May 16, 2016
7 suggestions for when Marvel gets the Fantastic Four back
I’d say this is a spoiler-free article about the new Fantastic Four, but to be honest, what is there to spoil? You’ve seen this story before; it’s pretty much a retread of the first movie, except all of the cheesiness and “fun” have been sucked out in favor of something more “grounded” and pseudo-dramatic.
It’s not “grimdark” by any means (minus the bit near the end where heads start literally exploding—one of the very few action scenes in this whole film, by the way; the trailer makes several scenes look more exciting than they are), but it does have that blue-brown-grey tint we’ve all come to know and loathe from that type of film, and a director (or to be charitable/hopeful, a studio) who seems to have a grudge against emotional expression: One of the final scenes features the team talking with some generals and all of them have a look of “can we just get this over with?” written on their faces, which just about sums up the movie.
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Actually, while I said it’s a retread of the first Fantastic Four movie, it definitely borrows heavily from Rise of the Silver Surfer as well. Remember how a good chunk of that movie was set in a top secret military base in the middle of nowhere? Well, I’m not saying this is the same base or the same “middle of nowhere”, but literally half the movie is spent in a pretty convincing lookalike location.
Otherwise, it’s basically the same film as the first movie, just with more pseudo-angst and family drama in place of the romantic subplots. It takes a good forty minutes or so for our “heroes” to get their powers, and they spend the rest of the film training, adapting, fighting for/squabbling with the military (on an in-universe TV screen) and on the run, having some internal conflict, and overcoming it all in time for an anti-climactic showdown with (not-Doctor) Doom. Like I said, it’s just a more angsty redo of the first movie.
It’s not worse; it just isn’t any better. Some stuff is superior to the last series: the stakes are a bit higher, the drama is a bit more convincing, the special effects are of course improved (though some scenes are wasted), and I’ll say that this Doom is somewhat more like his comic book counterpart. He might be a teenaged, misanthropic emo jerk, but at least he’s explicitly a genius this time around, and you take him a bit more seriously. It’s a step in the right direction, at least, even if he isn’t in it enough for us to care about him or his motives too much, and he, like everyone else, suffers from the whole “fun is illegal” principle this film runs on.
But there’s just… so little to say. This film is much more bland than bad. The acting isn’t awful or anything, and nothing in it is especially terrible, it’s just not very interesting or original, and the “plot” is virtually non-existent.
And so, rather than talk about this movie or what it got right or wrong, why don’t we look ahead to the future? A bright, starry future where Marvel actually has the film rights to this franchise and incorporates them into their own cinematic universe? Because based on the critical reception for this movie, and how utterly unoriginal and forgettable it is, I would be appalled, aghast, and amazed if Fox didn’t finally surrender the rights back to its rightful owners. If—no, when Marvel gets the rights back, what should they do with them?
1. No origin story
Seriously, we’ve seen this origin story twice before, and both times an entire movie was wasted on establishing characters (badly) and their powers, with Doctor Doom thrown in to give them something to do. We’ve had enough of origin stories in general already, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself has already had enough of them. It’s time to just throw us in the deep end and introduce us to the Fantastic Four after they’ve all got their powers and established themselves as a team and Reed as a brilliant scientist, so we can get right to the cool stuff.
2. Watch the tone
The first two films were too silly and not all that fun; the reboot was just not all that fun. Both erred on the side of trying to be too “grounded” and forgot to put the “fantastic!” into the Fantastic Four. We need more action, but we also need more adventure. These guys are the Doctor Who of superhero teams; they should be exploring (and not just “visiting”) other worlds and dimensions, and meeting, talking with, and sometimes fighting extraterrestrial, subterranean, extra-dimensional, and sub-atomic beings, and travelling through time and all that jazz. The other movies spent way too much time in New York City, the lab, the woods, or in government facilities, and there really needs to be a “wow” factor injected into these movies.
3. Not so much Doom
I truly love Doctor Doom, and hope that one day a movie can do him justice, but this is the third film with Doom as the bad guy, and while it’s criminal that none of them got him right, the Fantastic Four aren’t exactly lacking for weird, wonderful, and memorable villains. The reboot was partially set in the Negative Zone (sorry, “Planet Zero”), and we never even got to see Annihilus or any of its other bizarre and terrifying alien denizens.
