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How To Reboot The Fantastic Four

With the most recent Fantastic Four picture shaping up as one of the all-time superhero bombs, I’ve been thinking about how I’d reboot the franchise, were I suddenly granted power over time, space, and dimension (or at least a Hollywood studio!). Drawing upon the elements I outlined in my Core of the Four blog post, and fortified by a re-read of the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run of the Fantastic Four, I’ve cooked up a scheme that’s just crazy enough to work! Fear not, Fantastic Fans — we may have hit bottom, but that only means there’s nowhere to go but up!

Get A Grip, Reed!

Just for fun, here’s how I’d re-re-re-introduce the Fantastic Four to today’s film audiences!

(This particular bit of fanboy fantasizing assumes that the Fantastic Four reverts to Marvel Studios from Fox.)

Marvel Studios

First, I’d introduce the characters as a subplot in an already-scheduled Marvel movie. Take any upcoming Marvel film that might plausibly have a scene set in outer space — Avengers 3 or 4, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, or maybe the Inhumans. Somewhere in the Solar System, our film heroes discover an old space capsule …

… Incredibly, it’s the Baxter-1, a privately-funded spacecraft that blasted off for space in 1961! Contact with the craft was lost shortly after launch, and she — and her crew of four intrepid adventurers — were thought lost forever!

Fantastic Four by Alex Ross

Discovery of the Baxter-1 is a worldwide sensation … it’s like Amelia Earhart has been found! Even more sensationalistic is that the crew is alive, in a state of suspended animation! And what a crew they are …

Super-genius Reed Richards (Jon Hamm), a celebrity-scientist that shared the stage with Albert Einstein and popularized science for a generation of impressionable school kids!

Jon Hamm is Reed Richards

Susan Storm (Emma Watson), America’s sweetheart, cover-girl for innumerable glamour magazines, spokeswoman for a score of progressive international charities, best friends with both Jackie Onassis AND Marilyn Monroe!

Emma Watson is Sue Storm

Johnny Storm (Josh Hutcherson), the original teen heart-throb … he was bigger than Elvis when he went into space, and his disappearance haunted a generation more than the death of James Dean!

Josh Hutcherson is Johnny Storm

Ben Grimm (Michael Shannon), ace pilot, who flew wingtip-to-wingtip with Chuck Yeager and was fast-tracked for the Gemini Space Program before he gambled his career on Reed Richard’s experimental wildcat space launch!

Michael Shannon is Ben Grimm

Suddenly, after more than half a century, these Fantastic Four are back … and they haven’t aged a day. All they can remember is launching into space, being knocked off course by a strange bombardment of cosmic rays, and then … nothing, until they are recovered in the present day.

The four instantly become the biggest celebrities on the planet … and the story really explodes when they manifest strange super-powers!

Fans of course can fill in the rest … and the stage is set for the Fantastic Four to headline another blockbuster film, but THIS time they’ll be free to actually be the Fantastic Four!

The Fantastic Four By Jack Kirby!

What I like about this idea is that it inserts the Fantastic Four into the contemporary Marvel Universe while retaining much of the charm of the original comics. Our heroes get to be celebrities — which is critical to the FF experience — in a way only this kind of return-from-the-past story can permit in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that already has an Avengers full of heroes that largely have public identities. With Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue hailing from 1961, the movie can enjoy some of the man out of time/fish out of water humor and humanity that worked so well in Marvel’s Captain America and Thor pictures. And by being the very same personalities that we remember from the comics — personalities very much part and parcel of the early 1960s — our heroes can retain the optimism, heroism, spirit of adventure, and very deep flaws inherent in their original conception.

For our enemy, of course, there is only one choice — Doctor Doom (Ian McShane … who would also make a great Mole Man)!

Ian McShane is Doctor Doom

But this time Doom isn’t an internet rage case or some guy with a skin condition or whatever dumbass nonsense Hollywood has foisted upon Doctor Doom in his past screen appearances. Nope, he’s Doctor Freaking Doom, the reclusive and terrifying dictator of the rogue state of Latveria, a frightening nuclear power every bit as mysterious and unpredictable as North Korea.

so lonely

(and yes, Doom is lonely, too!)

