Disney seems like an insatiable eating machine, taking in other companies at a worrying rate, leading us ever closer to the megacorporation future so many of our favourite dystopian science fiction movies and books predicted. It’s not all bad though, Because Disney’s aquitisiton of 20th Century Fox for a staggering $52.4 last year means that Marvel movie fans get to see their favourite properties back together again. That’s a decent trade for an inevitable cyberpunk future. Right?
While most people’s initial gut reaction would be how the new status quo would affect the upcoming X-Men and Deadpool movies, I’m going to pose a different question: How could the MCU salvage the Fantastic Four from the near unsalvageable position that the previous three movies have left Marvel’s first family. And potentially how soon could the group find themselves in the mix after Infinity War.
To understand why the Fox’s repeated attempts at making Fantastic Four movies never gained any real success or acclaim, we need to look back at their origins in the comics. With the first issue releasing in November of 1961. It is generally accepted as the comic that turned Marvel’s fortunes around and helped push them into the household name they are today.
The Fantastic Four resonated with readers because, at the time, they were something new, a highly dysfunctional family unit who bickered and were resentful to one another constantly. They weren’t perfect exemplars of justice or heroism, and that made them relatable. For a good long time, the Fantastic Four were the A-Team of the Marvel comics, pulling more clout than even the Avengers.
However, as the 80s and 90s rolled around, the inter family bickering began to grow stale and fans wanted something darker and grittier. It was during this period that the X-Men went from being Marvel’s dud book to their biggest property. And as the X-Men grew, the Fantastic Four floundered.
Most of their iconic stories came out of the silver age, and the more casual comic book would probably struggle to think of more than a couple, I know I do. Many of the best stories and characters the Fantastic Four comics produced ended up outgrowing their original foils to an extent, becoming threats to the wider Marvel universe. Doctor Doom, the Skrulls, Namor and even Galactus became everyone’s problem.
The initial news about Fox selling up to Disney had far more people excited to see Galactus or Namor showing up. Hardly anyone seemed excited about the Fantastic Four finding their way back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it’s not difficult to understand everyone’s pessimism.
The Movies we’ve got
Fox tried their hand at making Fantastic Four movies on three separate occasions, each effort being worse than the last. The first two movies are prime examples of early super hero movies; made during a time where studios really didn’t know how to handle the comic book properties they had. Fantastic Four was a comic very much entrenched in the campy silver age. Something Fox had no idea how to handle in 2005.
There was a need to modernise the material while making it more digestible to a casual audience. The original FF stories had the characters bickering and infighting constantly, but they always stuck together despite that. This was a movie for kids ultimately and getting too deep into the infighting while dealing with the silly concepts being thrown out there, getting that balance was always going to be tough.
The interplay between characters always felt off. It comes as a result of the inherent weakness with making a team movies that needs to introduce and focus on multiple characters at the same time. Focus was spread too thin and as a result, the four leads and their villain felt half baked in their development throughout the movie. Ironically, the first movie was probably the best of the bunch in portraying the team correctly. Despite its many flaws.
They certainly didn’t achieve it in 2015 with Fant4stic. A movie that came around through pure obligation due to the expiring rights that would send the franchise back to its original holder. It’s a dreadful movie that is further from the mark than the first one. A dreary and dour 100 minutes that mishandles all of the characters as well as its basic structure as a movie. The entire thing feels like a first act.
Even their eventual reconciliation at the end to defeat “Doom” felt forced. The cast hardly interact as a unit and the climax is their first real full interplay with one another. It makes the climax with them working together feel undeserved, there is no camaraderie between them before that point thus it doesn’t seem like the natural end point to their characters.
Not to mention the total departure of the characters from their source material, especially Ben Grim.
But Marvel have managed to make the formula work, not only that, they turned it into one of the best movies of the entire MCU: The Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians are an incredibly dysfunctional family unit who ultimately band together when the stakes are high, they’re all their own characters and personalities and don’t suffer from having to share the spotlight.
I honestly believe that Marvel could make the Fantastic Four work. The new age of super hero movies takes the silly aspects of the older characters with both hands and embraces them. Nobody questions the design of Captain America’s very flash uniform, nobody laughs at those horns on Loki’s helmet. But if the Fantastic Four were to return and succeed, there are a few things I, personally, believe they need to do…
Twice now we’ve seen Fox Bungle Victor Von Doom in live action. A character who has transcended his position as a mere member of a rogue’s gallery and has become a major figure across the entire Marvel universe. He’s a character who started out very silly, a man who cares only for proving his intelligence over Reed Richards in increasingly cartoonish death trap scenarios.
He has since become a far more complex character, almost an anti-hero, using both magic and technology in combination to reshape the world into his own dictatorial version of a peaceful world. Doom is a complex enough character that he needs some time to settle and establish himself. He can’t get the development he needs as anything but his campy silver age self, they can’t afford to introduce him while also trying to do the same with a team of four.
