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In Defense of Josh Trank

September 21, 2015 Andrew Sanford

At this point in time you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t consider the newest Fantastic Four film by FOX to be a failure. Earning only $161 million dollars worldwide on a $120 million dollar budget and bringing on scathing reviews from critics, hell, it may be hard to find someone who has even seen the movie. It doesn’t help that during production reports emerged that the director, Josh Trank had become extremely difficult to work with going as far as to tent himself off from the rest of the crew. However, during prerelease interviews Trank was very enthusiastic in regards to the film and its upcoming release. Was this the sign of a director trying to save his own ass? Could it be Trank’s way of excusing his erratic behavior? Or was Trank never to blame to begin with?

Let’s go back to where it all began for Trank (as far as Hollywood is concerned), the movie Chronicle. An original super hero film made on a modest $12 million dollar budget, Chronicle was a hit with critics and audiences alike. It also helped launch the already burgeoning careers of actors Michael B. Jordan and Dane Dehaan. The movie also impressed the big wigs over at FOX. According to Trank in an lengthy interview he did with filmmaker Kevin Smith, he was offered the reigns to Fantastic Four while still making Chronicle. FOX knew it was going to be a hit and handed over one of their hottest properties to the fledgling director.

During pre-production on the film, it seemed that all the right pieces were in place. A cast was brought in that raised the hopes of many comic book faithfuls (and admittedly angered others). Assembled was a group of young, successful talent consisting of Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jaime Bell and Michael B. Jordan. Jordan, an African American actor, being cast as Johnny Storm (a character usually portrayed as Caucasian) was not well received by some but many saw it as a show of outside the box thinking. It seemed that, for all intents and purposes, FF was in good hands.

If you listen to Josh Trank talk about Fantastic Four and what he was trying to accomplish, you can understand why the director was offered such high profile films. His intention was to focus on body horror and how such changes as being encased in rock or flame would affect a human’s psyche. How would you feel if, suddenly, you were able to stretch your arms and legs across the room? Chances are, it would take you a while to get comfortable. Even from the trailers, the movie looked to be more of a dark character study than previous versions which relied heavily on set pieces and action. With all that promise, the end result was disappointing to say the least.

FOX’s Fantastic Four was a mess (Yes, I saw it, in theaters). There are plot holes big enough to swim in, poor special effects and scenes that feel tacked on in an attempt to make sense of a script that was less than whole. Gone is any sense of character development or even motivation. Reed Richards wants to make a portal to another dimension just because. Johnny and Sue Storm have a hint of a combative, even jealous relationship that is never elaborated on and Ben Grimm is the muscle. That’s it. While the movie that was released bares little resemblance to the movie Trank intended on making, there are elements. The scene where the team first transforms, though brief, is truly terrifying. Aside from that, the film is at best, uninspired.

I call it FOX’s movie because there is no way (in my humble opinion) that what was released was what Trank intended. Though if you were to believe FOX and “sources close to the production”, the movie was doomed from the start and it was all Trank’s fault. He is blamed for being an amateur that was in well over his head. The Internet was flooded with damming reports as soon as the movie was released and revealed to be sub-par. But, were those reports just an attempt by FOX to bury their own responsibility? Some of the reports claimed that last minute re-shoots were done to salvage the project, but does that make the end result just as much FOX’s fault as anyone else’s?

At the end of the day, there is at least partial blame to be laid against Trank for the film’s poor performance at the box office. The night before the film’s release, Trank sent out a tweet (which he quickly deleted) all but disowning the troubled film. While this does not seem like the move of a seasoned filmmaker (Joss Whedon for example waited until after the release of Age of Ultron to voice his displeasure with the film) it does sound like a man who was at his whits end and did not want to be associated with a film that he did not feel was his own.

Along with rumors that Trank was uncooperative came whispers that one of the first scripts delivered by the director (and co-writer Jeremy Slater)  presented a very different movie. A movie that Trank’s now infamous tweet suggested “would’ve received great reviews”. However, for the time being, these are all just rumors. Faceless sources feeding new information about the troubled production to any one who will listen. As of right now, the possibilities are endless. There is a chance that Trank just made a bad movie. It happens. There are plenty of very talented directors that have and will make movies that just don’t work and as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Right now, super hero movies are a mass source of income for movie studios. With the success of Marvel Studios, it’s understandable for a studio to want the most from the comic book properties that it has. In FOX’s case, their desire for a successful adaptation may have lead to that movies’ destruction. The truth is, we may have to wait years until we found out what really happened with Fantastic Four but in the mean time, we can all speculate away as the studio and the director play the blame game. Personally, I choose to err on the side of caution. I will not judge this director on one project, especially not one that is so mired in controversy and I would urge you to do the same.

Andrew Sanford