Doom has ruled Latveria with an iron hand for over half a century … no one has seen the face beneath Doom’s mask, which must be impossibly ancient by now (unless the dark rumors that Doom has used bizarre science and dark sorcery to retain his youth are to be believed). The return of the Fantastic Four puts Doctor Doom back in the limelight, resurrecting long-dormant conspiracy theories about a secret link between Doom and Reed Richards, that Doom might somehow have been involved in Reed’s mysterious space project, and may even have been responsible for its failure.

And so our Marvel Cinematic Universe is immeasurably enriched by reinstating the Fantastic Four as Marvel’s First Family, with their greatest foe ready to battle them — immediately a part of the larger story but also reasonably partitioned off into their own unique story, coming to terms with their superpowers and with a world that has advanced by immeasurable leaps and bounds in the subjective hours that they have been away.

huzzah for the FF

Our heroes have plenty of external threats to battle — Doctor Doom! Mole Man! Galactus! But more importantly, they have key internal threats to wrestle with, too …

How does Reed Richards’ genius translate to this brave new world, where his “cutting edge” inventions are bulky and outdated next to the cell phones carried by school kids? Can the old dog learn new tricks?

Man Out Of Time!

How will the fame-hungry Johnny Storm cope in a world that has moved past wholesome teen pop idols in favor of reality TV stars and YouTube celebrities? Can the teen idol reinvent himself for a new generation?

Johnny Movie Star

How will Sue Storm evolve as a person in a world that expects women will do more than wear designer gowns and smile sweetly for the camera? Can America’s Sweetheart overcome her insecurities and prejudices to master the opportunities that would never have been open to her in the era of her birth?

Poor Sue!

How does Ben Grimm fit into the world now that he is a rock-skinned monster, no longer qualified for a space program that has lost its vision and sense of generational imperative? Can an aviation hero from the Cold War adopt to a new era where black and white have been replaced by shades of grey?

This Man This Monster

I don’t know about you … but I’d be first in line to see a Marvel Studios movie about that Fantastic Four. Heck, I’d even shell out for a 3D showing!

What do you think? Would you green light yet another Fantastic Four movie based on this take, or has the FF become so toxic that a John Carter reboot looks like a better idea by comparison? Sound off, True Believers, in the comments section, below!

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on August 26, 2015, in Superhero Greenlight and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. John Hamm as Reed Richards? Noooooooo

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  2. Then again….

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  3. It has to revolve around Doctor Doom and they can do so much with his diplomatic immunity as a plot point.
    I’d make Sue Storm like the John Byrne version of the character, where she uses her powers to the maximum. Remember that issue where she defeats a crazed version of the Thing in single combat? That’s the Invisible Woman that we need in the movies.

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    • Yes, I love what Byrne did with Sue in his run. Part of the fun of making Sue (initially) a product of the 60s is that we could go on that transformative journey with her as part of the film.

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  4. I, too, would line up to see that movie. Having the FF retain their 60’s sensibility is essential to the core of the characters. Maybe not John Hamm, though.

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    • All my casting is provisional — and I almost didn’t do casting at all, because it would distract from the core of my reboot idea — but I figured if I excluded casting then all my comments would be about … casting!

      So it goes. I like Hamm for this role because he’s a bit older (check), he’s handsome (check), and he can play the straight man in a lightly comedic fashion (check). The 60s cool association with Mad Men wouldn’t hurt, either. Maybe he’s too on-the-nose … but being the too-obvious choice didn’t stop Marvel from casting Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange (which was a place where I though Marvel might take a “chance” with gender or ethnicity).

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  5. This is a good idea, maybe a great one, but I still think the FF should build up to a blockbuster film after a season or two on TV/Netflix. The narrative, character development, etc get shortened or worse elided in BB movies. That’s my 5¢.

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    • I agree that the FF is well-suited to the long storylines that television makes possible, but I just don’t see the cosmic and action-packed adventures at the heart of the property being well-served by TV budgets. (And least not live-action TV — it would work fine as animation, maybe we should be looking toward something like Star Wars Rebels rather than theatrical for the FF?)