While a stand alone would be ideal. I don’t see Disney and Marvel choosing to focus one of their movies on a villain. So rather, it would be smart to establish Doom in another movie, one in which he isn’t the villain. An extended cameo that can do the preliminary leg work to get people interested in seeing more of him. It would be for the best to have an already established Doom too because there one thing we don’t need…
No Origin Story
Much like with Spider-Man, we don’t need to see a third iteration of the Fantastic Four’s origin. It’s been seen, it’s been done, what we haven’t seen yet is a truly established Fantastic Four. The important movers and shakers that play a major role in every big storyline in Marvel’s comics. But if this were to happen, how do such a influential and important group of characters go unnoticed in the MCU for so long?
Easy, just establish the multiverse. With Doctor Strange introducing the concept of alternate realties, the Fantastic Four could double down in this. We could see a more scientific approach to the matter than the always vague magical explanation.
Have the FF arrive in the MCU from a parallel dimension more akin to the Marvel universe of the comics. Where they were the first established team, and their input was vital in every situation. Forced from their own reality for some reason or another, we could get the fish out of water story while also giving a new reality to cheat your way out casting problems or reintroducing characters we thought dead.
Plus, we get to see an comfortable and capable Fantastic Four, who can spend less time bickering and more time doing what the team has always done best and…
Lean into the Fantastic
The Fantastic Four have always been a team who cross space and dimensions on the regular, things that may seem inconceivable to many is an average weekend to them. Along with the opportunity to introduce an older, established Fantastic Four, a multiverse could also be the gateway into telling more ambitious stories about parallel dimensions, alternate timelines and give the writers the opportunity to explore the popular one off stories which couldn’t otherwise exist in the current MCU.
While the Fantastic Four could join the MCU, they would probably also never be around. Many of their comics have them in deep space or dimension hopping. Hell the original Avengers team were a backup because the FF were busy collecting soil samples in unreachable dimension 2149.
It might be an excuse to see characters like the Maker, any of the heroes of the 2099 reality, or recast Jane Foster and make her the new Thor, just saying’. Failing that, we’d at least get another cosmic presence to go along the Guardians. Which could act to build towards…
Doctor Strange felt like it was setting up Dormammu as the next major multi phase antagonist after Thanos, but with Marvel requiring Galactus it’s very likely they’ll change direction and chose to focus on the devourer of worlds instead. Because let’s be honest, everyone wants it. The Fantastic Four would act as the gateway to the coming, indescribable threat of Galactus, finding crumbs and clues of his existence, while eventually battling his heralds.
The Fantastic Four and Galactus have always been heavily tied to one another, with Reed Richards always having a major hand in saving earth from the devourer. I always imagined the coming of Galactus as a story told akin to the coming of the Reapers in Mass Effect, and I can really see Reed Richards as the Commander Shepard of this story, warning everyone about the coming threat and is suddenly the man to which everyone turns when things go south.
Building to it so slowly would mean that we’d have a lot more time to get invested in the characters, like Marvel have already done so well in the first three phases. One aspect of a potential return of the Fantastic Four would mean that we could finally…
Get the characters right
The MCU is a series in a unique position. It can establish characters well before they make their starring role in their titular movie. It worked to great success with Spider-Man, and even more so with the Black Panther. Their introduction into Civil War meant that their own movies saved precious minutes setting up their story, rather than wasting it on an origin.
In addition to this, there is a lot of baggage associated with the early Fantastic Four. While Ben Grimm did go through a moping phase early on, that’s not the Ben Grimm that the fan base love. My Ben Grimm is the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, the wise guy who is loved by the people of New York. That’s the character fans want to see in the movies. And they’re very open to starting them off separated if they need too.
During the period where Marvel were downwelling their own Fantastic Four comic, they broke up the team and spread them amongst their other books. Sue was a a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jonny was associated with the Inhumans and Ben was a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Them getting some time apart from their primary team allowed writers to do somthing different with them. That approach might not be the worst idea, introducing the team one by one in different movies before they come together for their own movie whenever that happens.
These are all be spitballing ideas though, I have enough faith in Marvel that they could do something even better and make the Fantastic Four great again.
This is the conclusion
The Marvel Cinematic Universe have done great job of creating a movie universe as loved as the comic book universe it spawned from. They’ve made casting choices that have been perfect and produced hit after hit that fans and casual movie goers alike really enjoy. The shyness around dealing with the very campy aspects of the comic books are a thing of the past, with us all embracing them wholly now.
I don’t think there is a better time to reintroduce the Fantastic Four into the MCU, Infinity War is the culmination of events since the first Avengers. When it and the following Avengers next year are finished, there will need to be a new status quo established to build up to whatever comes next. With many of the old mainstays’ contracts ending. When better to bring Marvel’s first family back into the fold. I, personally, am looking forward to what is coming.