The superhero movie genre is a fickle one. There is a fine line between the success of the Avengers and the calamity of Green Lantern, the heights of Batman and the lows of Catwoman.
And yet, it didn’t take much of a crystal ball to figure out that the new Fantastic Four movie was going to find it hard-going at the box office.
For simplicity’s sake, we can boil down the failure for four things:
Where’s the buzz?
The fan boys and comic-book lovers went into overdrive over the footage for the upcoming Batman v Superman movie at San Diego Comic Con. If that buzz is any indication, we’re looking at $500m at least at the box office, if not a cool billion.
Consider it an example as how advanced buzz can be a good indicator over whether people really want to see a new film/reboot/sequel/re-imagining.
Yet where is the buzz for a new Fantastic Four? Where is the cultural zeitgeist, the excitement, the amusing memes that suggest people are paying attention? The original fan base still buying the comic books?
Yes, there is a built-in audience for Marvel superhero movies … but not necessarily for a FF movie. I feel FF falls between the cracks of the teen comic-book buyers and the more mature crowd now into graphic novels like Sandman.
It’s probably also not a good sign that the director tweeted: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
How can audiences relate to them?
OK, so the Fantastic Four go into outer space and come back as altered beings. Yet what are they? They’re not the X-Men, mutants defending the rights of mutants to exist in a world that hates and fears them. They’re not the Avengers: spies, soldiers, industrialists, rage monsters and sky gods tasked to protect mankind from both earthly and intergalactic threats.
They’re not Daredevil or the Punisher or Superman or any hero that’s easy to understand. (Or, indeed, heroes you’d want to “be” – sure, it might be cool to be Wolverine, with the claws and the healing powers, but do you want to be a talking slab of rock? Or a giant Gumby doll? Or a dude on fire?)
In fact, if you asked a group of cinemagoers what the Fantastic Four “stand for” – what there “mission statement” is – they’d find it tough to answer. Are they the heroes you call when the Avengers or the X-Men are busy? Do they make wisecracks to hide the pain like Deadpool? Or are they all business like Batman?
Are they light or shade? Fish or fowl?
If you can’t understand them, you can’t relate to them. And if you can’t relate to them, you probably don’t want to watch them.
The main enemy is Victor Von Doom … again
We already saw that in 2005. A Galactus taking up the whole screen would have been more interesting (imagine Galactus in IMAX!).
We’re seeing the beginnings of “peak superhero”
The superhero franchise has moved on considerably since the first FF outing. Better scripts, better special FX, better acting … and audiences with greater expectations.
Tim Burton’s Batman probably wouldn’t fly today after Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. We savaged the Daredevil movie. Green Lantern might have been a hit if it had run in the 1990s rather than this decade.
Or maybe we’re finally seeing the signs of “peak superhero”. We’ve just watched so many films about mutants and flying gods and spider-men, we’ve become a bit tired and jaded. Only something truly amazing will get us excited again.
And something just “fantastic” simply won’t do.
My ebook military thriller, The Spartan, is out now on Amazon.