It’s the only picture of the Fantastic Four I had, gimme a break.
Since the release of Fant4stic, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and Youtube videos about how fans would “fix” the Fantastic Four, and it tends to come down to fans talking about the definitive FF movie they’d like to see, which is valid, but doesn’t actually solve the problems, and in fact there’s several common issues the proposed fixes have. I’m going to tackle these issues and see if I can come up with a better game plan. I’ll withhold on pitching you the movie I see in my head, because who cares what I think, really?
Who’s In Charge?
The biggest problem with the Fantastic Four movies is that Fox doesn’t want to make them. But only more important is that they don’t want Marvel to make them, either. Making a movie you don’t care about is not a good recipe for success. And it’s one of those unfortunate things in life where the thing you love is in the hands of someone who doesn’t really appreciate it. Life is like that.
All the fans who are pitching the movie they want to see seem to be talking about the definitive Fantastic Four movie, the origin, the adventures, the standard. Maybe set in the 60s. Would that movie be cool? Probably. Is it going to happen? No. Not anytime soon. And that’s okay.
And all the fans who say that Fox should sell Marvel the rights back are ignoring the fact that Marvel has NO need for the Fantastic Four. Even if they had the characters back, the slate is full for years to come. They cannot use the FF, so they’re not going to pay for them. If Fox wants to sell, it seems like the most logical course of action would be to create a strong brand that can command a high price for when Marvel’s current slate wraps up and they’re in need of more material. Fox needs to keep the series alive, and that means cranking out flicks, which means episodic style movies. Think Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and Fast And Furious.
We all know what a Superman movie SHOULD be, what a Batman movie SHOULD be, what an Iron Man movie SHOULD be. But still, after four Fantastic Four movies, we still don’t have a good prototype. What Fox needs is a movie they can point to and say “gimme one of those.”
A great deal of these fan proposals involve rebooting and revisiting the origin, but of the four movies we’ve had, three have had the origin story, and quite frankly since you can sum up the origin in four words (‘space mission goes caca”), there’s no need to make it the plot of the movie. You could integrate it into the opening credits, or do a flashback, or any other number of narrative tricks.
Here’s a little thing I found out about writing for TV: it’s not just important to have a pilot, it’s equally important to know what the second episode will be, because it lays out what the series is. Everyone talking about their ideal FF movie is pitching the pilot. They should be focusing on episode 2: how the series works. They need an engine. And here’s the engine:
The Fantastic Four are the leading experts in the strange and unusual, after getting strange superpowers during an experiment in outer space.
They run the Fantastic Foundation.
Into the Foundation comes the MacGuffin of the film, an ancient artifact or an alien device or a new invention that, in if things go wrong or it gets stolen, shit gets bad.
And things go wrong and the thing gets stolen. The Fantastic Four try to get the MacGuffin back and keep it from destroying the world.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
One of the big issues with the recent expensive Fantastic Four movies is that the cast sits around doing nothing, because powers = money. And I understand that you can’t have wall-to-wall action, but when the characters aren’t using thier powers, they should be doing SOMETHING.
Think about it, what does Superman do when he’s not Superman? He’s a reporter. Batman? Runs Wayne Industries. What does Iron Man do? Whatever the fuck he wants. Putting the Four in the Foundation gives them a job, and different ways to do it.
The Fantastic Foundation is what Reed always wanted to do, he’s at home there in the Baxter Building, he’s got people listening to his ideas, the money to explore them, and he’s actually discovering and inventing things he never even dreamed of. The goal of the Foundation is to use the incredible to help all of humanity solve their most dire problems, a goal the Four share.
Reed’s the genius, he wants to get into the details, he’s more cerebral, he’ll go overboard with his experiments, go off on tangents about things. He’s insanely big picture, which doesn’t always produce something practical. He’s the kind of guy who wants to crack the united theory.
Sue would be the more practical one, she keeps Reed focused, actually RUNS the Foundation, mucks in on the experiments but always keeps in mind how their work can play into the goals of the Foundation.
Johnny has NO idea what he’s doing, he’s only interested in the crazy, cool, weird experiments. He’s like a kid, you can’t show him charts, you gotta show him stuff flying around or changing shape... practical, physical stuff. He’s the real “wouldn’t it be cool if?” type.
