Okay, so. I’m writing the introduction to this before I’ve actually gotten around to seeing the new Fantastic Four movie yet, but it seems like it is in fact really, really bad. And that’s a shame, actually, because I’ve been defending it for months, on the basis that no-one had actually seen it yet. But people have now seen it, and it’s hard to argue with 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll go and watch it soon, and add in my thoughts to the post then.
(Oh. I actually really, really enjoyed it. With a few reservations and all, but generally, I thought it was a lot better than it’s reputation suggests – not perfect by any means, but far from the abysmal movie people are suggesting. I actually wouldn’t reboot it, if given the option, but I’ve committed to this now.)
Anyway, I figured that it might be a good idea to do for Fantastic Four what I did for Spider-Man – a pitch for a reboot. We’ll assume, for a moment, that it’s going to end up in the MCU continuity, simply because that sort of mental gymnastics is a little more fun, but it could be easily done as a standalone.
On the Setting
Probably not something you’d expect to be immediately most important, but I figured it’d be worth putting this one first, because it has a fairly significant impact on the rest of the movie.
This particular Fantastic Four movie is going to be set in the middle of the Cold War. The lines are going to blur a little, since we’re obviously departing from established history a little (what with the Superheroes and all), but we’re looking at a slightly fictionalised 60s/70s, where we’ve still got that period of detente, but things are a little more tense than they were in reality – one particular Eastern European nation, by the name of Latveria, is stirring up trouble…
(The benefit of going back to the 70s is twofold; it provides a distinct visual style, which sets this film apart from others of its ilk, and it’s also going to help me with Dr. Doom, as you’ll see in a minute…)
On the Origins
Here, admittedly, I’m running into trouble. I’m caught between a couple of things – on the one hand, I want to skip the origins. An opening credits that’s a sort of mash up between that of Spider-Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, where we see news articles and secret files on both the Fantastic Four and Latveria’s place in the Cold War, seems essentially perfect. Everyone knows the origin story, and they don’t particularly seem to like new angles on it, so it might well be best to just sort of get it over and done with. As much as I’d like to open the movie with scenes of Reed and Ben, or explore immediate reactions to their accident, it’s been done recently, and to fairly poor reaction.
So, actually, yeah, we’re going to go with the title credits. We’ll see the four astronaut/scientists doing their bit in the Space Race, getting hit by cosmic rays, and Latveria making a nuisance of itself all relayed through a series of clever news broadcasts and clippings and etc. The movie can continue on after that with a quick action sequence – Johnny Storm taking out a nuclear missile or something – before we come up with our inciting incident.
Now… slight departure from the comics, here, but stay with me on this. I’m going to attach the Fantastic Four to a government agency, and essentially make them spy type people. If it’s the MCU, it’d be SHIELD, with a cameo from Peggy Carter; if it’s still Fox, then just some generic agency.
On the Plot
What, exactly, does SHIELD want with the Fantastic Four on this occasion? Well, they’ve been hearing rumours and rumblings about the dictator of Latveria, one Dr Victor von Domashev, having unlocked a secret power. The suggestion is that this is some form of magic – Reed is skeptical, but the others shoot this down with relative ease. (”Magic isn’t real, that’s impossible.” “Well, so are we.” “Point taken.”) Again, if it’s the MCU, you can tie in Peggy’s concerns with Red Skull and the Tesseract and the like, but that’s not essential.
The bulk of the movie, then, is a bit of an espionage thriller with the Fantastic Four. You’d spend a lot of time in Latveria, meeting the oppressed populace, getting to know what things are like. Eventually, there would be a confrontation with Doom at the end of the movie. The Fantastic Four can stop his specific plan on that particular day, but due to the complexities of diplomatic immmunity, and the fact that he’s leader of an entire country, means they can’t exactly depose him entirely.
Leaving us with one very angry dictator, bearing a grudge against the Fantastic Four, who’s entirely ready to come back and fight again another day…
On the Characters
Reed Richards: We’ve already established that Reed is going to be openly skeptical of magic (which will provide us with a nice running gag), but I’m actually going to take that a step further and say that part of the reason he’s here is because he wants to believe in magic, because he wants to try and use it to help cure his friends. He’s exhausted all the possibilities open to him with conventional science as he knows it, but he’s determined to do something for his friends, so this is what he’s looking into now. That’s what motivating him throughout: pursuit of a cure.
Ben Grimm: So, something that presents itself to me as being an interesting possibility to explore is the fact that Ben is Jewish. (He also turns into what is essentially a literal Golem, but I don’t know a huge amount about Golems, so I’ll avoid any sweeping statements there.) Anyway, so. Let’s say, then, that either his parents or an uncle and aunt were killed in the Holocaust; Grimm has got a fairly personal reason to want to stop dangerous dictators in their tracks. This is a fairly basic starting point, admittedly, and you’d have to be sure to keep this subtle rather than heavy handed, but it does appear to fit in with the film, and it provides a little more diversity to the movie, which is always nice.
