As I type this, the Walt Disney Company is in the process of buying 20th Century Fox film studios. There are still some final regulatory hurdles to clear, but all seems set for Fox and its assets to become a subsidiary of Disney. This has peaked the interest of the average consumer far more than most other corporate buyouts, for one key reason: if Disney (owner of Marvel Studios) purchases Fox (holder of the film rights to Marvel Comics properties X-Men and The Fantastic Four), then the legal barriers preventing Storm, Wolverine, Doctor Doom, Mr. Fantastic, Magneto, Galactus and countless others from appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be gone.
From the moment this buyout was announced as being even a remote possibility, Marvel fans have been rampantly pontificating on how the studio should integrate these properties into the MCU. And I figured, hey, why shouldn’t we all join in on the fun?
For now, I don’t want to discuss the X-Men. That’s a much bigger franchise, and bringing it into the MCU fold is complicated by it currently having its own series of successful films with their own fanbase. But the Fantastic Four, with its smaller cast of characters, and a track record on the big screen so disappointing that many regard the unreleased, Roger Corman produced cheapie as their best cinematic outing? That seems a tad more manageable.
The biggest question you have to answer when adding the Four to the MCU is: to origin story or not to origin story?
Some will say re-doing the origin story is redundant. It’s been done on film multiple times before, lots of people are sick of origin stories in general, and The Incredibles shows how you can create a terrific movie using a remarkably similar cast of superheroes without needing an origin.
But I feel like, in this case, the origin story is necessary. When Spider-Man: Homecoming came out, Marvel could assume most of the audience had already seen a Spider-Man movie or some other piece of Spider-Man media at some point in their lives, and so would already be familiar with the gist of his origin story. The Fantastic Four have had their fair share of movies and cartoon series in the past, but never anywhere near Spider-Man’s popularity, and the only one to come out in recent years (2015’s Fant4stic) was an absolute flop. You can’t assume people will come to an MCU Fantastic Four movie with that same sort of familiarity.
There are also character based reasons why including the origin is important. Ben Grimm loses a lot of his pathos if you don’t see him before he became the Thing, and what this transformation has caused him to lose. And by the same token, if you don’t do the origin, then you don’t get Reed’s guilt over what his rush to experiment and innovate has done to his best friend, one of the character’s most humanizing elements.
So, if we’re doing the origin, how do we do it? I’ve seen the idea bandied about that the Four should take their experimental rocket launch back in the 1960’s, to maintain the Cold War Space Race element, and have the same cosmic rays that give them their powers transport them into the MCU’s present.
I personally don’t care for that idea. If you have the Four adjusting to their new powers, and adjusting to being in the future, and adjusting to that future being full of Norse gods and green rage monsters . . . that seems like it would eat up a lot of screen time, with our heroes mostly just reacting to their situation, rather than going out and doing adventurer stuff.
Besides, the current state of the MCU offers a handy substitute for the Space Race anxiety that originally motivated the Four’s voyage into space. The MCU Earth has recently gone from not knowing that aliens exist to being invaded by them once every couple years. It would make perfect sense if there’s currently a massive R&D push for Earth to develop its own faster-than-light spaceships, something that will let them not only defend themselves from alien invaders, but strike back at them as well. And who’s on the forefront of FTL research but our own Reed Richards?
As for why Reed would hijack a ship along with his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s kid brother, and an old college buddy? Make it so that, while Reed’s developed a method of letting ships travel through some sort of hyperspace, none of the probes sent into it have ever returned. Reed theorizes that the probes just don’t have the right improvisational skills to navigate through hyperspace. To go into hyperspace and make your way out again, you need a human pilot. And not just any pilot, but one with an ability to rapidly do complex fifth-dimensional calculations in their head, to properly account for all the variables that can arise when exiting normal space. Basically, you need to send someone like Reed.
Naturally, NASA (or whatever equivalent agency Reed’s working for) balks at the idea of sending one of their brightest scientists on such a dangerous experimental flight. But Reed is convinced that he needs to take this test flight, that it’s the only way to prove the technology works. And he recruits Ben, Sue, and Johnny to help him, because they’re the closest thing to family he has, and the only ones he can trust to help him commit grand larceny bordering on treason.
Naturally, they succeed in hijacking a space shuttle and entering hyperspace, and Reed does navigate them out of it and back to Earth, but going through such a bizarre spatial distortion has mutated their bodies, turning them into the Fantastic Four.
That’s the origin of our heroes, but what about the villain? I think most people agree that using Doctor Doom again would be a bad move, after the previous movies have mangled him so badly. And while he’s their greatest foe, that doesn’t necessarily make him a good one to start out with. So who should it be then?
Well, I know they’re going to appear in Captain Marvel, and depending on what’s done with them there, my idea may not work, but I’m inclined to say the Skrulls. If the Four’s test flight, rather than being done to out-compete the Russians, was done to prepare Earth for contact with alien aggressors, then the bad guys really should be alien aggressors themselves.
But the specific idea I had is that the main villain is not simply any Skrull, but Franklin Storm: Johnny and Sue’s father, and (borrowing an idea from the Ultimate Universe) Reed’s boss at whatever scientific research facility he works at. Back when Sue and Johnny were just kids, their father was killed and replaced by a Skrull shapeshifter. Why? His mission is to use the Franklin Storm identity to achieve a prominent position among Earth’s leading physicists, and report back to the Skrull Empire any evidence that humanity is about to develop faster-than-light travel. If they do, that will make them a potential threat to Skrull hegemony, and they will be promptly invaded and either enslaved or exterminated.
But after decades pretending to be Sue and Johnny’s father, Skrull!Storm has come to care for them like they were his own children, and he doesn’t want to see them suffer under a Skrull invasion. But he can’t let Reed’s experiments into FTL travel succeed and threaten the Skrull Empire, either. So he plans to do a purge of everything related to the technology, destroying all the plans, all the prototypes, and killing everyone who knows how any of it works . . . with Reed first on the list.
This would work with the theme of family that’s so integral to the Fantastic Four. Two of the Four see their father (or at least the person they’ve thought of as their father for most of their lives) attacking the man that one of them has come to love, and the other has a quasi-paternal/big-brother-esque relationship with. By saving Reed and defeating Skrull!Storm, they’re affirming their allegiance to the Fantastic Four as their family of choice, as opposed to the Skrull agent who’s made them his family without any say on their part. At the very least, it would give the action-packed climax plenty of personal stakes.
Then throw in a post-credits scene with some faceless guy in a Latverian castle watching the Four on TV. Because you have to.
Anyway, that’s my pitch for doing a Fantastic Four movie set in the MCU. What are everyone else’s ideas?