The troubled cinematic history of The Fantastic Four

The troubled cinematic history of The Fantastic Four

As the new Fantastic Four trailer premieres, we look back at the difficult journey of comics' first superteam to the big screen

As the trailer for the new Fantastic Four reboot drops, we finally get a (very) brief glimpse of Mr Fantastic (Miles Teller), The Invisible Woman (Kate Mara), The Thing (Jamie Bell) and The Human Torch (Michael B Jordan). It’s suitably dark and brooding, as befits the current vogue for taking superheroes very seriously indeed. It also restores some faith in the remake as, throughout production, the film has been hit by rumours and a fan backlash against the perceived new direction.

The Fantastic Four were Marvel’s first ever superhero team, and also the debut collaboration between comic legends writer Stan Lee and artist Jack_Kirby. It was a huge hit when it launched in 1961; what seemed to strike a chord with readers was that the inter-team relationships were given as much emphasis as the big action set-pieces. The four characters were all closely related – Reed Richards (the elastic Mr Fantastic) was going out with Sue Storm (The Invisible Girl, later the Invisible Woman), who in turn was the sister of Johnny Storm (living fireball the Human Torch), while Ben Grimm (rock monster The Thing) was Reed’s old college roommate and best friend, making them the ultimate dysfunctional superfamily.

A perennial favourite among comic fans, it’s had a bumpy ride to the big screen. Perhaps the most notorious entry in FF film lore is the still unreleased 1994 adaptation. In a bid to retain the rights for Constantin Films, B-movie legend Roger Corman was brought in to produce a quick, cheap version shot over roughly 20 days. Basically, it’s rubbish, and never saw the light of day, but bootlegs can be found online or at comic conventions.

Next came two big-budget features from 20th Century Fox. Fans never warmed to these kid-friendly screen adaptations, which seemed to go against the grain by aiming for a goofy family feel, and Jessica Alba was even nominated for a Razzie for Worst Actress. However, despite being a critical turkey, the first film made over $330 million at the worldwide box-office in 2005, while the 2007 sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, topped out at $289m (but earned yet another Razzie nomination for Alba).

Fox are staking even more on the 2015 Fantastic Four. Josh Trank made a name for himself with indie superhero movie Chronicle and should bring a darker edge to the FF. However, there have been persistent rumours that the film was floundering or even being recast, not helped by a shifting release date that has been pushed back three times. Internet fanboys made a stink about all manner of quibbles with the film not following the comics’ mythology, in particular the new origin story: that a black actor will be playing Sue Storm’s brother, and the idea that Doctor Doom has been turned into a computer programmer.

The trailer emphasises Trank’s commitment to ‘realistic’ sci-fi, even citing body horror maestro David Cronenberg as an influence. Fox seem to be pretty confident with this new direction, as they’ve already announced a sequel for June 2017.

In further Marvel news, Fox have also begun discussing an X-Men TV series in earnest after the success of X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Names including 24 producers Evan Katz and Manny Coto are apparently in the development stages. Meanwhile, over in Marvel’s own TV universe, David Tennant has been announced as the main villain Kilgrave for their Netflix series AKA Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter.

Fantastic Four is released in the UK on Thu 6 Aug

Fantastic Four

  • 2 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Josh Trank
  • Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell
  • UK release: 6 August 2015

This adaptation of the classic comic book delivers yet another story about how a team of superheroes develop their freakish abilities, but it's humourless, drab and filled with self-important speeches about saving the world. Tim Story's 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four films may have set the bar low, but Trank barely clears it.