Work Not In Progress: Fantastic Four

An unfinished first draft of this piece for the Hollywood Reporter, abandoned midway through because it wasn’t working. I started over from another angle, and it just felt better, somehow.

Now that it looks like we may finally have Fox’s new Fantastic Four, perhaps we can finally turn out attention to more important topics — like the question of just what is going to happen in the movie, due for release next summer.

As is by now traditional with super hero movie franchises, it’s almost inevitable that the first movie in the series will be the origin story of the team. Director Josh Trank has already denied reports that the movie will follow Marvel’s own revisionist Ultimate Fantastic Four in terms of origin story — but, of course, he’d also denied that Miles Teller was up for a role in the movie, and we’ve seen how that turns out.

Given the vintage of the original Fantastic Four origin story — in which the characters get their powers as the result of an attempt to beat the Russians into space, with Sue Storm pleading “Ben, we’ve got to take that chance… unless we want the Commies to beat us to it!” at one point — it’s impossible that the movie won’t be forced to deviate from the classic version of events in some way, whether it goes the Ultimate route (A teleportation accident), follows the earlier Fox movie’s “accident aboard a space station” take on events, or finds its own way to expose the characters to those all-important cosmic rays.

The earlier film also played with the origin by introducing Doctor Doom into events far earlier than he appeared in the comic book. That was a good move for a number of reasons, not least of which being that the original origin lacks any villain whatsoever, with the bad guy for the issue appearing later and having the ridiculous motivation of wanting to destroy New York because he was so ugly no-one would date him (Sadly, I’m not joking). Substituting Doom for the poor Mole Man felt as much like an act of mercy as it did a smart storytelling choice.

Using Doom makes sense, in that he’s undoubtedly the most famous — and most interesting — villain in the Fantastic Four mythos. Luckily for Fox, however, he’s far from the only interesting threat in there. The first hundred or so issues of Fantastic Four, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are some of the most restlessly inventive super hero comics ever made, creating all manner of characters that could easily be spun off into their own movies should Fox desire it.

Whereas Sony’s plan to build out the Spider-Man movie series into a multi-franchise property relies on that character’s villains, a Fantastic Four family could include the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Inhumans, entire alien races like the Kree and the Skrulls, and arguably more characters whose rights situation may be slightly more complicated (The Black Panther, for example, appears to be under control of Marvel Studios although he first appeared in Fantastic Four. Similarly, quite who owns the movie rights to Adam Warlock, who first appeared in Fantastic Four under the name “HIM!” is unclear).