Good day, class! Today, we will be discussing the fault in our four; The Fantastic Four, to be exact. And in order to avoid similarities to other Fantastic Four (2015) articles and reactions, the following caveat must be made and confirmed to be true: Yes, The Incredibles is still the best Fantastic Four movie.
The thing about the Fantastic Four is that they haven’t had a good movie for a while. What’s worse, it’s sad to think about, but there’s simply no reason why these characters should gain notoriety anytime soon given the current state of their adventures on the big screen. Why? Because there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of where these characters come from and what their place within the Marvel universe is, cinematic or otherwise. Appropriately handled, these characters are more like U.S.S. Enterprise crew from Star Trek, with Reed Richards and company sharing in Gene Roddenberry’s thematic fascination with the wonder of discovery and science. Adaptations of the Fantastic Four from Marvel Comics have consistently come with the baggage of fan-based expectations, so it’s impossible to make everyone happy, but so as long as the characters come to the screen fundamentally intact, the direction that they subsequently undertake should not be that hard to follow.
Yet the central Four are the least watchable superheroes on the big screen, thanks in no small part to actors who have portrayed them via broadly applied caricatures. Whatever the hell keeps happening with Victor Von Doom is beyond anyone, though through some unfortunate devilry and witchcraft the best version of Dr. Doom is still held by the unreleased Roger Corman movie, a perplexing facet of our shared reality that scientists have been trying to discover an answer to, but have since gotten lost in the negative zone, with no definitive answer forthcoming anytime soon. What’s more, Dr. Doom, the appearing child of Darth Vader and the Emperor when it comes to comic book villains, strikes such a regal figure exploring scientific and magical properties across the universe to suit his own purposes that he should be the perfect theatrical villain. We have a damn good version of Ultron, the AI that gets mad at his proverbial father figures, and yet our best version of Dr. Doom is still the one that looks like he just stepped out of Party City.
What’s even worse, the valiant heroics of the Fantastic Four should be inherently different than a genreic coterie of Earth’s mightiest heroes gathering for a common good. But they aren’t. In a better feature film adaptation, the team should already be gathered together as a unit, aligning them closer to that first class of Professor Charles Xavier’s gifted children in Matthew Vaughn’s feature film of 2011. Case in point, the phenomenal X-Men: First Class contains a scene that drives said point home efficiently, where in the film’s third act and final battle, the X-Men spend about 10-15 minutes training and refining their powers, exploring internal friendships and inherent rivalries, and thus allowing themselves to be enticed by an infatuation with and to one another in an effort to staunch larger evils, which is quintessential X-Men stuff that fits in perfectly with the ethos of the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm are a smaller unit than the X-Men family, but their relationships are in a constant state of flux due to disagreements and a tightening of familial bonds. More so than any other superhero team, the Fantastic Four is perpetually tied together as a nuclear team first, science adventurers second, and superheroes third. They’re Marvel’s first family, and they haven’t had the opportunity to show us that yet.
So how do you make a good Fantastic Four movie? First of all, and more important than anything else, stop making these movies if nobody actually cares about making them to begin with, and let the property rights quietly die away. After that, focus on the family dynamic. Fantastic Four isn’t exactly the go-to property when it comes to darker re-tellings, so don’t force darkness. Embrace the spirit of adventure. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek captured such a spirit of discovery, as did X-Men: First Class, though I’d argue either franchise has yet to capitalize on that particular aspect fully. Let’s see Marvel’s first family come across new worlds and species looking to do humans harm. And we don’t need Dr. Doom as the first villain AGAIN. He can be present, but there’s no reason for him to be there when the four get their powers, as his is not the central story of this preeminent foursome.
Whether it’s within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the X-Men, it’s time to start using the Fantastic Four t0 their full scientific capacity. Have them influence science around the world and bring their sense of discovery to the proceedings. Let audiences everywhere be as entertained when the four fight Doom-bots as when the group is going out on New Year’s Eve. What viewers and fans want to see the most is an iteration of the Fantastic Four that inspires people to be and do better. In recent comics the Fantastic Four created the Future Foundation, which is exactly what it sounds like, and with it people continue to believe in the team as a viable superhero property as quality family entertainment, an example that should be followed on film.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox
Editor’s Note (08/14/2015): The original version of this article had incorrectly listed Bryan Singer as the director of X-Men: First Class. The article has been corrected to list Matthew Vaughn as the director fo the film.