It’s widely considered a tacit no-confidence vote when studios opt not to screen a movie for critics until just before the movie hits theaters — exactly what’s happening with Friday’s release of Fantastic Four, reviews of which are being embargoed until late Wednesday.
Critics are one matter; it’s their job to call a turnip when they see one. A whole other situation, though, is the stars whose duties include cheerleading for the movie in the days leading up to release. What does it say when even they haven’t seen the film?
While speaking with BBC’s Newsbeat, the Fantastic Four lead actors — Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell — admitted they haven’t seen the movie yet despite being deep into the press tour to promote it. “I’m going to try to see it opening night with a real audience,” Mara told the BBC. She may be playing it safe, but Teller seemingly admitted defeat, saying, “Rarely are films of this size critically well-received. This is not a movie we’re going to go on Rotten Tomatoes and it’s going to be at 80 or 90 percent.”
Actors not seeing a movie they’re in isn’t anything controversial — Johnny Depp famously doesn’t watch any of the movies he does — but keeping a movie from critics and its actors even up to the day before it’s released in theaters is not a good look for 20th Century Fox.
Bad buzz on the movie began in May when the Hollywood Reporter described director Josh Trank’s on-set behavior as “erratic” and “very isolated,” similar to the demeanor that allegedly led to his ouster from the upcoming untitled standalone Star Wars movie. Fox spokespeople have said they’re happy with the movie, and Trank has stepped up to defend his exit from Star Wars. But all signs are now pointing toward a Fantastic Four minor disaster, especially when principle filmmakers feel compelled to tell the press specifically that “it’s not a disaster.”
The filmmakers and stars may have tried something darker and grittier — something more akin to Batman Begins — but something as popcorny as the Fantastic Four may not have warranted such a grim outlook. If the movie does bomb, it’ll be fascinating to see the rights controversies that pop up that may put the foursome back in their home in the highly lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ll know soon enough whether we have a mere Iron Man 2 on our hands or a full-blown Catwoman careening toward video-on-demand.