One of the most loathed superhero movies of all time is easily Josh Trank’s 2015 Fantastic Four reboot, also stylized as Fant4stic in marketing. Tonally and aesthetically divorced from the property it was based on, the movie was thrown through an editing shredder after behind-the-scenes production woes. What resulted can barely even be called a coherent movie, though it was certainly harshly critiqued as one.
Within the muddled husk of a film that was Fant4stic, there beats the heart of a very interesting body horror take on the franchise. It might not have ever been what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created, but it certainly would have been enticing and potentially successful — if done correctly. Sadly, what audiences actually got was only about a third of an actual movie, good or otherwise.
Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four Succeeded When Body Horror Was a Focus
Fantastic Four 2015 is a film that really has no interest in being just another generic superhero movie: a feeling that actually could have worked if it had stuck with an element that was rather interesting in the film. More than any other adaptation beforehand, the sequence where the team discovers their powers is breathtakingly ominous and even downright scary. Obviously, there’s the horror of Ben Grimm becoming the Thing, but even Reed’s inhuman stretching and Johnny’s spontaneous combustion are no laughing matter.
This is especially the case when Reed later escapes Area 57, a sequence that is the farthest thing from any Silver Age whimsy. Both the disgusting nature of Reed’s stretching and the horrifying situation of Ben becoming a rock creature are framed in the way a horror movie would showcase them, making it all feel like anything but another blockbuster superhero flick. Given how crowded the superhero movie landscape was already becoming, this could have separated Fant4stic from the competition. Unfortunately, these two scenes are the only times that this tone is really evoked.
Would Full-On Horror Have Saved Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four?
Creating a Fantastic Four movie that has more in common with horror director David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly or some inside-out Junji Ito manga might be the last thing that Marvel fans would expect, but as shown from the few bright spots of Fant4stic, it could’ve worked. In fact, having Cronenberg himself direct such a film would’ve been the ultimate industry upset, creating something wholly unique in the genre.
Of course, the movie would’ve needed to commit to this and give itself enough time to actually tell a story. The majority of the film up to Reed’s escape feels like a fairly flawed but still interesting first act of a movie, requiring a true middle and satisfying ending to stick the landing. Unfortunately, all Fant4stic got was a narratively disconnected final 25-ish minutes that was supposed to be the ending. There were numerous scenes cut from the movie, some of which were even seen in the trailers, and even in this more complete version, the narrative began altering to fit a more generic superhero film template.
Cronenberg or even Trank himself could’ve saved the movie by having confidence in what the film was clearly designed to be: science fiction horror. The filmmakers could’ve had the team on the run from the government, making the movie essentially a much darker version of 1950s sci-fi movies. If a villain such as Doctor Doom was absolutely needed, they should’ve given the audience time to get to know him and see him grow into a threat. In fact, it would have been an interesting bit of meta-commentary to have Doom as a sort of Tony Stark character who tracks the F4 down via his suit of silver and green armor. This would have totally flipped their relationship while also being a sort of satire on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At this point, nothing resembling this will likely ever be made. Even the cut footage has mostly gone unreleased and could’ve been lost, so a version of Fant4stic in the vein of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is likely an impossibility now. Thus, it continues to keep its status as one of the most horrible superhero movies of all time. Leaning more into body horror may not have saved it in that regard, but it could have at least provided for some interesting, even fantastic frights.