Again, that's something that's said about every Marvel property these days: "At this point, you could call any movie "Marvel's ________" and get a smash hit!" But Fox's new Fantastic Four movie seems poised to put that logic to a test, as the studio - after hiding any trace of the film from public view for over a year of production - has finally opted to tease the film via a trailer that features a lot of striking imagery... but effectively nothing that might indicate that it's a trailer for The Fantastic Four.

That's not necessarily a criticism (my criticism of the trailer would be that in deliberately aping the better-than-the-movie Interstellar trailer it ends up reminding me more of the Transcendence trailer,) but it does place the film in an exciting position. Not a position of likely being any good, mind you. Advance word, coupled with the studio's insistence on hiding it (do NOT believe for a moment that a neophyte like Josh Trank has the clout to ask a studio not to market a massive tentpole like this) makes it sound like a miss just waiting to happen. But this will be the first "superhero" movie in a long time that's bound to ignite the unanswerable debate over fidelity of adaptation.

That wasn't always the case: Comics fans once accepted that their heroes would land onscreen looking barely like themselves, and that their best bet was to cling to good action scenes and interesting dialogue while hoping for a handful of familiar visual references. But now is the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where heroes and their stories arriving onscreen looking like a live-action splash-page is now the expected norm. FF, according to its director, is aiming for something different: The broad iconography of the books (names and powers, mainly) refitted into a science-gone-wrong character piece.

That sounds interesting, at least. But it invites the question of how much change can go into an adaptation and have it still BE an adaptation. To break Respectable Critic Decorum and stoop to a food metaphor; if you take away the cheese, the crust and the sauce, then serve the remaining pepperoni atop a bowl of ramen... can you really still call it "pizza?" Fantastic Four has jettisoned not only surface material like the characters' iconic blue uniforms and jaunty Space Age Adventurer optimism, but also their origins, backstories... rumors even heavily suggest that the franchise's most beloved secondary element, the supervillain Doctor Doom, has been completely revamped from the ground up.

At that point, why is this even still called "Fantastic Four" apart from branding? And if it's good on its own merits, does it still fail as an adaptation, and does it matter? And then there's the question looming large on Fox's mind: Does it matter versus the indifferent wrath of fans who not only aren't hurting for "accurate" superhero movies but are also acutely aware that the prospective failure of this one just gets them closer to a hypothetical "proper" version from Marvel at some point?

My own sense is that it's too early to tell, but just based on this trailer, I doubt I'd be excited no matter what they called it. Overly-familiar and dour doesn't begin to describe it, and I can only imagine that if the title were to be a "surprise" to me, my reaction would be more on the lines of "...seriously?"

I imagine we'll find out soon enough.



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