One area of perennial speculation in fandom revolves around how (or if or when) Marvel will integrate the characters whose rights were formerly held by other studios into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t have any inside knowledge on the subject, but there are a lot of things we can presume based on Marvel’s previous decisions.
So with that in mind, let’s engage in Pointless Fanboy Speculation!
First, I think Marvel is probably going to park the X-Men for a while to let the memories fade a bit; they’ll probably introduce the Fantastic Four before they revisit mutants, so today’s Pointless Fanboy Speculation topic: How I want to see the Fantastic Four introduced into the MCU….
I’ll just state bluntly at the outset that I am not among those lobbying for John Krasinski and Emily Blunt to play Reed and Sue. Sorry, I don’t see it. I really don’t see much of Reed or Sue in either of them. They are a cute couple, but that’s not what the film needs. It’s probably a moot point anyway, because I think the internet campaign to draft them has ironically put them completely out of consideration for the roles.
Has anyone ever been cast in a Marvel film, or any other film for that matter, on the basis of fan petitions? You can bet your bottom dollar the casting directors have already said “too bad there was so much noise about them, they might have been an interesting choice, but there’s no way we’re doing that now. Not going to open that door. We’re not letting the audience direct the movie.”
The biggest challenge to making a good Fantastic Four movie is that doing the FF correctly would probably end up being a pale imitation of The Incredibles, which is arguably the best superhero movie ever made.
I suspect that Josh Trank’s universally-derided 2015 version was partly driven by the need to avoid the unflattering comparison. But there is a way to avoid that difficulty: the real difference between the two is the character of Ben Grimm. The portrayal of Ben is one of the two places where both the unreleased Roger Corman version and the 2004 Fox version really went off the rails. (The other is trying to embed Dr. Doom into the origin story, a mistake that everyone has made, but we’ll get to that.)
In all the previous movies, the Thing is just a tank who yells “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!” He’s not the complex character he should have been, and he was not central to the story. Michael Chiklis was likable enough in his performance, but neither of the movies he was in ever gave him a single moment to really show us who Ben is. Corman didn’t even try.
Ben Grimm is what makes the FF special. He is a multi-layered character with the most interesting back-story of the team, and he’s the one who has all the best dramatic and comedic moments. He is not the Hulk. He doesn’t transform for a few minutes and break things. He’s a monster all the time, and knows it, and has somehow resigned himself to it, except where Alicia is concerned; he has beautiful heartbreaking moments that would make great movie scenes. Ben is the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four, not a lumbering beast who smashes things.
He needs to be the centerpiece, because he’s the glue that holds the team together. He treasures and protects his found family far more than any of the others. He’s a latchkey kid who grew up without a family, who has been invited into a very tight, very loving family, and he clings to that. When Reed is hyperfocused on his work and neglecting the family, it’s Ben who pulls him out of it. When Johnny throws a tantrum and storms off, Ben drags him back. Everything about the Fantastic Four hinges on The Thing.
My take on the FF is, like the Incredibles, we start in the middle and fill in the origin along the way. We do not ever need to see the slow plodding clockwork plot detailing the assembly of the family, how Reed and Sue met, how Ben came into the story. They are a family and have been for a long time, and contrary to the Amazon synopsis of the 2004 film, they are not a dysfunctional one. When we see a family in a movie, they usually show up as an established unit; we might get some little hints of their back-story, but we do not need to see the wedding videos.
As I see it, the film should open with FF having been powered up for about five years or so, but they aren’t heroes; they are researchers and explorers, primarily working on Reed’s discovery of “The Negative Zone” (which of course we recognize as an alternate entrance into the Quantum Realm). Reed is filthy stinking rich from a number of profitable patents, but he generally keeps a low profile and regards himself first and foremost as a scientist and teacher.
Years earlier, Sue was a grad student and TA in his physics classes at Empire State University, but now they’ve been married a while. Johnny is her kid brother, a student at ESU majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Ben and Reed were housemates some years earlier, with an “Odd Couple” relationship. At some point in the past, Reed discovered an access point to the Negative Zone in space, and built a rocket to get there, a self-funded space project à la Elon Musk. Passing through the Negative Zone in a ship with insufficient shielding is what gave them their powers, neatly merging both the classic and Ultimate Universe versions of their origin.
If I were casting it, I’d look for these characters:
Reed: Serious but often unintentionally funny. Somewhere between Sheldon Cooper and Jeff Goldbum in personality, he doesn’t really have time for social niceties, is often brusque and dismissive simply because he’s too focused on whatever puzzle has caught his attention. He’s the smartest guy in the world, but he tries not to flaunt it. He does care about his friends and family, but he expresses his love for them by trying to fix the world for them. He should be thin and angular, not the usual prime physical specimen. I see John Turturro as Reed. I think he’d be perfect.