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      • Admittedly my standards are low. To wit: I really dig the current TV Flash. I initially thought they could never due justice to Flash and his cohort of villains, but…I was pleasantly surprised. There are some parts of the TV-ness (catering to different viewers) that chafes, but all in all, it’s one show we look forward to watching together in our household. I see FF in that mold. I have not seen MadMen, so p’rhaps I should in order to get a better idea of the retro-look. Nonetheless, this post generated a lot of traffic. I think you have something here. Most everyone loves it. I for one am dying to see FF done well and I am not even a diehard FF fan!

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        • I saw about half of the first season of Flash, and will likely catch the rest if/when it rolls onto Netflix. A good show but I think the FF need broader shoulders … it really needs all the exotic locations, alternate dimensions, giant monsters, and kickass CGI supervillains that a big budget feature can deliver. But I suppose I could warm to a TV show if that meant getting the FF at all (and a CG-animated TV show might be a nice way to split the difference).

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  6. You left out the part where you throw a “Four Seconds” launch party and drug/blackmail/coerce all the Fox executives into giving the FF Franchise back to the hated Disney empire.

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    • In my own selfish little way, I worried (for about … uh … four seconds) that the crap launch of Fantastic Four would through a brown halo on my own pending Four Seconds. But, nah.

      (And, yes, all this FF fanboyism presupposes the property reverts to Marvel).

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  7. Brilliant Paul! YES! YES! I will mail a pre-paid check for 4 tickets to this movie directly to Marvel NOW.

    It cracks me up that we need to think “radically” and “outside of the box” to even consider a straight-up by-the-book Von Doom! What is it about Hollywood that is compelled to “improve” on things that are not broken? The story possibilities of a techno-magical egomaniac fascist dictator villain are unbounded! And he makes a terrific challenge for the Four – especially when you factor in his army o’ Doombots and other resources.

    My only concern: Overuse of the “man out of time” motif, since Cap fills that bill already. However, I think it will actually work in this context and serve the story more then harm it.

    And we need to slip in plenty of homages to Jack, Joe, and even Stan; like they did in Ant-Man (Milgrom Hotel, the “Kirby” vacuum cleaner, etc)!

    — John Lindwall

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    • Doom has been so sadly abused by the movie suits over at Fox. Sheesh. The film audience has bought off on a trickster Asgardian god, a homicidal adamantium robot, a guy named Octavius who winds up with four extra limbs, and some dude with “magnet” in his name who has power over metal. But we don’t trust the audience to believe in a third-world dictator who holds his backwards people in a grip of terror?

      These movie guys have to stop trying to out-think the audience. They’re solving problems that don’t exist.

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  8. I fancy your idea Paul but… the FF are long gone with Jack Kirby.
    Sadly, I have yet to come to term with this loss!

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    • I’d be happy to the end of my days re-reading the first hundred-odd issues of the FF over and over again, but you know what … Jack Kirby ain’t walking back through that door, brother! And in the world we’ve got, his concepts deserve better than they’ve seen so far on the silver screen, which for better or worse is the only format that matters to the vast preponderance of the casual audience (and even fans). We will never get the purity of Jack’s vision in a movie, but that’s what the comics or for. I’m going to keep a candle burning in the window that someone can get it right … eventually …

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  9. Fish out of water times 4? Interesting concept but too much like Captain America.

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    • Yeah, you’re right, FF doesn’t need any of that fish out of water stuff that helped Captain America (a harder sell internationally than the Fantastic Four) headline two of the top thirty-odd box office successes in the comic book genre.

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      • If you are going to fold them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe then why not just have them take off in 1961 and land in today. Space flight plus freak cosmic ray event = time travel. Reed could have invented some sort of experimental (and potentially very dangerous) space drive which may have also been part of the reason why they shot forward in time.This would be a very Reed thing to do. That way you get to keep even more of the original storyline, including the FF manifesting their powers upon landing. And it’s not like this concept hasn’t been mined before, see Planet of the Apes for a precedent.

        I’m certain you can survive two fish out of water storylines, especially since Cap only shows up every few years and is only mentioned on Agents of Shield sporadically. Nor is Cap an public figure in the way the FF are. Part of what makes them special is they were one of the first public heroes, sans masks and secret IDs. They are not yet doing a Hero as Clebrity storyline that I am aware of.

