In 1961, writer Stan Lee, artist Jack Kirby, and Marvel Comics published The Fantastic Four No. 1. — and comics changed forever. The Fantastic Four was a wild success, and Marvel capitalized by cranking out more superhero books. And thus, the Marvel Universe was born.
As such, the Fantastic Four are incredibly important to Marvel’s history, and you can see why fans are excited that they’re coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, Marvel’s first family hasn’t had the best track record on the big screen. A 1994 adaptation produced by B-movie maestro Roger Corman never saw the light of day, and was only made to keep the film rights from reverting to Marvel. Tim Story’s mid-2000s adaptations were terrible. Josh Trank’s 2015 reboot was even worse.
The Fantastic Four deserve better, and now that the rights are in Disney’s hands, Marvel has a chance to do The Fantastic Four right. Will it? If Disney and Marvel Studios stick to these simple rules, they have a pretty good chance.
Here’s the secret to the Fantastic Four’s success: The Fantastic Four isn’t a superhero team. It’s a family. In Fantastic Four, well before Reed Richards and Sue Storm were hit by cosmic rays and transformed into Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, respectively, they were engaged. Johnny Storm, better known as the Human Torch, is Sue’s younger brother. Benjamin Grimm, a.k.a. the ever-loving, blue-eyed Thing, isn’t technically on the Storm family tree, but he’s Reed’s best friend and everyone treats him like another member of the clan.
Like most families, the Fantastic Four don’t always get along. They bicker. They fight. They get on each others’ nerves. Johnny and Ben act like brothers, and their relationship is defined by pranks, arguments, and a healthy case of sibling rivalry. Reed and Sue love each other, but their marriage isn’t always peaceful (as it turns out, a super-scientist can make for a lousy husband).
The family dynamic is why audiences found the Fantastic Four relatable in 1961, and it’s why the team continues to feel relevant almost 60 years later. Disney should play that dynamic up. Technically, Disney and Pixar’s The Incredibles covers similar ground, but there’s nothing like the Fantastic Four in the MCU itself (Guardians of the Galaxy comes close, but it’s not quite the same). In the MCU, Fantastic Four needs to be a family story. Otherwise, why bother doing the Fantastic Four at all?
Josh Trank’s 2015 Fantastic Four reboot tanked for a number of reasons, but one big one is the film’s dour tone. In the movie, the Fantastic Four are locked up by the government and experimented on. Later, they’re used as living weapons. Instead of immediately embracing his powers and using them to help people, Reed spends a year in hiding, trying to figure out how to get rid of them.
That’s about what you’d expect from the director of Chronicle, Trank’s cynical faux-documentary about a group of kids who get superpowers, but it’s not a great fit for the Fantastic Four. The Thing’s monstrous appearance is a source of pathos, but otherwise, Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben enjoy what they do. For the Fantastic Four, tinkering with super-science, exploring distant planets and alternate dimensions, and clobbering dastardly villains isn’t just a job. It’s fun.
In the comics, the Fantastic Four are legitimate celebrities, and the public and the press love them. They even have their own, in-universe comic books. While Marvel has told us a lot about the heroes, we don’t know much about the people they fight for, and the Fantastic Four could help explore that aspect of the MCU. We’re not saying Disney should turn Fantastic Four into reality show stars or Instagram influencers. But the brooding is best left to characters like Daredevil and The Punisher. Make the Fantastic Four public darlings, and let them cut loose.
Face it: The Fantastic Four aren’t going to make one appearance and then vanish. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, everything is connected. Given the Fantastic Four’s importance to Marvel’s legacy, we expect the team to be a cornerstone of the MCU for years to come — once they finally arrive, that is.
Disney should use the Fantastic Four’s repeat appearances to let the team grow and change. That’s what’s happened in the comics. By 1965, Reed and Sue were married. By 1968, they had a kid, and by 1999, they had two. Johnny graduated high school, enrolled in (and dropped out of) college, and got hitched to a Skrull. Recently, Ben Grimm married his on-again, off-again girlfriend too, taking steps toward starting his own family.
These aren’t normal comic book plotlines that got retconned (altered or ignored) over time in an effort to return to the status quo. These changes stuck. Heroics might’ve gotten readers to pick up The Fantastic Four, but it’s the soap-operatics that keep them around. If Disney wants to do the Fantastic Four right, they’ll do the same on the big screen.
The Fantastic Four’s archnemesis, Victor von Doom, is Marvel’s best villain — in the comics, at least. He’s a brilliant-but-vain scientist who was scarred in a lab accident, forcing him to hide his face behind a mask. He’s the ruler of Latveria, a foreign country, and has his own castle which is guarded by an army of robots that look exactly like him. He’s rich, he’s powerful, and he’s exceedingly smart — and yet he can’t stop comparing himself to his old college rival, Reed Richards.
That’s good stuff. Doctor Doom is the best parts of Lex Luthor, Blofeld, and the Grim Reaper rolled into one, and he’s tailor-made for the big screen. Heck, Doom is complex enough that he could support a movie of his own. That’s why it’s so weird that previous Fantastic Four adaptations haven’t been able to get him right. At all. In 2005’s Fantastic Four, Doom is a corporate CEO whose skin is made up of organic metal. In the 2015 reboot, he’s fused to his spacesuit, which somehow gives him telekinetic powers.
That misses the point. Doom’s sharp mind and his out-of-control ego are what make him dangerous. Anything else is unnecessary. Disney could easily make Victor one of the MCU’s most memorable bad guys — all it has to do is stick to the source material.
Doctor Doom might be the Fantastic Four’s archnemesis, but he’s not the biggest threat they’ve ever faced. Galactus, who debuted in a story so big that it spanned three full issues (remember, it was the 1960s), is a giant cosmic being who roams the galaxy, eating planets in order to survive. He’s one of the most powerful entities in the entire Marvel Universe. Compared to Galactus, Thanos isn’t inevitable. He’s nothing.
Technically, Galactus has appeared on the big screen before, but not in a way that made anyone happy. In Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Galactus serves as the main villain, but instead of a scowling giant in a wild helmet, he was a sentient cloud. Allegedly, the idea was to save Galactus’ traditional form for a Silver Surfer spinoff, but Rise of the Silver Surfer underperformed at the box office, and all future Fantastic Four projects were canceled.
Now that the Fantastic Four are at Disney, Marvel Studios has a chance to do Galactus right. In fact, Galactus is such a big deal that it’s easy to see him as the next big bad for the entire MCU. Maybe Galactus’ arrival reunites the Avengers, who rush into action with the Fantastic Four leading the way. After all this time, seeing the real Galactus on the big screen would make fans very happy — and if Disney wants someone to play his herald, the Silver Surfer, we have a pretty good suggestion.
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