Those who actually read my articles may recall that, some time ago, I wrote a piece discussing some ideas for the inevitable integration of the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Disney reacquired the rights after their big purchase of 20th Century Fox.
In all honesty, bringing in the X-Men is probably one of the hardest tasks faced by Marvel Studios given the popularity and mainstream awareness of the existing movie franchise. As detailed in my piece about films that desperately need a remake, I believe that it would be comparatively easier to bring in a new version of Marvel’s first family of superheroes, the Fantastic Four, and that this should be the main goal following the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame (Russo Brothers, 2019).
The Fantastic Four are, obviously, no strangers to live-action adaptation; Roger Corman infamously co-produced, but never released, the extremely low-budget The Fantastic Four (Sassone, 1994) back in the nineties, Tim Story’s Fantastic 4 (2005) and 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (ibid, 2007) actually saw the light of day but came under a lot of criticism for some of the effects, tone, casting, and the handling of Galactus, while Josh Trank’s 2015 grim and gritty reboot, Fant4stic, was beset by studio interference, an oddly serious tone, and a dramatically altered interpretation of Doctor Doom (Toby Kebbell). Having seen each of these adaptations, I can say that each does have its fair share of problems but there are some positives to be found as well.
The Fantastic Four is probably the closest to the 1960s version of the characters; the Four are bathed in cosmic rays and obtain their superpowers, wear very comic-accurate costumes (to a fault, as they literally just look like Halloween costumes), and Doctor Doom’s (Joseph Culp) origin, abilities, and appearance are probably the closest to the comics out of all three adaptations. Also, while every other effect in the film was cringey to the point of embarrassment, Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Bailey Smith/Carl Ciarfalio) was phenomenally realised in a practical, semi-animatronic costume similar to those seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990).
Fantastic 4, while suffering from the tired depiction of Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon) as a suit-wearing businessman and some questionable casting (Ioan Gruffudd isn’t bad as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic but also isn’t that great and Jessica Alba was woefully miscast as Susan Storm/Invisible Girl, a fact made all the more prevalent by the gratuitous shots of her in her underwear rather than emphasising her intelligence), was basically saved by Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans, whose chemistry as the Thing and the Johnny Storm/Human Torch, respectively, are well worth the price of admission.
Rise of the Silver Surfer improved on the lacklustre finale of its predecessor and, while Galactus was little more than a formless space-cloud, at least the movie tried to do Galactus when it could have just as easily gone down a safer, more boring route. The Silver Surfer (Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne) was also realised extremely effectively, looking great and being a powerful yet empathetic character; while tying his powers directly to his board did weaken him somewhat compared to his comic counterpart, it simplified matters considerably. Oh, also, the Fantasicar is in this and looks amazing!
When the first trailers for Fant4stic hit, I was actually quite excited as it looked like it was going to be a more grounded, scientific, realistic interpretation and its trailers, look, and marketing reminded me a lot of Interstellar (Nolan, 2014). I also heard a lot of negative reviews surrounding the movie and went into it expecting this dull, boring, disjointed mess of a film but found myself surprisingly enjoying it. For one thing, the cast is much better; Kate Mara is a far better fit for Susan Storm (though the fact that she doesn’t actually go on the mission with the others is a problem), Miles Teller is also far more suitable, portraying Reed as a somewhat awkward but determined and enthusiastic young genius, and Michael B. Jordan was absolutely brilliant as Johnny Storm because of his natural charisma and totally proved that race shouldn’t always be a factor when casting these characters. On the flip side, Toby Kebbell is quite underwhelming as Doom and Jamie Bell really didn’t have the physical stature to properly fit the role of Ben Grimm, though I did like the CGI used to create the Thing.
One of the things that separate the Fantastic Four from other superheroes is that they are a family; their strengths lie completely in their unity and, while each are powerful and talented separately, the idea has always been that the four of them together are a formidable unit. Tim Story’s movies emphasised the “dysfunctional family” dynamic of the team quite well; though miscast, as I said, Sue acts as the “mother” to the team, being the voice of reason and logic and intervening in arguments; Johnny and Ben are the bickering children who are just as likely to fight each other as other threats; and Reed is the level-headed, hyper-intelligent “father” of the group, though Gruffudd rarely exuded the charisma, confidence, or intelligence you might expect from such a character.
This ended up being a theme in Fant4stic, with the team officially forming at the film’s climax and staying together out of a true sense of friendship that developed over months of working together after being introduced as strangers. Reed and Ben were close as kids but, once Reed becomes part of Franklin Storm’s (Reg E. Cathey) interdimensional project, he leaves Ben behind and forms a fast friendship with Johnny, which is an interesting twist as Johnny is generally treated as a kid brother by Reed.
