Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #39, we explore a possible direction for Marvel’s first family?
How would I make a “Fantastic Four” movie?
Who are the Fantastic Four? I mean, I assume you know, but just in case…
The Fantastic Four were the first superhero title created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the Marvel-driven superhero renaissance of the 1960’s. Premiering in 1961, it told the story of a group of four adventurers–scientist Reed Richards, his girlfriend Sue Storm, Sue’s irreverent teenaged brother Johnny, and Reed’s grouchy pilot friend Ben Grimm–who take a rocket into space before they’re really ready (not wanting to lose the space race to the Communists). They run afoul of mysterious cosmic rays which transform each one of their bodies, giving them “fantastic” powers. Reed becomes Mr. Fantastic, with the ability to stretch. Sue is the Invisible Girl (later, Invisible Woman) who can turn invisible and cast force fields. Ben is the Thing, a giant rock-man with super strength and a super-tough body. Johnny becomes the Human Torch, with the ability to light his body aflame, throw fire and fly.
Sound familiar? That’s because these guys are obviously a complete rip-off of The Incredibles, and another shining example of Lee & Kirby’s unoriginality.
OK, just kidding, obviously. The Fantastic Four ushered in a new era of mainstream superhero comics, which deliberately appealed to teenagers as opposed to children. It paved the way for all the other titles Marvel subsequently did, including little-known properties like Spider-Man, The Avengers and the X-Men.
In today’s modern era of superhero films, the Fantastic Four have been the subject of four movies, all of which are pretty bad.
First, there is the Roger Corman produced 1994 film, made to keep the film rights for the property from slipping away. The movie was never intended to be released in any form, and never has been officially (although it is easily viewable on Youtube). I have to admit I’ve never been able to get through the whole thing (although I might try again soon), but it’s notoriously cheap looking, and feels like a strange sort of voyeurism when you know it’s backstory. It does, however, feature the most comic accurate version of Doctor Doom that we’ve ever had.
Then in 2005 and 2007, director Tim Story create both Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The cast of the movies include Ioan Gruffud as Reed Richards, Michael Chiklis as the Thing, Jessica Alba as Sue Storm and future Captain America Chris Evans as Johnny Storm. They are not entirely without charm, but they are pretty bland and ultimately dull.
Finally, in 2015, Josh Trank directed a darker and moodier Fantastic Four (also known as Fant4stic) with Miles Teller, Jamie Bell, Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan, which became a notorious flop and abysmal critical failure. It’s a bizarre thing to see, also a voyeuristic as never before has the tension between studio and director been so visible on the screen. Watching it, you can almost see the studio executives rushing in, changing the direction of the movie and reshooting the second half. This was too bad because I thought the movie’s dark tone was interesting (even though many object to that in a Fantastic Four movie) and the cast a least decent.
So…Rod’s question–how would I make a Fantastic Four movie? He’s given me a lot of latitude with it. It has to be the Fantastic Four, it has to have the main four heroes, but other than that it’s up to me. I can tie it into the MCU if I want to (now a real possibility, since the current rights-owners, Fox, have just had all their film properties purchased by Disney, owns Marvel and produces the MCU) or I can have it standalone. I can go light, I can go dark, I can bring back Jessica Alba, I can work with no budget constraints.
Now, amusingly, I actually did something like this a while ago, after the 2015 movie came out. You can read it here. But at the time my goal was to have what I did work with the same starting point as Trank’s movie. Here, that’s not necessary.
So anyway, I pondered it all and came up with my idea. The big initial question was whether or not this would be part of the MCU or not, and I’ve decided that it will be. Now that opens up another can of worms, since at this current moment (post Infinity War and pre-Avengers 4) we don’t know what the MCU will look like exactly going forward. But it’ll look like something, and after the inevitable darkness of Avengers 4, it feels like introducing the Fantastic Four would be the perfect move: a new breed of explorers, moving forward to the future. For that reason, I chose not to set the story back in the 1960’s or something–I thought this property is the perfect one to initiate a sense of a “new dawn” for the MCU.
I also considered but rejected the idea of having the Fantastic Four start in the past, but then wind up being time-lost in our time–it felt too similar to Captain America or mabye the upcoming Captain Marvel. Or even Ant-Man.
Anyway, here is a brief story outline:
The Fantastic Four
The story begins as a team of four adventurers are attempting to acquire a rare radioactive mineral from some remote area of the earth. They are explorer Reed Richards, scientist Sue Storm, pilot Ben Grimm, and engineering prodigy Johnny Storm, who is Sue’s younger brother. They get ahold of the mineral, but run afoul of some crazy giant monster that lives underground. Reed comments in an offhand way that there have been sightings of crazy things like this recently as he and Ben race away and jump into the flying car that the Storms are waiting in. This opening bit is all fast-paced and breezy adventuresome fun. If we want to get really crazy, we could say the radioactive rock is actually the calcified poop of the monster.
