apart from his big action sequence that was cut, Ben is seen playing baseball twice — both as a child and as a young adult, an activity of his that is barely touched upon in the film. Most of Ben’s backstory and character intentions come from his childhood where he’s revealed to be abused by his older brother. In the final product, that’s all we get to see to form any opinions on the character, who is just shown as Reed’s secondhand sidekick. The same could be said for Johnny, whose only personality trait appears to be that he’s brash but motivated. Despite being portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, the character lacks his signature charm and frequent delivery of quips. In the trailers, there’s a scene that shows the character tinkering away at a car, implying that he knows what he’s doing and could be an actual value for the team.
One detail that was going to have much more weight in Josh Trank’s original vision was The Fantasticar. Days after Fantastic Four was released, b-roll and behind-the-scenes footage made us privy of a completed Fantasticar being cut from the final act. In the opening scene of the film, Reed casually mentions to his teacher that he’s working on a flying car. While this may have come off as a cringe-worthy joke from a middle schooler, it turns out that Reed had completed the project and that the team was going to ride the Fantasticar into Planet Zero for the film’s climax.
As for the Planet Zero battle, it’s fair to say that much of it was reshot as Kate Mara’s wig is seen in every frame she’s on screen. We don’t particularly know all the happenings of the Planet Zero battle pre-Trank’s removal, but the aesthetic of the planet certainly changed. In the trailer, the wasteland is riddled with red lava and clouds, a far cry from the green seen in the final film. One particular scene that was cut from this finale is what appeared to be a heartfelt moment between Johnny and Sue that was seen in the trailers. In it, Johnny lies on the ground, presumably injured, as Sue consoles him. Their sibling relationship didn’t receive much credence and wasn’t seen as believable so something like this scene would have really helped.
So, would Josh Trank’s version of Fantastic Four have been “fantastic” and received great reviews? Maybe. All that we know that was cut from the film is exactly what fans and critics were clamouring for: more comic-book references, action sequences, and actual character drama and interactions. There are inklings of greatness in Trank’s first half of the film and the horror stuff actually works. But after that, the entire house of cards collapses, and the film is just bumbling itself to a finale that lacks excitement or any coherence. Josh Trank’s vision was different, perhaps too different, but it would have set itself apart from the rest of the superhero fare that was chasing after the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, we got an awkward, boring, and sloppy take on the Fantastic Four for the third time.
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