Even though I didn’t find Fantastic Four to be the affront to cinema most people are making it out to be (my review), it’s clear that the film has tanked both with audiences and critics. The point of this piece isn’t to defend Fantastic Four, but I have to say that when its Rotten Tomatoes score is twice as bad as Pixels, I think there’s something seriously wrong with how we’re appraising the film. There was a built-in backlash for this film way before anyone even saw the finished product, and some element of that comes from the fact that Fox owns the film rights to Fantastic Four. Many people want Marvel’s First Family in the hands of Disney (lest we forget, Marvel is now a Disney-owned company) because they believe that will guarantee a good movie. But, will it?
After Sony cut a deal with Disney to include a new version of Spider-Man in their cinematic universe, the nerd collective starting doing backflips and high-fiving each other. Now that the web-slinger is “back home”, it means that whatever film comes out is going to be the best Spider-Man ever. I mean, Disney/Marvel is incapable of producing a bad movie, right?
After the unwarranted hatred that Fantastic Four received this weekend, I started reexamining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Out of twelve current entries, I’d consider two of those exceptional films (Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier), four of them very good (Iron Man, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers), two that are hovering around being average or just above (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man), and four that are either forgettable or genuinely bad (The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and both Thor films). I know my opinions don’t line up with most peoples’, but I also feel like there’s this incredible leniency audiences give the MCU movies. It’s like we’re so happy just to have them that we cut them an inordinate amount of slack, or we only focus on the ones that generally everyone seems to love. Even the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron seems to have faded from most discussion by now, as if people are trying to delude themselves into thinking it wasn’t as underwhelming as it actually was.
It’s also strange to me that people support the monopolization of a large part of popular culture. They want Marvel (read: Disney) to control all of these properties, which means that they will have to follow a set of house rules. This was an enormous point of contention for people when Edgar Wright departed Ant-Man, but thanks to the finished movie not being unbearable, all is forgotten. Although Josh Trank’s experiment with Fantastic Four failed, he was at least given a lot of room to try something different. As Marvel’s ongoing experiment progresses, there will be less room for such radical divergences into riskier territory.
I’m not one to claim superhero fatigue. I enjoy these stories and characters, but as someone who values the stories themselves over the properties they take place in, I want more of these movies to be able to play outside of the box. Of all the upcoming comic book films, the one that has me most intrigued is Suicide Squad. That’s a film that, at this juncture, feels bizarre and dangerous. So many of Marvel’s films (excluding the two I think are exceptional) have this aura of safeness about them. And no matter what your opinions on Fantastic Four are, it’s by no means playing it safe. If the Storm family does end up jumping over to Disney, I’m fairly certain that their next cinematic outing will be as textbook as possible.
This sounds like I hate Marvel Studios, but it’s much more that I don’t want them to be the only game in town. It’s created this idea that they have done no wrong, and that they have the solution to every problem when it comes to their properties. When their version of Spider-Man hits the screen, everyone is going to love him, even if he’s actually not that great. Why? Because Marvel, that’s why. And if Fantastic Four does end up in Disney/Marvel’s hands, people will say it’s the best version yet, even if it isn’t. Why? Because Marvel, that’s why.
Side note: I also worry about what this prejudging mentality will mean for Disney’s other mammoth property, Star Wars. With a great marketing campaign and the added bonus of peoples’ dislike of the prequels, there’s no way anyone will listen to a single critical opinion about the newest film. Don’t get me wrong, I am very positive when it comes to anticipating The Force Awakens, but I also want to be able to walk into that film and leave all of my positive feelings outside and view the film as objectively as possible. Looking at how people condemned Fantastic Four before it was even released, I wonder if doing that is becoming more and more unlikely with modern movie audiences.