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Can Disney Get the Fantastic Four Right?

December 14, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Fantastic Four Marvel Cinematic Universe

It’s official! The Fantastic Four are back! Again! Disney announced it this past Thursday during Disney Investor Day 2020 that Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home) will direct the film, which will introduce the Fantastic Four to the MCU after years of being a Fox property.

As most of you are aware, Marvel’s First Family consists of Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm/Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm/Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/The Thing along with an impressive supporting cast that includes Doctor Doom, one of Marvel’s greatest villains. The team has made the big screen with two different versions over 3 movies. 4 if you include the Roger Corman bootleg.

The 2015 version, directed by Josh Trank is particularly bad and he has gone on record saying that he wasn’t responsible for the final cut of the movie, which was widely panned by critics and audiences. “I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews,” he tweeted back then. “You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.” Hopefully no one tells him about the Snyder version of Justice League and gives him any ideas.

Fox had long wanted to turn the Fantastic Four into a strong franchise but that effort had a production cost of $120 million with millions more in marketing costs. It’s worldwide box office was $167,882,881 ad you can only invest so much money into a losing effort. “This turned into a nightmare for Fox,” said Jeff Bock at the time, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong and the whole thing fell apart.”

Take a look at the fresh rating on RottenTomatoes for FF’s cinematic history:

The Fantastic Four (Roger Corman) 33%
Fantastic Four (2005) 27%
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) 37%
Fantastic Four (2015) 9%

Whew. Where to begin? A quick look at the history gives us an idea of the pitfalls this project has faced. Constantin Film bought the film rights for the Fantastic Four in 1986. A low-budget film was produced in order to retain the license and it went unreleased to the general public and became infamous for its poor quality.

The reason for this movie failing can be traced back to how in the late ’80s, Marvel Comics were licensing out their characters for mild profit in a time when the comic industry was tanking. The storyline follows the basic framework of the comic, with the exception of a few minor details, including the introduction of a new villain, The Jeweler, who directly becomes responsible for the team’s mishap in space and takes liberally from another one of the comic’s famous villains, The Mole Man. It’s rumored that Avi Arad burned Fox’s only print.

Fast forward to 2004 and with a distribution deal from 20th Century Fox, a second Fantastic Four film entered production. In April 2004, Tim Story was hired to direct and it starred Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon. The movie came out in 2005 and the sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was released in 2007. The story, both inspired by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four comic-book storyline ‘The Galactus Trilogy’ and Warren Ellis’s comic-book ‘Ultimate Extinction’, features the Silver Surfer, whose cosmic energy has been affecting the planet Earth and leaving craters around the planet. Set against an impending wedding between Reed and Susan, the U.S. Army recruits the Fantastic Four to help stop the Silver Surfer, and separately gain help from Doom.

While both films received negative reviews, they earned $619 million worldwide at the box office. Plans of a Fantastic Four franchise were hoped for but due to 20th Century Fox’s disappointment with the box-office return of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, they were canceled. As was a Silver Surfer spin-off.

Fast forward again to 2009 and the development for a reboot was announced. Directed by Trank. The story, based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic-books, features four people teleporting to an alternate universe, which alters their physical form and grants them new abilities. They must learn to harness their abilities and work together as a team to save the Earth from a familiar enemy.

The Fantastic Four isn’t a tough concept. The source material was launched in 1961, created by Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby as an answer to DC’s Justice League. Seriously. Unlike most other superhero teams, the Fantastic Four were a family unit consisting of brilliant inventor Reed Richards, his girlfriend Sue Storm, her hot-head brother Johnny, and Reed’s college roommate and best friend, Ben Grimm. In the original origin story, a trip into space and an encounter with cosmic rays gave Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny superhuman abilities. In later tellings like the Ultimate Fantastic Four of the 2000s, the four (and nemesis Doctor Doom) gain their powers in a much different way.

For me, Doctor Doom makes or breaks the Fantastic Four movie. Outside Thanos and Loki, Marvel has an average villain set so this is a perfect opportunity to do it right and show the world a truly impressive supervillain. 

Give me an impressive Doom, a cast that looks natural with each other, a decent script that pays homage to the comic book and a story that’s…fantastic in scope, and I’m good to go. It doesn’t have to be an origin story either. It’s been said before, and I’m sure it will be mentioned in the comments, but The Incredibles proves it can be done.

Can Disney solve the Fantastic Four riddle? I’m betting they can.