Friday, 13 April 2018

How Marvel Studios Can Fix the Fantastic Four


If you know me, you know that I love the Fantastic Four. I think the team are one of the greatest and most important pieces of the superhero genre, doing as much to make the genre what it is today in a way only Superman could rival. 

Recently though, the Fantastic Four has fell on hard times. Following three poorly made motion pictures and the cancellation of their long running comic book series in 2015, it seemed as if the Fantastic Four was being left behind, while the rest of Marvel moved into this new golden age of the medium that we live in today.  However, all hope isn’t lost. 

As part of Marvel Comics’ upcoming Fresh Start relaunch later this year, a new Fantastic Four series was announced, written by former Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott and Ultimate Spider-Man’s Sara Pichelli. And this, coupled with the looming acquisition of FOX’s film assets by Disney, seems to be pointing to a resurgence of Marvel’s first family. 


Fantastic Four teaser poster, 2018
All signs point to the Fantastic Four’s film rights returning to Marvel, and I couldn’t be more excited for it. While I’ll be the first to admit that the last three (or four if you want to count the Roger Corman film) haven’t exactly worked, I don’t think that means that the Fantastic Four doesn’t work on screen. 

An easy example to make would be to cite The Incredibles as the blueprint for a great Fantastic Four movie, and this is true - but I want to propose an idea that Marvel could do to really get the most out of these amazing characters: set the movie in the 1960's.

All previous attempts to make live-action Fantastic Four films have tried to modernise the team and make them relevant to today’s audience and sensibilities, but something has always felt ‘off’ about it. The more you try and make the Fantastic Four feel like a modern story, the more gets lost about what makes these characters special. 

The Fantastic Four have always felt like a product of their time, a shining example of what made comics in the 1960's so great, so much so that it actually hurt them when Marvel started to move away from that way of storytelling. Setting the film in the 1960's would allow the filmmakers to actually accentuate this part of their characters, presenting them as real people from the 60's, while playing on conventional stereotypes of that era (such as the representation of women and race) and flip them on its head. 


 Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's initial Fantastic Four series
I’d say approaching the film like Mad Men or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would make for a greater viewing experience that trying to make them the new hot team of 2019... because no one wants to see Ben Grimm dab, do they? 

Marvel is already beginning to experiment with retcons and prequel stories in their universe, with the likes of Ant-Man and Agent Carter, and if the upcoming 1990’s set Captain Marvel proves successful, then this could be a real possibility. 

Ironically, Ant-Man director Peyton Reed actually pitched a similar idea to Fox years ago, before Tim Story was hired to direct the 2005 film. Reed wanted to set the film in the mid-1960s and present a version of the iconic team more in line with Lee and Kirby’s original run. In an interview with FilmSchoolRejects, Reed explained his vision for the film, stating that:


 “visually, one of the things we always talked about (and this was 2003) was The Fantastic Four as daytime superheroes. They don’t have secret identities. They’re very much a part of the fabric of Manhattan. In that universe, if you go to New York to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty or the Baxter Building, it was all a part of that. We talked about it being a ’60s period movie, but Fox at the time was not into it.”

And honestly, there’s a lot already built into the MCU that would make this period-piece film a seamless fit. For example, films such as Thor: Ragnarok and Doctor Strange have shown that Marvel isn’t afraid of venturing into the world and style of Jack Kirby; Captain Marvel will set the precedent for whether era-defined movies will work within this universe (which also handily introducing the Skrulls), and you could easily use characters such as Howard Stark and Peggy Carter in supporting roles to connect the Fantastic Four and their adventures to the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D., making the team feel like the first family of the Marvel Universe, just like they do in the comics. 

On top of this, it’s important to make sure whoever helms the project accurately presents the characters correctly (something of which all previous films have failed miserably at), and really make us feel like this is a family. That dynamic is absolutely essential to whether the movie will work, and The Incredibles has created a really nice blueprint for that. I’m sure there’s no shortage of people at Disney welcome to lending a hand if necessary. 

Another point I want to run through quickly: maybe hold off on Doctor Doom. I know, he’s an amazing character and someone I’m dying to see in the MCU, but I feel like he should be left on the backburner for two reasons: to establish this new version of the team as completely distinct from the past versions (which have all made Doom a central part of the team’s story), and because I’m assuming Marvel will actually do Doom right, to not overshadow the team in their first movie. 


Bring on Doctor Doom... eventually
Having the villain be the most interesting part of the movie isn’t a problem (hell, it didn’t hurt The Dark Knight), but maybe allow the audience to become familiarised and warm to these characters before you bring Doom in. Instead, maybe start with a villain like Annihilus or the Mole Man, and include a small reference or easter egg to Latveria in a post-credit scene, much like how Marvel teased Thanos at the end of The Avengers

This is something I’m very passionate about. We live in the single best time to be a lover of superheroes, and when films like Black Panther can be as successful and brilliant as they are, it makes me sad that this great team have never been given the proper treatment, especially when you consider that Black Panther began as a Fantastic Four character. 

The Fantastic Four has always been the heart of Marvel Comics, while the MCU doesn’t need the property in order to succeed, they didn’t need Spider-Man either, and look at how they’ve turned around his fortunes. So Marvel, if this Fox deal goes through, and you suddenly find four beaten down and battered heroes at your doorstep, do the right thing, and bring Marvel’s first family home.


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