        I agree with the TV show by the way. You can spin off Agents of Shield into a 1960’s edition and have the disappearance of the Baxter 1 be the plot for Season 1. Reed could be working for Shield (or the SSR) and goes rogue because he wants to be the one to use his invention, not the government. If Agent Carter worked, why not this? Marvel did some Shield stories set in that era and they worked pretty well IMO. You could even have a tie in to the 1940’s show – plenty of way to do that.

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        • I think heroes-as-celebrities is critical to the FF, but it is difficult to accomplish in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that already has very public heroes like Iron Man/Tony Stark running around. In general, the notion of “secret identities” is something they’ve downplayed in the MCU, so having the FF present public identities won’t have a lot of impact … unless we can make them these fascinating celebrities from the past. I mean, what if Elvis Presley and Bruce Lee stepped out of a time warp and explained they’d been studying Kung Fu in some Tibetan retreat for the last forty years, and hadn’t aged a day? Now, THOSE guys would be huge celebrities, even in world with superheroes, and that’s sort of the vibe I was going for.

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  10. I say, great idea!! I have to admit as much as I like Micheal B. Williams as an actor, a black Johnny Storm, was too out there!!

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  11. I gotta’ say, honestly, that’s not a bad concept/synopsis for a movie, especially an FF one. Yes, the man out of time thing has already been done with Cap. but imagine the dynamic of that theme, but shared by four people instead of one. The family aspect of the FF would shine through due to them having to really stick together since no one else will have had their experiences like them, except maybe Cap. Would be interesting to get advice from him on how to adjust to our world like he did. Overall, not a bad way to introduce the FF into the marvel movieverse. I’d damn sure watch it myself.

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  12. It’s funny you post this since I was thinking along similar lines. I haven’t seen the Ant-Man movie yet but there seems to be some hints that Hank Pym was active for a while before the movie takes place. This helps suggest that maybe the FF were active as well.

    I have a couple of ideas to add:
    1) ALL of the FF movies have been very Doom-centric. Maybe it’s time to introduce some other FF villains. I suggest maybe the Red Ghost and his super-apes, as both a reminder of the Cold War environment we might want to recall and as a weird mirror to the FF. The MCU is all about villains that are dark reflections of the heroes, and the super-apes always had that vibe to them. Have a couple of scenes where the Red Ghost orders his apes around with abandon to contrast with Reed’s leadership of the FF to help bring the point across. While the Red Ghost might not be the main adversary, he could be brought in as the then-Soviet Union’s counterpart specialist much as the FF were called upon by the U.S. Government.
    2) Maybe explain that the reason that the FF have been gone for so long is because they’ve been exploring the Negative Zone. They had their powers, they were active already, and then disappeared because they were expanding the boundaries of science. Or they could have been in a race with the Red Ghost to explore a strange anomaly on the Blue Area of the Moon. This could have lead to a weird adventure with the Watcher where they all experience missing time due to being in the Watcher’s presence. Or maybe they went off on an adventure that opened them up to visiting the galactic civilizations of the Kree and the Skrulls, something where the petty rivalries of the Cold War pale in comparison to what’s going on in space and they have to work with their Soviet counterparts to get back home.

    The FF movies has been a bit too superhero-y in that they seem to insist on setting the FF up against Doctor Doom. Maybe a bit more expansiveness is in order.

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    • Yes, Ant-Man does carve out a little Cold War niche for Marvel, and the FF may well have been a part of that if/when this all gets retroactively stitched together.

      And I agree about the Negative Zone — it gives the FF a frontier to call their own, distinct from outer space (Guardians of the Galaxy) or the magical dimensions we’ve seen in Thor (and I suspect eventually in Doctor Strange, too).

      Red Ghost … I dunno. I like super-apes as much as the next guy, and maybe they could work as super-scary animal experiments, but maybe we split the difference and do Mole Man as an environmental threat made flesh. Or Sub-Mariner! There really is an embarassment of riches for villains and settings when it comes to the FF, which makes it all the more vexing that the movies keep prat falling.

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