It’s fair to say that Fantastic Four (2015) has already gone down as one of the year’s most humiliating flops. The movie grossed $56 million domestic and $167 million worldwide against a reported $120 million budget. The film was excoriated by critics, with a Tomatometer of 10 percent. Fans and moviegoers hated the movie, to the point where stars of the movie had to issue mea culpas. Things were so bad that even Ryan Reynolds — the erstwhile Green Lantern himself — felt sorry for the actors involved. And then we’ve got all the nasty behind-the-scenes drama, to the point where it seemed like director Josh Trank was sabotaging his own film to spite the higher-ups at Fox.
Despite all of this, it seemed like the Powers That Be were optimistic about a renewed franchise. As recently as September, producer Simon Kinberg said that he was “really focused on the next one,” while grudgingly admitting that he was “disappointed” by the reception of the first one. What a difference a couple of months makes.
ComicBook.Com reports that the Fantastic Four sequel has been removed from Fox’s schedule. I hasten to add that until recently, the sequel was scheduled to open on June 2017. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to make a sequel, especially considering that the first movie took six fucking years to make.
It also bears mentioning that the sequel may not necessarily be cancelled. More likely, the sequel has been delayed until the Fox execs and filmmakers have a better idea of which direction to go. Not only would this give them more room to make a better movie, but it would also stall for time and keep the rights from reverting to Marvel for that much longer.
Which brings us to the second possibility: That Fox is letting the rights revert to Marvel. Contrary to popular belief, this would not necessarily be cause for celebration.
First of all, this isn’t just about 20th Century Fox. Remember, the film rights were first sold to Constantin Films, the same people who made the infamous unreleased 1994 Roger Corman adaptation to keep the rights for another decade. And in the 20 years since, up to and including the 2015 reboot, Constantin Films has continued to produce every Fantastic Four cinematic adaptation. You can find their name in the opening credits of each one, right there alongside 20th Century Fox.
Which means that any contract renegotiation would have to go through Constantin Films and 20th Century Fox and Marvel and Disney and God knows who else. By the end of all that, the contract would be tied up in so many knots that cutting through the red tape and actually making a Fantastic Four movie within the MCU would be next to impossible. For comparison’s sake, consider that Universal loaned back the rights to Hulk so that Marvel could make The Incredible Hulk back in 2008. And to this day, legal complications with Universal are STILL cited as the main reason why we haven’t gotten another solo Hulk movie in the time since, despite massive popular demand.
And yes, I know that Spider-Man is getting his own solo franchise in the MCU, as well as integration via crossovers with other movies. But while that’s happening, Sony still holds some degree of control over the Webhead’s film rights, and they’re co-managing the property with Marvel by way of some complicated accord that we may never know the full details of.
The point stands that all of this is complicated enough when Marvel has to deal with just Universal or just Sony. You think things will be any better when they have to run everything past both Fox AND Constantin? No way.
And of course, all of this is supposing that Marvel even wants anything to do with the Fantastic Four. I mean, I’m sure they’ll want some other crucial incidental characters who went along as a package deal (we’ve already had rumors that they were gunning for a trade with Silver Surfer and Galactus). But the Four themselves? That would be very tricky, given everything that Marvel has done in disowning the characters.
Remember, this is the same company that burned the Fantastic Four reboot’s cast in effigy, courtesy of The Punisher. This was right about the same time when they cancelled every single Fantastic Four comic, ending a comic book franchise that was literally as old as Marvel Comics as we know it. That’s not to say Marvel couldn’t start printing new Fantastic Four stories tomorrow, but that would mean overcoming a lot of inertia. Ditto for the movies: Is there really any possibility that Marvel could find a place for Reed Richards and company in the Phase Three game plan?
Last but not least, there’s the possibility that maybe we as a culture have outgrown the Fantastic Four. After all, the Four were unmistakably a product of the Silver Age, a notoriously goofy time in comic book history with so many childish stereotypes that comics fans have spent several decades trying to shake off. The Four were also made in direct response to the Justice League, back in those halcyon days when the notion of a superhero team-up was still a novel concept.
There’s really nothing the Fantastic Four have to offer that hasn’t already been done better by other superhero properties. A family of superheroes? We’ve got X-Men and The Incredibles. Thing’s angst over his inability to live among normal people? Meet the Hulk. So Reed Richards is a super-genius? So is Professor X, Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and so many others.
All things considered, I think that Fox would be better off letting the rights revert so that Marvel can have this property that they probably wouldn’t know what to do with any more than anyone else. Sure, it means that Marvel gets Silver Surfer, Galactus, Dr. Doom and so on, but those are relatively minor losses for Fox.
Without Fantastic Four, the people at 20th Century Fox would be able to keep their focus on the mutant properties. Remember, the X-Men franchise — with all of its various characters and storylines — is easily big enough by itself to rival the rest of the Marvel Universe put together in size and scope. For another thing, the focus on mutants will be much more clear without the question of how the Fantastic Four somehow fits into the X-Men film continuity that’s been steadily growing for the past fifteen years. Last but not least, as long as Fox continues giving us movies about X-Men and Deadpool that are consistently entertaining, then where’s the harm?
But I digress. All speculation aside, the fact remains that the Fantastic Four sequel has apparently been sidelined, which can’t mean anything good for the rebooted series. I expect that if there are any further developments on the subject, we’ll be hearing about them soon enough.