Sue: Her poise and appearance reflects her very respectable Upper East Side, Park Avenue sort of background, which at first glance gives her a bit of an “ice queen” image that is actually the opposite of her warm personality. Most people looking at her would not expect her to be a top theoretical physicist, though she does radiate intelligence. I think Elizabeth Banks would be fantastic as Sue, and I’ve thought so for years.
Johnny: Early 20s, knows he’s good-looking, loves fast cars, women, and being famous. He’s a decent guy, but the poster boy for unexamined privilege, at least in the beginning. He genuinely loves and enjoys his super-powers. I have one choice for Johnny: Logan Shroyer, the guy who plays teenage Kevin on This is Us. He’s exactly like the Johnny in the comics.
Ben: A military veteran from a very bad family in a very bad part of town; he grew up in a gang, got out by enlisting, became a pilot. He should be a big guy, but not so big that there’s little contrast between human Ben and the Thing. Ben’s really got to make the audience get fully invested in him, because he is the core of the team and the heart of the story. The same actor has to play Ben as both human and monster. Whether the Thing is CGI or a rubber suit, we have to recognize him as Ben; he has to have the same eyes, speech patterns, body language, gestures. The one actor who comes to mind as having the ability to play Ben is WWE star John Cena; he has shown that he can act, has a lot of charisma, and is funny. I think he could really sell both Ben and The Thing.
I’d move away from the fairly recent phenomenon of portraying the Thing being this gigantic lumbering monster standing eight feet tall. In Jack Kirby’s original designs and stories, Ben was actually shorter than both Reed and Johnny. He could put on a trenchcoat and hat and disappear into a crowd. I could see him being maybe 6’4″ or so, but not the gargantua he’s been for the past several years. Jack Kirby described Thing as “a gorilla covered with dinosaur hide.” I think the design should more a little closer to that, rather than making him look like part of Utah’s Monument Valley come to life. We need to see that there’s still a person inside the monster.
I’d probably introduce the FF first as supporting characters in another hero’s movie, perhaps as experts brought in to work with Hank Pym researching the Quantum Realm. Then their first film could have them facing the Puppet Master or Annihilus or Mole Man, some regular FF villain who isn’t Dr. Doom.
The second film would bring in Dr. Doom, who is in no way tied into the origin of the Fantastic Four. We’re gonna kill two superhero clichés right from the git-go: Both the “the hero and villain create each other and are locked in a symbiotic death-struggle” and “the hero and villain are mirror opposites” tropes are out.
Victor von Doom is a piece of Eurotrash royalty who was a classmate of Reed’s years earlier and never let go of the one-sided rivalry he thought he had with Reed. As I said above and as a lot of people have commented over the years, the Fantastic Four are first of all a family. In that context, Doom is that jerk from high school who pops up decades later on Facebook to re-litigate old grudges. If he weren’t a monarch, he’d be ridiculous.
Doom has spent the last few years consolidating power and climbing up to seize control of the little nation of Latveria. His current armored state is not due to anything that actually involved the Fantastic Four, except for his obsessive fixation on Reed. He does not have any super-powers, and does not have to wear the armor; it’s not life-support. It’s cosplay. He’s not far removed from the jackasses who show up at political protests decked out like G.I. Joe. I really like the idea that his “horrifically-scarred” face is a trivial scar he got in the accident that he blames Reed for (even though it was his own fault), but he’s so narcissistic he can’t bear to look at the imperfection. He should be played by a prominent European actor, not an American with a cartoon accent. I’d go with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones.
The third FF film would naturally be the coming of Galactus and the Silver Surfer, with Galactus done right this time. Sixty feet tall, funky helmet, you know the guy. Get Ian McKellen or Jeremy Irons to voice him. I’d be really happy if Doug Jones came back to do the motion-capture performance as the Silver Surfer, and this time they could also let him voice the role.
Of course, Marvel may want to do a Fantastic Four that’s more like the Ultimate Universe version, where the characters are a lot younger. In that case, the actor that I think could really dig into Reed Richards is Danny Pudi, AKA Abed from Community. He has exactly the right mix of smart, weird, and likable. For Sue, Samara Weaving (Claire in Hollywood) would be good, unless Margot Robbie wants to jump from the DCU to Marvel. I’ll stick with Logan Shroyer and John Cena as my picks for Johnny and Ben.
So yeah, that’s what I’d do with the Fantastic Four. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comment section below.