Sue Storm: I think with Sue… okay, right. Here’s the basic arc I’ve got in mind: This is all taking place in the first year of their accident, we’ll say, so even though they’ve got their powers and etc, they aren’t necessarily settled as a group. Sue in particular in going to have reservations – she’ll go to Latveria and do this because Peggy asked, but it’s not exactly something she’d have chosen to do. Her experience in Latveria is going to change her mind, basically – when she interacts with the people, she sees the good they’re able to do, and realises that their little group is in fact a positive thing. She of all them becomes determined to stop Doom, because of the friends she makes amongst the Latverian people.
Johnny Storm: This probably wouldn’t necessarily be something he’s comfortable with, would it? He’s not really the type who’d be into skulking about in secrecy, and would probably prefer to take on Doom directly. For Johnny, there’s going to be tensions between his brash nature, and he necessities of the mission that they’re on. You’d maybe have an action set piece at some point in the middle wherein Johnny gets frustrated, tries to save someone rather than keeping a low profile, and almost brings the whole thing crashing down around them.
One thing that is important to emphasise (and you’ll do it by contrasting them against the other characters you see in the movie) is that these four people are very much a family. That’s their angle, the thing that should set them apart from other superheroes.
On Doctor Doom & Latveria
Okay, so, here’s the thing. I can’t take the name “Doctor Doom” seriously. Yes, as an alias, sure. But not as an actual literal name. Sorry.
So, what we’re going with is Doctor Victor von Domashev, nicknamed “Doctor Doom” by the oppressed populace of Latveria, who we’d learn a fair amount about. That’s actually how I’m planning on conveying the level of threat from Doom – we’re going to withhold showing him particularly, apart from occasional glimpses, and really build him up through the stories told by the people of Latveria. It might be nice to build a deliberate contrast between his public face (the learned man, the Doctor) and the impact of the harsh dictator that we actually see.
As the Four journey through Latveria (I guess looking for someone in particular? Some of the specifics aren’t quite there yet) they’re going to be spending time in houses and village communes and so on, and we’ll meet some Latverian families fairly intimately. Maybe at one point, Ben and Johnny can get swept up in the resistance movement, leading Reed and Sue to have to try and find them. Essentially, they’re going to be doing something not dissimilar to Martha Jones in Last of the Time Lords. Maybe you can steal the sea shanty bit from Turn Left with the Cossolantos, too – we can get to really know and like these people, before brutally murdering them! (Apologies if you don’t understand the Doctor Who references. Look them up!)
On the powers
The magic of Doom is, admittedly, something I’m not entirely certain of how to manage. I’d lean towards leaving it unexplained – make it a deliberate mystery, and that can provide a bit of tension throughout.
With the rest of the Four you can leave it as is, really, albeit perhaps with a few changes. It might, for example, provide a nice set of scenes if Sue is able to make people/things invisible too through contact with her – that doesn’t feel like too much of stretch, given that her clothes usually turn invisible too – and I’d like it if Reed’s powers were made a little weirder and more nonspecific. He’s not just stretchy, he’s malleable. So he can do things like becoming a parachute (a la The Incredibles), or he can get out of a cell by flattening himself and sliding under the door, or he can stretch his features to morph his face a little.
Also! I happened to read an old ‘leaked plot outline’ from the recent Fantastic Four movie recently- the outline was incorrect, but it did have an interesting idea about Johnny Storm’s heat powers. He’d change colour to signify how hot he was. I actually think that’s a pretty cool idea – he wouldn’t be green or anything like that, but rather than just one shade of orange, you’d have him changing between red hot, or blue-y flame, or white hot, and so on and so forth. I think you could potentially build something quite interesting out of that.
On the Franchise
So, then. Where does this particular movie aim to go? Trilogies seem to be the thing people aim for, don’t they?
I’m not sure where I’d take the movie after this. Obviously, I’m leaving deliberate threads dangling to return to with Doom, given that they can’t depose him (yet?) and he’ll inevitably bear a grudge against the Four (and particularly Richaaaaards!).
Part of me feels like Galactus and suchlike don’t quite fit the tone of this, if we’re going for 70s set in the MCU. It’s the sort of thing that you’d expect o have had a big impact on the state of the world, but obviously didn’t, given that we’ve seen the pre-existing current day set movies that obviously haven’t been through a visit from Galactus. Something that could be interesting, though, is if by Phase 5 or whatever, Marvel is more confident with skipping back and forth through their timeline, you’d have the Silver Surfer confront the Four, which is set up for a subsequent Avengers movie featuring Galactus? That has legs as an idea, I think.
If they do get to a third movie (which would feature the return of Doom), though, I think the important thing is for Reed to be able to cure his friends, as a culmination of their arc. Or, at the very least, to give Ben the ability to turn his power on and off. (”Rock on!”) That’s rather important to me – gaining those powers is such a massive upheaval to their lives, and Reed wouldn’t ever give up searching for a cure, even if the others had accepted their powers.
You know, I think this is a rather strong basis for a film franchise. Any thoughts?
Note from 2018: This was written from a probably fairly shallow understanding of the characters, and I don’t know exactly how much I agree with all this now anyway.