Like I said last time, I have one more Fantastic Four-related post in me, and here it is.
Fantastic Four was not a good movie. I know, it’s a shocking headline, but it’s true. But how could it have been better?
Of course, lots of reviews and comments have talked about what the problems were. There’s a lot of talk about studio interference and lack of directorial vision, but for me the critical issue is story. In so many cases of bad movies, it’s with the story that things fall apart (whoever we blame for that) and that’s true in this case as well.
And so I found myself thinking about how the story could have been improved. To do so, there are several key issues that needed to be addressed. First, we needed time for the characters to gel as a team and a family. Second, we needed the villain(s) to have a clear sense of motivation and purpose. And finally, we needed a climax that was epic and awesome and thrilling.
So that’s what this post is: an outline for a Fantastic Four story that I think would have worked better than what we saw. To be clear, my approach is not to just make up my own story from scratch, but rather to try to retain as many of the basic elements that we had in the existing movie as I could, but to rework them into a storyline that you could actually build a solid movie around. Of course, there’s a lot of new stuff in there, but in general I’m trying to imagine the look and tone of the film as we saw it.
Also to be clear, I am not saying (as some do) that coming up with a solid script for a movie like Fantastic Four is easy or simple. In fact, it’s a tremendously difficult process to write any script, and I’m sure creating a solid big-budget, big studio, comic book, special-effects heavy blockbuster is even more so. But still, I think my imagination has sketched out something (not intentionally at first, it just began as a series of random ideas popping into my head) which is better than what we saw.
So here’s my take on “script doctoring” the recent Fantastic Four movie, taken beat by beat.
• We start similarly to what we saw: young Reed meets young Ben. We learn one is brilliant and one is tough. And Reed of course is working on some sort of proto-teleportation device. Ideally, somewhere in here, Ben would protect Reed from some bullies, cementing their friendship.
• We cut to years later, and Ben is taking Reed to his new digs as part of the big-brain trust, the Baxter Institute. Because, you know, the scene where a big-shot scientist scouts out perspective recruits at a high school science fare is a bit ludicrous. In this version, Reed has already impressed everyone with his brilliance, and has been brought into work on a new mystery project. Ben, meanwhile, has become a military pilot.
• Reed’s work turns out to be on a dimension-piercing project that ties into Reed’s childhood experiments: specifically, it’s opening a portal to another dimension known as the Negative Zone, and developing a ship capable of traveling through it. Dr. Storm is an administrative bigwig the institute, but the Project Director is the arrogant and proud and starkly good looking Victor Von Doom, who is a political refugee from the dictatorship Latveria. Von Doom resents Richard’s presence, but of course Reed brings the knowledge necessary to bring the big breakthrough to the project, allowing it to push into the next phase of development.
• Reed meets Sue Storm, who is part of the project with the job of studying the alien environment of the Negative Zone. There is attraction between her and Reed. Victor had been drawn to Sue’s beauty and intelligence, but her preference of Reed over him leads him to disdain them both.
• Johnny Storm enters project in much the same way that we saw in the film – as a mechanical engineer brought in in spite of tension with his father. He works with the others to build the ship that will be used to explore the Negative Zone. Reed pulls some strings and gets his old friend, Ben Grimm, put onto the project as the lead pilot. Ben works with Johnny to build the ship, and the two develop a love-hate relationship.
• Von Doom becomes increasingly jealous of Reed’s intellect and awkward charm, though he would never admit this. At one point, he tries to bully or intimidate Reed in some way, but Ben again steps in. During this, Ben, Johnny, Reed and Sue realize that they have allies in one another, against Von Doom, who they see as increasingly unstable. They approach Dr. Storm with their concerns…
• But it is too late. Von Doom has secretly brokered a deal with the military–specifically with the ruthless General Grant (I’m just making up a name here)–to give control of the project to them, in exchange for the opportunity to replace the entire team with people of Von Doom’s own choosing. By the time this is made known, Dr. Storm and the Baxter Institute are helpless to do anything about it. The military is moving in the next morning, to seize everything.
• When Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben discover this, they commiserate with each other about how the project has been taken away from them. Determined to not lose the opportunity they have worked for, they decide to steal the ship and enter the Negative Zone themselves. The film could set up the idea that with the Baxter Institute, the idea is to create a creative and free-feeling environment, thus security is very light. Tons of soldiers are coming in the next morning, so there is a narrow window of time where it’s possible for the foursome to hi-jack the project.
• They enter the Negative Zone, which has got a truly alien look for it – neither just the surface of a planet nor just a big tract of space. One idea is that it could be a huge tract of space that’s almost like a gigantic tunnel, with an alien surface all around it in every direction. Anyway, something really strange, and…fantastic.
• Von Doom realizes what is happening and is incensed. He enters the control room and attempts to force the ship to return. His interference causes the ship to malfunction and damage its shielding. Interdimensional energy floods the ship. Maybe the ship actually crashes onto one of the surfaces in the Negative Zone. Ben is able to effect an emergency return, and the ship “crashes” back into the project, causing a flood of energy which explodes in Von Doom’s face, scarring him.
• Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are all kept in a special facility where the strange changes they have undergone are being monitored, and we see them with their traditional powers (except that Sue does not exhibit her force field powers). Von Doom, who now wears some sort of mask because of his scarring, participates in assessing them as well as trying to salvage his ruined project. Reed escapes and attempts to find and help his friends, but he is subdued by the guards.
• Von Doom and General Grant arrange for Ben and Johnny to be transferred to a special military base where they will be assessed and prepared for service in combat (like in the film). But Grant insists that Von Doom keep on Reed and Sue to help re-create the project, knowing that he needs their help.. Reed and Sue agree on the basis that their ongoing research will be used to help cure their friends. They start rebuilding the ship designed to travel through the Negative Zone, taking into account what they have learned, etc.
• Von Doom, meanwhile, begins to work on a special containment suit–something resembling a suit of armor–which will more effectively allow someone to survive the Negative Zone, but without hindering movement, etc.
• Ben starts going on missions for the military, in exchange for promise of helping him go back to normal. We spend some time with Ben on one of his missions, where he is conflicted between enjoying his great strength and being horrified at what he can do to others. Meanwhile, Dr. Storm tries to speak to Johnny and Ben but finds himself shut out by General Grant. Concerned, he alerts Sue.
• Sue and Reed become aware that Ben is being used in military operations which change the political situation in Von Doom’s home country of Latveria. it’s all part of the deal that Von Doom has negotiated with the military. They use their powers to steal the ship they’ve been building and use it to go to find Ben and Johnny, in order to set them free from the military base. They use their powers and their smarts to infiltrate the base. During all this, their romance develops, and it’s also during this sequence that Sue realizes that she can not only turn invisible, but can generate powerful force fields. Reed is able to set Ben free, but Sue is too late to talk to Johnny before he is sent on his first mission. Like in the movie, Johnny’s been looking forward to using his powers to do something helpful.
• Meanwhile, Von Doom is incensed that his ship has been stolen. But he also finds himself becoming “supercharged” by the energy from the Negative Zone. He is becoming increasingly strong and deranged. He determines to re-open the portal to the Negative Zone before things are ready. When he is opposed by Major Bradshaw (General Grant’s second in command), he kills him, crushing his neck.
• Johnny is sent on a military mission in Latveria, alongside armed forces. However, when he realizes that the mission is going to cost the lives of innocent civilians, he breaks ranks to save them, earning the ire of the military commanders. He realizes these people are not his friends. Reed, Sue and Ben arrive in time to help him, as he’s now caught in the crossfire between the US military and the crazy Latverian dictator. It’s here that we see the four really gel as a team.
• Doom doesn’t have the ship but he dons his protective armor and opens up the portal to the Negative Zone, and is able to enter it directly. Because of his armor, he can survive, drawing more energy into himself and becoming stronger and stronger…but also going completely insane. He breaks back into our world (portrayed as a one-time sort of deal, thanks to something in his armor) but in Latveria (where Reed, Johnny, Sue and Ben are still hiding out).
• Using the energy from the Negative Zone, Doom finds and kills the local dictator, proclaiming himself as Emperor. He dons a ceremonial Latverian cloak, which along with his armor now makes him resemble the figure in the comics. In his madness, Doom plans to wipe out any people who don’t agree with him. Reed and the others, still present in Latveria, make moves to stop him. But Doom is too powerful. During this battle, General Grant is killed.
• Reed realizes that the energy Doom has unleashed from the Negative Zone is growing and will eventually destroy the earth. Giant streams of energy attract global attention. Together, the team is able to use their ship to push Doom and themselves back into the Negative Zone.
• From the relative safety of their ship, Reed and the others get a glimpse of the Zone’s secrets – doorways to other universes, never before seen cosmic phenomena, and even evidence of life forms. However, Doom has survived, and penetrates their ship…
• This leads to a final close-quarters battle, where ultimately Ben clobbers Doom out of the spaceship. Both Ben and Doom go free-falling through the Zone, but at the last moment, Reed stretches and rescues Ben. Sue uses her powers to hold the ship together, and Johnny is able to re-ignite the engine to allow it to move again. Doom, meanwhile, spins away through the Zone, presumably for all eternity…
• Using super-science, Reed figures out how to navigate through the Negative Zone and return to earth. Before he does, he affirms his commitment to return to the Negative Zone to explore it.
• Upon their return to earth, the Fantastic Four (as they are labelled by the press) are hailed as heroes for saving the earth during the battle in Latveria. General Grant has been exposed and a new, non-corrupt General is in command. The new military leadership are quick to make amends with the Fantastic Four, and help set them up with a new headquarters. Dr. Storm survives in this version of things and is there to help show them around the new facility.
• Roll credits!
• During a mid- or post-credit scene, Reed and Sue have developed a viewer that allows them to look into the Negative Zone. Johnny talks them into taking a break and going on date, saying he will continue to scan on the viewer. However, when his attention is turned away, he fails to notice a creepy, armored, insectoid creature staring back at our world, looking sinister and ravenous…
Aaaannnd, that’s the idea! Rough, I know, and far from perfect, or fully fleshed out. And maybe, a bit expensive. But, in my imagination at least, it’s a kind of awesome, in a way that the existing film was not.
Oh well. I guess until someone tries again and does a better job, I can enjoy this one in mind’s eye.
And after this, I promise to shut up about the Fantastic Four for a little while.