The Fantastic Four now in theaters is a movie set largely in hallways and big labs, a film with a long build up to a very rushed final battle. It’s a movie that is full of promise in the first half, promise that is totally squandered in the back half. But this wasn’t always the movie. Fantastic Four has gone through a lot of iterations - many of them just in the past few months, as massive reshoots reshaped the film - but also going back years.
In 2014 Simon Kinberg delivered a rewrite of the script Jeremy Slater had turned in; Slater and director Josh Trank had been hired together by Fox in 2012 and Slater has a final credit on the film. The movie that is in theaters now resembles Slater’s draft only in the broadest strokes, and most of the elements that the two versions share are from Slater’s first act - which is stretched out in the final film to create about 2/3rds of the movie.
Slater’s script is closer in tone and action to a Marvel movie, with big action and lots of character interplay. It’s maybe a little overstuffed, featuring the origin of the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Mole Man, Herbie the Robot and even the FantastiCar, and containing a central action set piece in the streets of New York City against a gigantic Moloid that eats Ben Grimm.
The 2012 draft resembles the film closely at first. Reed and Ben are young friends, working together on a project that teleports matter to… somewhere. In Slater’s draft the toy car that Reed first teleports shows back up when the team make it to the Negative Zone, a strange thing for the final film to leave out.
Slater’s draft is quicker than the final film, but it does take time to establish that Ben Grimm is Reed’s enforcer, keeping him safe from bullies. This aspect makes Reed’s decision to bring Ben along on the trip to the Negative Zone make more sense. In this version there is no elder Dr. Storm, and Sue calls her brother Johnny in to help at the last minute because they have no one else to turn to.
As in the final film Reed goes to the Baxter Building as part of a science scholarship; there he meets Sue and Victor Von Doom. Victor takes the nerdy Reed to parties, where he meets and falls for Sue, but Victor’s not actually picking up girls at these shindigs - he is secretly feeding Reed’s research to spies from his homeland of Latveria.
There’s more stuff happening in the Baxter Building. We meet Dr. Harvey Elder, who is creating artificial life in the biolab with Sue - the Moloids. Meanwhile Ben has become sad as Reed has stopped calling him, and he has made a choice - he’s skipping college and has enlisted in the army.
When the school refuses to allow Reed and Victor to use the Quantum Gate they have built to enter the Negative Zone the team chooses to use it under cover of night. Reed calls in Ben, the person he trusts the most, even if their relationship is strained. Sue is staying behind, Johnny helping her man the controls from this side of the portal. Ben gets promised that he’ll be the first human to step foot on the other side of the portal.
In the script the Quantum Gate is very much that - a rip in space through which a module is passed on a big hydraulic arm. When the team gets through to the Negative Zone Von Doom gotta Von Doom - he pushes Ben aside and puts the first footprint in the dust.
What they find is not the empty broken landscape of the film but rather an alien city. The city is full of skeletons, non-human things that have been killed in some cataclysm. As the team explores the ruins they come upon an amphitheater full of corpses and something else. Something huge, and something wearing battle armor with two blades coming out of either side of its helmet.
The huge thing - Galactus, for those not in the know - chases the three explorers. He shoots Dark Matter out of his hands, enveloping and seemingly killing Victor. Reed and Ben make it to the module but it’s not working; on the other side of the portal Sue is working feverishly to fix the circuitry that won’t allow the module to return home. Galactus nears as Sue finally fixes the machine, and he blasts the module with Dark Matter - but the Dark Matter hits the Quantum Gate and there’s a reaction and the entire team - the two in the module and the two in the lab - are pelted with some kind of cosmic madness.
The scene of the team waking up in the wreckage is similar here - Johnny on fire, screaming, Ben trapped in stone. Sue’s condition is more obvious in the script, with the skin on her face disappearing and showing her musculature.
The script jumps ahead four years. Johnny Storm is a reality show star, although his show is dipping in the ratings. Sue is still at the Baxter Building, and she’s using her invisibility powers to look inside of patients suffering from serious cancers. Dr. Elder wants her to come work on the Moloid program, but Sue won’t - she thinks it’ll be weaponized.
Ben Grimm has been weaponized, working with the military as a deadly asset. He is kept locked up at a military base between missions. Reed, meanwhile, is in hiding in Jakarta, taking the blame for the destruction wrought in the Baxter Building. He’s built himself a Herbie robot and he’s trying to sell his plans for the FantastiCar to Toyota. They think the idea is good, but that running it on a nuclear reactor shows no regard for safety - Reed’s hallmark.