Anyway, as they team returns to their command centre, they are greeted by representatives of the government (it could be Secretary Ross, if he hasn’t been revealed to be a secret Skrull by then), who informs them that due to political pressure from the nation of Latveria (which Reed knew about), Reed’s project needs to be put on hold until it can be inspected by Latveria’s chief scientist…who just happens to be the Crown Prince of the nation. Reed is incensed, and storms off to yell at the government people. Ben mumbles that the Crown Prince of Latveria also just so happens to be Reed’s ex-roommate.
We learn through all of this that in the wake of wherever Avengers 4 has left us, Reed Richards, a 30+ year old scientist, has emerged as the leading scientific mind in the area of…just about everything. He is committed to charting the landscape of a dimensional region known as the Negative Zone, a nexus point between our universe and an uncountable number of other dimensions. (All this could be tied into the Quantum Realm, which turns out to be just one of these dimensions.) In a media montage, we learn that the team is sometimes already referred to as the Fantastic Four. We also see a brief clip of Reed debating Shuri from Black Panther about the scientific merits of his theories, and clearly besting her intellectually. Because once Reed Richards is in the MCU, he is hands-down the smartest person around. That is an absolute.
Reed and his team have built a special ship which they intend to use to navigate the Negative Zone–that’s what the radioactive material is for. The government people say that the Latverians are concerned that Reed’s experiments are somehow leading to the increased sightings of giant monsters and strange animals everywhere, but Reed knows this is nonsense. He knows it’s imperative to explore the Negative Zone because these creatures are showing up, and he since he knows the chief Latverian scientist, he knows that they cannot be trusted.
The Latverian scientist shows up, a bit unexpectedly. This is Victor Von Doom, Reed Richard’s former roommate at university. He wears an odd mask to cover a disfigurement. There is coldness in his relationship with Richards, but he is able to exert the political pressure necessary to get the experiment delayed–until he has a chance to inspect the research and technology. If we want to connect it more strongly with the MCU, there could be some holdover of the Sokovia Accords that makes the USA feel like it might have to comply with these guys.
Later, we see Victor relating to his father, the King of Latveria. Victor obviously resents his father, and the King is scared of his son, and attempts to put him down.
That night, Reed commiserates with his team, and Sue and Johnny find out the backstory with Von Doom–how the brilliant but arrogant scientist pushed forward on an early version of the current experiment without Reed’s approval, resulting in an explosion which disfigured him. Reed and the other decide they aren’t going to wait for Von Doom to seize all their work–they’re going into the Negative Zone tonight.
And so they do. The Negative Zone is shown to be a truly bizarre alien landscape, full of strange formations and swirling energies. Reed’s ship turns out to be adequate for everything that they could have anticipated. But it also turns out there are things they didn’t anticipate–including what appears to be a monstrous life form which damages the ship. Only Ben’s amazing piloting skills are able to lead them back to the portal created by Reed’s invention…except that it’s been shut down by Von Doom, who has realized what Richards has done.
Now trapped, Reed and the others improvise a way to pierce back through into our universe from the Negative Zone, which severely damages the ship, allowing the shields to be pierced and exposing the crew to the strange radiation of the Zone.
They crash land back in our world in some rural environment, where they find that all four of their bodies are mutating into their familiar forms: Sue turns invisible, Johnny lights on fire (but doesn’t burn up), Reed’s body stretches beyond all control and Ben turns into a monstrous rocky shape. Ben panics and runs by a small town, terrifying the locals. Soon, the military arrives and the group is rounded up and brought to a secret facility.
Von Doom inspects the wreckage of Reed’s ship, as well as his invention, and begins to make modifications for himself. For the second time in his life, he has glimpsed the interior of the Negative Zone (the first was when his disfiguring accident took place), and he is desperate for the power it represents.
Reed and the crew are being examined by doctors, and threatened with prison for using the ship without permission. Each of our characters is coming to terms with what’s happened to them. They learn, however, that a giant monster has emerged from who-knows-where and attacked St. Louis (or wherever). Reed believes that this appearance must be related to their recent breach of the Negative Zone, as well as Von Doom’s ongoing experiments. Sue leads the team in a break out of their military medical prison so that Reed can examine this thing face to face.
Reed and the others find the rampaging monster. At first, the military want to arrest the Fantastic Four, but they quickly realize that the four heroes are best equipped to handle the situation. Learning to use their powers (including Sue’s force field powers), the team is able to stun the creature, which I think would have to look like the thing on the cover of Fantastic Four #1.
Reed examines it, and yes it does originate from the Negative Zone…but they can tell it’s actually been in our universe for several years. Over the objections of the military, they let the monster go, and it retreats through a vast network of underground tunnels. The team use their old flying car (modified quickly to allow for Ben’s increased size) to follow it.
Along the way, the team bond, but they also express their anger and resentment against Reed. He pushed for them to go on their mission, he insisted that they were ready, but now what’s happened? He’s ruined their lives, basically. They all know that they have had a part to play in it as well, but ultimately they lament the fact that from now on they will be known as freaks and outcasts, never again able to just be normal. Reed is quiet…he knows that they are right.