Then you’ve got Galactus and the Silver Surfer, both of whom deserve a better showing than Rise of the Silver Surfer gave them. And apart from those, what about the Puppet Master? Psycho-Man? The Frightful Four? The Mole Man and his giant monsters? What about the Skrulls and the Super-Skrull? The MCU needs Skrulls! Just less Doom, please. Give him time to be built up.
4. Give Doom his own movie
Yes, we can give Doom his own movie! Seriously, if there’s one area in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe has faltered, it’s the way it’s handled its own roster of classic evildoers. Loki and Ultron are two of the most threatening villains thus far (I’d add Thanos to that list, but he hasn’t done much yet), and even then that’s only in comparison to the rest of the MCU’s villains, rather than actually being threatening in their own right. Doom is the classic Marvel archetypal bad guy, the Superman of Supervillains, and if there’s anyone who can fix this problem, it’s Doom—when done right.
Giving a starring role to the bad guy would be breaking new ground, and Doctor Doom has it all: brilliance, magic, his own country, grandiloquence, and a fanatical belief in his own inherent superiority and right, nay, duty to Take Over the World for Its Own Greater Good. If you can get Doom right—and the other two attempts have done anything but—you can get him to carry his own movie, either as the protagonist or just as the game-changer all the other heroes must unite against to defeat. This is a guy who can take on entire teams of heroes by himself and win, and is so badass his tiny fictionation is considered a superpower thanks to his mere presence within it. This is the villain the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs, and the one the fans deserve.
5. More action
That’s been the weak point of these flicks, and it’s especially the weak point of the reboot. While Rise of the Silver Surfer had a cool chase scene between Surfer and the Human Torch, most of what we’ve seen in these films has been short and forgettable, and half the time they’re just cleaning up their own messes. These guys have a cool and varied range of powers, and there are so many creative things you can do with them, so why not do them? Stop wasting our time showing them training or having accidents or being involved in traffic disasters, and have them do some actual heroics!
6. More Sue Storm
Of all the leads in these films, Sue is the one who gets the shortest shrift. In this one, she’s the only one who doesn’t actually go on the mission that gives them their powers (she gets hers thanks to the shockwave when the others come back). She gets the least amount of action, and she spends most of her time worrying about, helping, or trying to find either Johnny or Reed.
And in both this one and the first film, they give her a predictable and forced love triangle with Reed and Victor von Doom (though here, Doom is just in stalker mode). Sue is the most powerful member of this team, and should be capable of crushing all of them. She should be given a lot more to do, and more of a personality beyond “woman who cares”.
7. More family
The Fantastic Four is called “Marvel’s First Family” for a reason. Yet they haven’t really done enough with this aspect of the characters. They managed to squeeze in Franklin Storm as a mentor figure this time around, but I want to see the team living together and having more chemistry. I want to see Johnny and Ben playing pranks on each other. I want to see Sue and Reed raising their kids. I want to see the other heroes popping up for advice and to witness Reed’s crazy adventures. I want to see family stuff, the kind of things that made the best FF comics so unique and interesting. A film about these characters needs that kind of natural warmth, because family is what the Fantastic Four is ultimately all about.
Come on, Marvel. This is your chance. Give the Fantastic Four their time to shine. Give them the spotlight and help them get it right this time. This is one of your best properties, and Fox has squandered it three times already.
Don’t let them do it again, and don’t do it again yourselves. Get back the rights to these characters and do them justice. Let’s see crazy, over-the-top, out-of-this-world plots and adventures; let’s see Reed having Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Bruce Banner over to see his latest insane inventions; let’s see Hulk and the Thing go toe-to-toe on the big screen; let’s see Johnny Storm and Peter Parker engage in snark-to-snark combat; let’s see Doctor Doom square off against every superhero on Earth with nothing but his brains, his country, and his badass credentials; let’s see Skrulls; let’s see Mole Men; let’s see time travel; let’s see other dimensions; let’s see something fantastic. You can do it, Marvel, and you owe us. And you owe the Fantastic Four. It’s time for the family to come home.