As all of this is happening we cut to Latveria. Using the information Victor fed them, the Latverian government has created their own Quantum Gate. They send a team through and the module returns splattered in blood, containing only one occupant: a Victor Von Doom now made entirely of Dark Matter. He quickly dispatches everyone around him, using shape-changing abilities and shooting electrified razor wire from his hands. Within minutes he has slaughtered Latveria’s ruling elite and taken over the country.
Back in the US Sue and Ben meet for pizza. Ben’s hiding in a trench coat and a fedora, and he’s telling Sue that he’s basically made his peace with being a monster. What he hates is that Reed abandoned him. Sue, it turns out, has been staying at the Baxter Building because she has been trying to cure Ben, using her cancer research. It’s not working.
In Indonesia Reed is attacked by thugs armed with futuristic weapons, weapons based on his own designs. He understands that this has to be Victor, that somehow he survived and is after his old friends. Reed tries to call Sue to warn the others, but he can’t get her on the phone, so he whips out a FantastiCar prototype, loads up Herbie and begins a flight across the ocean.
At the same time thugs - called Shock Troopers in the script - assault the Baxter Building. Johnny happens to be there with a camera crew, trying to get Sue to join him on the show to spike ratings. In the chaos that ensues Dr. Elder gets Moloid juice on him and is transformed into Mole Man, while Shock Troopers inject a Moloid with Dark Matter.
Sue and Johnny stop the Shock Troopers - the script says that Sue is like an Amazonian warrior, just destroying dudes - when Reed shows up too late to warn them. But not too late to see that injected Moloid, now giant, burst out of the ground. Ben, who happens to be nearby looking at puppies in a pet shop window, hears the commotion and runs over. The team engage the giant Moloid, as seen on the cover of Fantastic Four number one, in a fight that is both exciting and humorous. Ben gets swallowed and tries to fight his way out; when he finally gets to the Moloids mouth he sees that Reed has slingshotted a bus at the creature and Johnny has set it on fire and it is heading right towards the mouth - and Ben.
You can see that the finished film has gone way away from this script. The time jump and the team being separated happens here, but everything else is different. The rest of the script has the team coming together to go to Latveria, now the center of an international incident because Victor has built a giant Dark Energy cannon. He intends to use it to destroy Galactus; it seems that Victor’s only chance at survival in the Negative Zone was to act as Galactus’ herald and help him find a new world to eat - Earth. But Von Doom intends to destroy the Destroyer before that can happen.
The team uses their powers in more ways in the script, and Sue especially gets a lot to do. She helps Reed escape from government captivity after the Moloid battle and she’s able to create a force shield that reduces wind resistance on the FantastiCar and allows it to reach incredible speeds. Reed uses his powers to become a living airbag in a crash, he survives a grenade attack, and in the end his biggest contribution to the final fight is Herbie.
The final battle is in Latveria, but it is revealed the shapeshifting Doom there is just a kind of Doombot; Victor is actually physically attached to the planet in the Negative Zone and has sent tendrils of his being to Earth. The film ends with him trapped in the Negative Zone, the FanFour telling the government Galactus is coming and the retooling of the Baxter Building as their home base and a school for smart kids who can help defeat the coming menace of Galactus.
The script clocks in at 121 pages, and it is definitely dense. Like I said, it could be a little too packed, and stuff like the origin of the Mole Man is rushed, although the presence of the Moloid battle in the second act is really welcome - especially when compared to the largely action-free finished film. It’s clear that the biggest problem with this script, for Fox, was that it would be expensive - there are not many scenes that take place inside hallways. The Latveria battle is huge, and rages on for pages and pages. Fox wanted to bring this movie in cheap, and as a result they cut essentially everything after the team gets their powers and then rushed to a conclusion. Josh Trank's vision of the story seems to be different from what Slater wrote; this isn't the darker, more grounded take on the material by any stretch of the imagination.
Before Simon Kinberg came on as producer and to rewrite the film, Fantastic Four was a totally different beast. It took its early cues from the Ultimate Fantastic Four, but by the end of the script the movie was all about big, brash Stan Lee and Jack Kirby action. It’s the kind of script that you could imagine Marvel Studios making.