Ben Grimm is the “how does this help me?” guy, for obvious reasons: he’s a giant lump of rocks. He and Johnny both feel like they don’t belong there, they don’t know what they’re doing and trying to figure it out as they go along (Reed will admit that he doesn’t always know either— no one’s ever done anything like this before). Ben and Johnny feel like they’re only there because they got hit in the face with a cosmic storm, they’re experts by experience, not by knowledge, and it’s something they’re trying to overcome as the movies progress.
Now, you can’t talk about the Fantastic Four without bringing up Victor Von Doom. I personally would hold off on using him until the engine is working, but I can understand if the powers that be want to start off with him. The thing that gets me is how often he’s redesigned and reimagined, as if he wouldn’t work or people won’t get it.
Von Doom is easy: he’s the Kim Jong-Il of Eastern Europe. Is that so complicated? He wears the metal mask because he’s horribly disfigured, and wears the armour and cape because he’s the KIM JONG-IL OF EASTERN EUROPE. I think audiences not only can wrap their heads around that, they probably don’t need any more explanation than that.
While the Fantastic Foundation is doing all this crazy stuff with advanced and ancient technology, which they say is for the betterment of all humanity, wouldn’t someone who doesn’t trust the United States, and whose passion is the superiority of his home country, not engage in subterfuge, espionage, and theft to get hold of such power? Especially if that man is the KIM JONG-IL OF EASTERN EUROPE?
I’ll refrain from making specific casting choices (okay, one, John Malkovich as Von Doom cause that dude can talk in capital letters), but the cast the Fantastic Four needs now needs to be incredibly personable. Usually when you make a movie based on a brand, you’re counting on that brand awareness to create familiarity with the audience. This is why the recent Star Trek movies had Kirk and Spock and the old outfits and the Enterprise, etc. But the FF brand, I don’t want to say it’s toxic, but it’s not a draw. I don’t even know how aware the mainstream is of the Fantastic Four, but a Fantastic Four movie is not going to bring in an audience because it’s a “Fantastic Four movie.” The brand has to be rebuilt. So if people aren’t coming to see the brand, they need to come to see the cast.
The cast of Fant4stic feels like Eric Stoltz syndrome: talented actors, wrong movie. I think part of it is also the indie film scene, the requirements there are real different than big budget mainstream flicks. Normally actors, directors, writers, everyone would gain skills as they moved up in the ranks as budgets increased, you know? You do a five mil, then a ten, then a fifteen, etc. But they don’t do those kinds of flicks anymore and I think both sides suffer because of that, but that’s another issue for another time.
People need to want to see the actors involved, and that was another issue I think Fant4stic might have had, unfamiliarity with the actors. I imagine a lot of convos about the flick before it came out included “he/she was in ____” “Oh yeah, I heard that was good, I haven’t seen it yet”.
The Fant4stic actors also don’t strike me as being particularly approachable, let alone likable, and maybe they’re all very warm, lovely people, but it’s still a huge issue. Compare that to the Marvel Studios movies actors, where you see pictures of Chris Evans and Chris Pratt visiting kids in hospital, or RDJ presenting that kid with his own Iron Man prosthetic, or Mark Ruffalo riding a unicycle, or that delirious Family Feud game the Avengers played on Kimmel... that sort of thing really creates a connection with the audience. And you know what, it’s great for those actors careers as well.
Without the strength of the Fantastic Four brand behind them, the new cast has to be able to create that connection with the audience and the general public on their own. They have to be the type to rock social media, to show up and play games on Jimmy Fallon, or promote charity work, etc. They’re gonna have to do a lot of heavy lifting, so they gotta be the type of people who do it naturally.
Fant4stic was made pretty much in secret, maybe one leaked BTS photo ever, and almost no publicity blitz. Well, I wouldn’t count on Fox to put a lot of strength behind another one, so this movie would have to be made more out in the open... fun cast videos from set, funny pictures, viral content, that sort of thing... the heart of the thing is gonna have to sell it. The movie will positively have to deliver, of course, but you gotta make sure people show up.
The FF are in a rebuilding phase, it would be asy to go for big names and try to make a big show-off spectacular, but I think what they need to do is play some Moneyball. They don’t need big names on either side of the camera, they need folks who get the job done. It’s not about making the BEST Fantastic Four movie ever, it’s about laying the groundwork to allow that movie to happen, and to break the constant reboot cycle that the series is trapped in.
That’s my modest and shockingly lengthy proposal on a way to solve the problem, comments and lively discussion are encouraged, and thanks for your valuable reading time.