Also at the heart of the team’s story is their complicated relationship with Doom; all three interpretations portray Doom as a former colleague and rival to Reed but only The Fantastic Four and Fant4stic delve into their friendship. Reed and Doom are supposed to be equally matched in their intelligence and separated only by Doom’s megalomaniacal ego and lust for power, which is generally realised in his live-action adaptations; The Fantastic Four’s Doom descends into one-note revenge and a desire to conquer the world while Fant4stic-Doom, similar to Fantastic 4-Doom, revels in his newfound power and desire to use it to subjugate others and prove he is the better man than Reed.
In the films, Doom’s motivations are generally further bolstered (or diluted, you might argue) by his attraction to Sue; Fantastic 4-Doom proposes to her and actively pursues her simply because she is unobtainable, making his motivations much less threatening. Even in Rise of the Silver Surfer there is a suggestion that he seeks to obtain the Surfer’s powers simply to displace Reed in Sue’s life. Personally, I don’t like this addition to Doom’s motivations; I think it’s enough to have Doom be this selfish, egotistical madman who desires power and more power and to prove that he is superior to Reed and, by extension, his extended family.
With their acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Marvel Studios now has the opportunity to bring the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; with the Four come some of Marvel’s greatest characters and villains, including Doom, Silver Surfer, Namor, Annihilus, and Galactus and their significance in the greater Marvel universe cannot be understated, with Reed being an integral member of the Illuminati and the team being the force that drives away Galactus’ threat.
Unlike the X-Men, bringing in the Fantastic Four can be a relatively simple affair; one of the things I liked about Fant4stic was that the team travelled across dimensions, rather than into space, to acquire their powers. Either approach is fine to me because the main thing here is that the Four are explorers and scientists first and adventurers and superheroes second, so you could very easily have the Fantastic Four return from an excursion into the Negative Zone, either by design or having been trapped there by Doom. That way you can establish that the characters and the Baxter Building have existed in the MCU for some time but they have either been away or lost for some time, similar to how Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) was introduced to the MCU.
There are, however, a few ways you could portray the team; Marvel Studios could take inspiration from Fant4stic and Ultimate Fantastic Four (Various, 2004 to 2009) and have the Four be in their mid-teens. Perhaps Reed is a genius savant and Doom is his former teacher, embittered by Reed’s intellect and youth, or maybe they were peers driven by a friendly rivalry that turned sour. It’s definitely a route to go down if you want longevity from the actors and characters and to maintain some of the youthful vigour Tom Holland brings to the MCU as Spider-Man.
However, I would actually go the alternate route, especially as I’m hoping for the majority of the X-Men to be teens at Xavier’s School for the Gifted as in X-Men: Evolution (2000 to 2003), and use this as an opportunity to bring some older actors into the roles and have a few more seasoned voices of authority to be peers with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). This puts me in a bit of a bind, as I already had Pierce Brosnan eyed for Magneto, but he’d be equally great as Reed; in another time, I would have also said Bruce Campbell, but he maybe doesn’t have the acting gravitas I envision for Mr. Fantastic, though maybe Bradley Cooper would be a good fit (and it’d give him a chance to be seen onscreen in a Marvel movie) or even Nathan Fillion, if he isn’t going to appear as Simon Williams/Wonder Man any time soon.
I previously suggested Zac Efron for Johnny Storm, which I think I’ll stick with; a young, cut, utterly handsome hot-head is just the sort of thing the Human Torch needs. He also needs to have good chemistry with the Thing, who I would hope to either be some Hulk-level top-quality CGI or a combination of a practical suit and CGI; I would also keep Ben as the Thing the entire time, meaning Marvel only need to bring in a quality actor to voice the role, like they did with Rocket Raccoon. I previously, somewhat jokingly, suggested Danny DeVito, mainly because of his accent, but maybe Brad Garrett or Dean Norris would be equally good fits.
As for Sue, I’m at a bit of a loss; perhaps a Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams (if she’s really done with DC movies), or Emily Blunt, if Marvel could get her. I’m not too good at casting females, to be honest, but I definitely think Marvel would be better off looking for a Kate Mara than a Jessica Alba (someone like Felicity Jones, maybe) as Sue doesn’t need to be some drop-dead gorgeous bombshell; she should be smart and sophisticated and have good chemistry with Reed.
Similarly, for Doom, you want an actor who won’t be a one-and-done as, unfortunately, Hugo Weaving was; Red Skull should be a much bigger presence in the MCU but Weaving’s comments and attitude seem to have prevented that, and Doom should definitely be a massive threat to the MCU, hopefully similar to Marvel’s version of Magneto. I would push to only see Doom unmasked in a flashback to his time as Reed’s peer, meaning you either need an actor willing to be behind the armour for the entire movie or cast a decent stunt man (bring in Doug Jones, maybe) and an ominous voice actor; off the top of my head, though, I would love to see Tony Todd play the role due to his menacing stature and haunting, raspy voice, though Peter Mensah or Sterling K. Brown would be just as fitting.
