For a while now, I have had a growing unease about Fox’s upcoming reboot of their Fantastic Four franchise and the latest word from screenwriter and producer Simon Kinberg is only stoking those concerns. Speaking at WonderCon this past weekend in Los Angeles, Kinberg revealed that the film was already in production in Baton Rogue before commenting and bit on what tone director Josh Trank was heading for with the film.
As [Bryan] Singer created with the original ‘X-Men’ movies, Christopher Nolan created with the ‘Dark Knight’ movies, Jon Favreau and Marvel created with the ‘Iron Man’ movies, all the best superhero franchises – Sam Raimi did it with with ‘Spider-Man’ – they create a tone and that is the thing that defines them… It’s not the stories that differentiate them from each other. Sometimes the characterizations aren’t that distinct. It’s that the tone is different and in some ways [that's because of the] lessons learned from the original ‘Fantastic Four’ movies, but also because of Josh Trank’s natural instinct for more realism, for more of a dramatic approach to things. This will definitely be a more realistic, a more gritty, grounded telling of the ‘Fantastic Four’ and no matter what people think about the cast.
(Emphasis mine on the last line.)
While I will agree that tone is very important – see the differences between Nolan’s Batman films and the 1960s television version for perhaps the most extreme examples of how tone can affect how one uses a character – I don’t think that a “gritty” tone is the one to go for with a property like the Fantastic Four. If anything it is the exact wrong tone to be aiming for.
I would hazard a guess and say that Fox executives saw the grosses for Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films and wanted similar results, so they found someone, in this case Trank, who was interested in delivering just that. But a read of any decent run of the comic, especially if one goes back to the series’ earliest days in the 1960s, quickly shows that the series isn’t about gritty realism. At the core of the series was the sense of family between the four heroes that was always presented in a lighthearted manner. The back-and-forth between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm is the superhero equivalent of brothers good-naturedly horsing around.
Admittedly, this seems to be a hard dynamic to get right. Fox’s previous two Fantastic Four films were at least aiming for it, but whether it was the screenplay, the direction from Tim Story or a combination of the two, the films never quite hit the mark. If anything, the officially unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four, for all its faults, was closer to capturing that feeling than anyone else has been able to so far. And it sounds to me that the record may remain unbroken for some time to come.