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So Fantastic Four, or Fant4stic, or whatever they’re calling it is bombing pretty hard in theaters right now. The blame is bouncing around multiple parties now: from the execs, to the director, and even to the studio itself. Everyone’s looking for a scapegoat.
Strangely enough, the minority voice in this shout-fest has been “do we even want a Fantastic Four movie?” True enough, if you have a vision for a realistic dark drama, maybe Marvel’s First Family isn’t really the way to go.
We’ve asked the question before, and it does have some value. The Four aren’t nearly as popular as they once were, especially in the mainstream. So why — well, besides money — would anyone really bother with churning out a movie based on this property?
I’ll tell you why.
There are a few aspects of The Fantastic Four that set it apart from the rest of the superhero movie onslaught, the most important of these being the “family” aspect. It’s a dynamic apart from any other property out there now — well, maybe other than the X-Men movies, but that’s… that’s different.
The Four are more than a super-group. They’re a family who happen to be superheroes. At the end of the day, their drama always boils down to ultra-relatable human relationships. The first two movies attempted to capture this, but instead ended up with bad sitcom setups. It’s a shame! There’s real heart in these characters. They aren’t the ideal family, they aren’t the Cosbys, but that’s the point. Sue struggles with Reed’s obsession with work, Ben and Reed’s friendship endures despite Reed’s inability to cure Ben’s, ah… condition. Look at The Incredibles. That family, with all their struggles and desires, remains one of the best examples of the Fantastic Four out there.
Each movie can be anchored on a single familial issue, as Story’s movies tried to do. A simple conflict to base this gigantic world off of. I’d caution to avoid such well-worn tropes like GETTING MARRIED or HAVING A BABY, but what do I know? They could work as long as they were epic enough. Sue is having a baby, but she’s trapped in Hell. Or Reed and Sue have to get married, but Sue is possessed by an alien queen and they only have a few hours before its ship eats the Sun.
Which brings me to my next point:
I have a tough time calling the Fantastic Four a through-and-through superhero property. Sure, they have what you’d consider supervillains, i.e The Wizard and Mole Man, but they don’t really fit the rest of the mold. They don’t thwart bank robberies, or “fight crime”. They live in a tall science tower and have big, giant adventures in weird places against strange villains.
I mean, look at most of their rogues. They have a planet-consuming cosmic force, a nigh-immortal god-king from an anti-universe, and a time traveling conqueror of the universe! And goddamn DOOM. These guys are way beyond the usual “get the MacGuffin and save the world” type heroes.
That’s what’s been missing in all these movies, and it’s the most cinematic aspect! The first movie had the climatic fight on a street. This new movie had the common decency to have it on another planet, but it’s just a simple rumble in a barren CGI wasteland. Seriously? Where is the clever scene staging? Where is the grandness of it?
A good Fantastic Four movie would be an experience. Iron Man is great at showing off cool technology and Captain America can supply the kickass fight choreography, but only the Fantastic Four can take you through time and space in the first act. Imagine a sequel opening up in the Microverse? Or in the middle of a fight with The High Evoluntionary’s New Men? How awesome would that be?!
Burnout from repetition is a big deal. How many more Thors will we get before it starts to feel old? 2? How many Captain Americas? Iron Men? Avengerses? There is a rich history that each franchise can mine, but eventually it’ll all bleed together.
The Fantastic Four, however, have the rare ability to encompass many different kinds of stories. This helps a ton when it comes to the movies. Whereas each Cap movie deals with him punching people for freedom, each Fantastic Four movie would have its own kind of vibe unique to itself.
Check it out. An FF movie featuring Annihilus would play out like an invasion movie. Alien bugs pouring though portals, ships in the sky, army units being overrun. The inevitable movie featuring Galactus would be a disaster movie to end all disaster movies. City blocks destroyed, swaths of land being turned to energy, people running. A Trapster movie would play like a hilarious underdog movie.
I think it’s a mistake to assume that a property like this, made very much as a part of its own time, is without an audience. Trying to stuff it into a kind of story its not only makes everyone lose. Three bad movies shouldn’t bury its potential. The Fantastic Four has so much going for it, so much outside the mold of current comic book movies, that it’s a shame that they’ve never really been given the chance to be… well, fantastic.