I would also take quite a bit of inspiration from Captain Marvel (Boden, 2019), especially as that film is bringing the Skrulls to the MCU. At this point, I am hoping that the Skrulls play a significant role in the next phase of Marvel movies, with mid- and after-credit sequences and subsequent movies revealing that certain characters are actually Skrulls in disguise and that the shape-shifters have been secretly invading the Earth in the Four’s absence. Marvel’s Fantastic Four movie could initially take place some time after Captain Marvel, in the late-nineties, with the Four discovering the Skrull invasion or their home planet on an excursion and being left stranded there when their gateway/module explodes.
Upon their return, the Four (who would perhaps assume Doom died in the explosion) would use their resources to prepare for the invasion, or fight back against it, only to find that Doom is alive and well and lording it up in Latveria, where his dimensional gateway (a combination of technology and magic) has been allowing the Skrulls to come to Earth over the intervening years. Doom would reveal that he discovered the Skrulls first and struck a bargain with them and that he sabotaged the Four’s gateway; when the Four confront him, they could battle the Super-Skrull (a nice thematic parallel as they essentially have to battle themselves and their own powers) and, upon defeating Doom, find that it was simply a sophisticated robotic decoy and that not only is Doom still out there, but countless Skrulls have infiltrated the human race.
Admittedly, this is very thin and doesn’t really delve into how the Four get their powers; maybe they obtain them during their time in the Negative Zone or on the Skrull planet, perhaps even through Skrull experimentation? Either way, I definitely feel Marvel’s Fantastic Four should show that the Skrulls are still at large if only to set up towards a Secret Invasion (Bendis, et al, 2008 to 2009) style conclusion to the whole Skrull storyline in a New Avengers movie.
Following this, and with the Four playing key roles in a New Avengers movie, a Fantastic Four sequel could juggle a few famous Fantastic Four plots; aside from the obvious return/revelation that Doom is still alive, perhaps Sue is pregnant and ultimately gives birth to Franklin Richards to actually get that Power Pack movie off the ground? Also, it would be a great opportunity to bring in Namor; given how successful Aquaman (Wan, 2018) was, though, I wouldn’t be averse to seeing Namor in the first of Marvel’s Fantastic Four films and end with the revelation of Doom’s existence/survival. Namor is quite the complex and layered anti-hero and would introduce a whole new world to the MCU while still tying in with the introduction of Mutants; I’d also use Namor as a chance to bring in an Asian actor for the role, like Donnie Yen or Lee Byung-hun.
Anyway, the second Fantastic Four movie would also have a sub-plot whereby Reed is constantly monitoring or noticing a strange energy spike crossing the globe and the post-credits scene would show that this is, of course, the Silver Surfer. I’d then have the Silver Surfer appear in this fashion across every subsequent Marvel movie; perhaps, during the films, there would be news reports, headlines, clear spoken dialogue referring to craters appearing, ecological changes, power shortages, and sightings of a strange silvery alien. Definitely, though, I would take a page out of previous Marvel movies and have a few post-credits stingers showing the Surfer preparing various sites and, finally, summoning Galactus to Earth.
This would culminate in what I’m going to title Avengers: Doomsday (perhaps New Avengers: Doomsday), a movie that would feature the Silver Surfer as the main antagonist for the first third, Doom for the second (after he drains the Surfer’s powers and uses them for his own ends, possibly in league with other villains), and Galactus for the last two thirds. If anyone can pull off a decent Galactus it’s going to be Marvel Studios, who made Thanos (Josh Brolin) one of their greatest threats and are generally really good at bringing their comic characters to life in a way that is believable and also faithful to the source material.
Part of me feels like it would be a disservice to Galactus to resolve his threat in one movie, even one that involves most the MCU’s greatest heroes, especially as one of Marvel Studios’ more questionable decisions was to limit Ultron (James Spader) to one appearance. At the same time, though, I don’t really want to see a two part Avengers movie again as it would be too much of a repeat of what Marvel Studios did with Thanos so, instead, building Galactus (through the Silver Surfer) through multiple movies and the two Fantastic Four movies would allow for a much greater payoff in Avengers: Doomsday. Plus, Galactus doesn’t really have any minions for the heroes to fight so it’d be much more about how they are supposed to defeat this giant, God-like being that is sucking the Earth dry.
All-in-all, the Fantastic Four would be a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offer a lot of opportunities for new characters, new heroes and villains, new worlds and new technology, and to include some more seasoned, mature actors to bring a sense of maturity and authority to the MCU. Having Reed Richards (and Professor X if Marvel also bring in the X-Men) also allows for a potential, movie-spanning arc involving the Illuminati and opens even more doors for new stories to tell. The Fantastic Four also really deserve a good crack of the whip as all of their live-action adaptations have been lacking and I know that Marvel Studios would be able to present them in the proper way; plus, if it gives us a really good, menacing, sinister, and complex villain in Doctor Doom then all the better!