The team follow the monster all the way back home, to a remote island that will come to be known as Monster Isle. The place is teeming with monsters. The team find the one human being, an outcast scientist that Reed has heard of named Harvey Rupert Elder. Elder disappeared years ago, leaving no trace. It turns out he’s been living on Monster Isle, but before that, he was working for Victor Von Doom in his ongoing experiments to try to pierce the barrier to the Negative Zone. When one of the experiments went wrong, Elder was trapped there for some months. He found that the exposure to the Zone’s energy allowed him to control the various monsters that dwelt there, symbolized perhaps by a staff he carries with a glowing jewel. Elder was able to return to our world, and made his home on Monster Isle with creatures that he continues bring over.
The Fantastic Four have a variety of adventures on the Isle, fighting some monsters, and trying to convince Elder that he shouldn’t attack the world with giant monsters. Elder was an outcast even before he was flung into the Negative Zone, and now he finally has a way of expressing his longstanding resentment against normal society. Elder’s eyes were damaged in his journey, and he now where’s special glasses and calls himself the Mole Man. He has Reed carried away by a monster into some deep caves, and the others have to stop fighting the Mole Man to try to rescue him.
Once they are gone, the Mole Man is contacted by Von Doom, who figured out where he is by tracking the Fantastic Four. Doom now wears something akin to his traditional armor, which is his invention which allows him to harness the power of the Negative Zone. Dr. Doom (so called by Elder) bests the Mole Man in a short fight, but isn’t interested in killing him. What he wants is his secret for controlling the monsters from the Negative Zone.
Sue, Johnny and Ben manage to rescue Reed, and in the process the four recommit to each other, and Reed knows he has genuine friends in spite of his mistakes. Love is also blossoming between Reed and Sue.
Dr. Doom travels by a breach into the Negative Zone into his own home country of Latveria. There, he uses a monster to attack the government and the royal family, including his own father. He then steps in and publicly kills he monster. In doing so, he establishes himself as a hero to the people, and as the only survivor of the royal family, becomes the King.
Returning to Monster Isle, the Fantastic Four learn that the Mole Man has unleashed a dozen monsters on New York City (where Reed’s organization, the Baxter Institute, is located). The team quickly goes there and engages in an incredibly expensive action sequence, fighting monsters, rescuing civilians, using their powers and generally being amazing. If we want, they could coordinate additional efforts provided by whoever makes up the Avengers at the time. And hopefully this way, we could get some fun banter between Johnny Storm and Spider-Man. What’s key is that it’s clearly Reed and Sue who are commanding the respect of all these heroes–they are quickly becoming Marvel’s “first family” of heroes. In fact, in the midst of everything, Reed seems to be purposely “showboating”, making sure that he and his friends are as visible as possible to the public in stopping these monsters. He even publicly refers to his team as the “Fantastic Four”, and himself as “Mr. Fantastic.”
Sue herself is able to stop the Mole Man, and Reed figures out a way to close the breaches to the Negative Zone and suck all the monsters back where they came. It begins to work, except that the breach is being held open artificially…from the inside. Dr. Doom emerges, now having a mastery over the Negative Zone energy thanks to his special suit. Doom deliberately attacks Reed, stunning him. The others respond. Sue and Johnny spend their energy doing serious damage to Doom’s suit, but he is still able to overwhelm them both. It’s then up to Ben, who pounds Doom repeatedly, crushing the mechanics in his suit through shear brute force. As the battle rages on, Reed recovers and is able to finish closing the breaches into the Negative Zone. Facing defeat, Dr. Doom activates a “doomsday” device, which will trigger a devastating explosion. Ben is able to push Doom and himself through the last of the breaches into the Negative Zone. Only because of Reed’s desperate stretching is Ben able to be recovered. The last breach is closed, with Dr. Doom apparently exploding on the other side of it.
In the wake of everything, Ben, Sue and Johnny are all surprised by the way they are loved and accepted by the crowds and the media. Reed continues to play up the “Fantastic Four” angle of who they are, and everyone on the team quickly gains nicknames (their traditional superhero names) and a lot of celebrity. Reed sells some of his inventions in order to make some extra money, and all four live in luxury.
Quietly, later, Sue asks Reed about his focus on their silly nicknames and their public image. Reed explains that he knew the others were right: because of him, they could never have a normal life again…especially Ben. But if that was going to be the case, then Reed was going to do everything he could to ensure that the world didn’t see them as freaks, but as heroes. They are going to operate in public, they are going to have outlandish names and costumes, they are going to have glamor and celebrity and fame because that what it was going to take to keep people from being scared of them. And then maybe…maybe he could someday be forgiven for what he had done.
This whole moment, which is based on something Mark Waid wrote, causes Sue to warm to him even more deeply.
However, this being a MCU movie, there are a couple of mid- and post-credit scenes. In one, we get a hint of the next MCU movie, which is hopefully another Thor film directed by Taika Waititi. In the other, we see that Doom has survived thanks to an encounter with an alien being who claims to be the ruler of the Negative Zone, a creature called…Annihilus. Or if we want to be even bigger, we could tease Galactus.