The Fantastic Four's Greatest Enemy: The Internet?

I think that we, the fans, may actually have been a big part of the problem for The Fantastic Four.

So now we know. Fantastic Four has endured its opening weekend, and in terms of ‘bang versus whimper,’ it was a desperate whimper from a dying animal. By Saturday, fans were already beginning to ask those tantalising questions – you know, the kind like, “What went wrong?”

And here’s the irony: I think that we, the fans, may actually have been a big part of the problem.

How the Movie Industry has Changed

Nowadays, making a movie is as much a social project as anything else. Gone are the days when you had a few magazines that told you everything that could be known, with a carefully-released trickle of information; nowadays, the internet is flooded with websites (like this one), reviews, interviews, Tweets, and so much more. The nature of the game has changed, and the film studios – and the directors – are still working out how to play. There’s a sense in which every movie is an experiment now, an experiment as to how best to market in order to get prospective audiences pumped.

Then there are the darker sides of the internet. Sometimes, just sometimes, a detail leaks that the studios really don’t like. In the case of Fantastic Four, a plot synopsis – including for Doctor Doom’s reinvention as a computer hacker, of all things – leaked online. Fox denied them and then, to nobody’s real surprise, started to throw around legal weight to get the spoilers removed. Den of Geek got the following from Fox’s lawyers:

“The disclosure of purported details is harmful to Fox and to the filmmakers hard at work on the project. Disclosure of uncontrolled information about the Fox Property prior to its release diminishes the value of Fox’s rights in the Fox Property and deprives the filmmakers of an opportunity to present the film to the public the way they intended.”

Unintentionally, that paragraph hits upon the real problem every marketing department has with social media. “Disclosure of uncontrolled information” is the problem. You can’t plan for, or control, the internet, although Fox seemed to try to do this quite a lot. ‘Uncontrolled information’ means people form their opinions a long time before they see the project – either positive or negative. And, with Fox's embargo on reviews set as close to the wire as possible before release, they seem to have been desperately hoping nobody would be put off by prior expectations. All of which kind of indicated a lack of confidence in their product.

How Social Media has Changed the Fantastic Four

And here’s the catch. The film that hit the screens is a very different product to the one that was originally leaked. Josh Trank's original take was more akin to body-horror, by the sound of it; but it's been transformed into a different creature entirely. And as for Doctor Doom as a hacker – well, that’s gone.

Popular opinion among reviewers and industry figures is that there was a dramatic rewrite as a result of the social media outcry. Josh Trank’s original concept may have been risky, but it genuinely sounds a lot better than what we got. Instead, the studio saw the outcry, slapped up legal notices on every website that had ran with the leaked content, and lost confidence in the director. A rewrite was forced, and the film that hit the screen was basically a mismatch of two different concepts. It sounds like Josh Trank’s was a lot better than Fox’s finished product, frankly.

But here’s the real question. With this dramatic change in Fantastic Four, the internet has moved from discussing a movie, to shaping it. And is that really the way we want things to go? Is it a good thing for a director’s every decision to be scrutinised by millions, with the studio forcing rewrites as a result? Or would we be better off with directors and studios working together on producing their vision, ignoring the outcry as leaks occur, and making the film they wanted to make in the first place?

Whatever the case may be, it looks clear: the Fantastic Four’s real enemy in this phase of their epic journey wasn’t Doctor Doom. No, they were fighting against the internet – and the internet won.

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The Fantastic Four's Greatest Enemy: The Internet?