Pointless Fanboy Speculation: MCU Fantastic Four

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.

Pixar's 'The Incredibles'
What the Fantastic Four is up against.

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.

"This Man...This Monster!" Comic page
The monster with the broken heart.

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.

Fan-casting the FF
My casting choices. Your mileage may vary.

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.

The Thing in a hat and coat
He almost blends into a crowd. Almost.

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.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
My pick for Victor von Doom.

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.

Samara Weaving, Danny Pudi
Samara Weaving and Danny Pudi are my alternate choices.

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.

24 Comments

  1. fit2print

    You make a great case for all your choices. Coster-Waldau, in particular, is right on the money.

    John Turturro is an intriguing pick for Reed. A terrific actor who oozes smarts and has certainly proved he could play the driven and reclusive side of Reed’s personality though I do have my doubts as to his credibility as BOTH scientist AND adventurer. I’ve ofter thought Edward Norton, Eric Bana or Sam Rockwell might be solid fits, though I suppose Bana is damaged goods given the original Hulk movie debacle…

    I’m with you on holding back Doctor Doom, Galactus and the Surfer but what about Namor for the first film? I haven’t quite worked out who’s suitable to play him but for some reason Joseph Gordon Levitt springs to mind…

    1. Namor’s an interesting problem, given the Aquaman film; even though Namor was there first, the public might see him as a ripoff. Not to mention the (probably deliberate, in the other direction) close physical resemblance to Spock. I think the latter is one of the stumbling blocks that stalled any adaptation of Namor, going all the way back to the ’70s Man From Atlantis, which started out life as an adaptation of the Sub-Mariner.

      There’s probably a way to do it, and since that way most likely hinges on not being embarrassed by being “comicbooky,” I expect Feige’s the guy to do it. As to how, well, that may very well turn out to be installment #3 in a Pointless Fanboy Speculation series.

  2. Your concept for Reed reminds me of why I disliked Ioan Gruffudd: it’s the stereotype (doesn’t have to be written that way, admittedly) of the brainy guy who can’t connect with people because he’s so smart (Brainiac Five similarly got more unpleasant and obnoxious with every Legion reboot). Reed’s actually a guy who’s got his shit together: an OSS veteran (I don’t know what the equivalent would be now) and a capable leader. I also liked that he was more into the relationship than Sue after Namor showed up.
    For Sue I’d be inclined to make her a model/actor whose gone from selling her pretty face to running her own very profitable business line. Or find some other way to show she’s smart but with a different intellectual skill set than Reed (maybe she handles the marketing for his inventions now).
    I agree on Ben’s size.
    I’d like to stick with Doom as Roma, which I’ve always thought was something that could be used more in comics (i have my own theory why neither he nor the Maximofs show any actual Roma customs or culture). But that doesn’t conflict with him seizing power in Latveria.
    The “he’s not scarred, it’s all in his head” is a disability cliche (I read a book on the topic several years back and it stuck with me) — disabled character doesn’t have any real problems, it’s all in his head! If he just had the confidence, he’d be fine! I’d either drop the scarface angle or make the scars irrelevant to his mad ambitions.
    I’ve no opinion on casting. I simply don’t see enough stuff these days to have firm opinions like I would have a couple of decades back.

    1. I’ve never seen Doom’s alleged scarring as a disability, I’ve never thought of him as disabled in any way, and it in no way interferes with anything he’s ever done or tried to do. He’s certainly not meant to be representative of disabled people, and has never portrayed himself as such. And certainly confidence is not an issue, which is the core of the “disability cliche” you mentioned; his problem is the opposite, overconfidence and narcissism, and it is perfectly in keeping with his character to obsessively blame Richards for something he did to himself. It’s not ALL in his head; he definitely has a scar, maybe a few, but he’s not the hideous monster he claims to be, and he scarred himself. Of course, if it were to his advantage, he would certainly claim to be disabled, while at the same time claiming to be superior.

      1. Oh, I know he’s not meant as a disabled archetype but that doesn’t change my opinion — and it still sounds like a version of “your disability is not a problem, your attitude is the problem” And “I’m crippled, I want revenge” is another stereotype used by countless comics villains as well as characters in other media.
        While being scarred isn’t a disability the same way being paraplegic or blind is, it overlaps a lot as used in comics. Same with cyborgs — instead of being upset they’re missing a hand or a foot, they’re missing half their body (Tharok as originally introduced is quite specifically pissed at the galaxy for being half-machine).

  3. Le Messor

    “Has anyone ever been cast in a Marvel film, or any other film for that matter, on the basis of fan petitions?”
    I believe Peter Cullen voiced Optimus Prime on the live-action Transfomers movies based on fan pressure.

    “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.”
    Byrne debunked that idea by pointing out that, even if that was true, he had a red-hot metal mask seared directly onto his face. He was certainly scarred after that! (So, Robert Englund as Dr Doom? :D)
    (Obviously, your version wouldn’t include this in his origin.)
    It’s a good thing this is fan speculation, btw. Because there’s no way they won’t tie the origins in to Dr Doom, and there’s no way he won’t be their first villain.
    (I agree with you that they shouldn’t do either of those things, but we all know they’ll do both.)
    Danny Pudi has already been in the MCU movies. Unless you want Reed to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?

    That photo of John Turturro doesn’t look very reedy to me; and Kirby’s Johnny looks a lot like Matthew Lillard (who’s now too old). I think your choice is fairly close to that.

    Your take on The Thing is… not mine.
    First, he and Ben actually act very differently. Ben doesn’t fly off the handle into a rage every time something doesn’t go his way. Their speech patterns are very different, with Ben sounding far more educated and erudite.
    Second, Thing saves the world from time-to-time, but his interactions with people are not what I’d call heroic – certainly not enough to put him in some kind of pedestal. Example: I recently read an MTU where he starts by hanging a taxi driver off a lamppost (not shown) for daring to ask him for payment for services rendered; he then barges his way at full-tilt through a crowd (remember who’s doing this); then he holds back a train that he’d arrived late for. Literally holding it back; so he and Alicia can get aboard.
    Then whinges that the only possible reason the other passengers don’t want to be near his is because he ‘looks weird’.
    This is actually fairly consistent with his characterisation.
    Yeah, um… I can think of some other reasons people might not want to be near him after that.

    1. As Commander Benson points out (http://captaincomics.ning.com/forum/topics/deck-log-entry-225-dueling-scars) the original canon debunks the theory (even though Jack Kirby, later, seemed to forget this). The flashback to Doom’s origin shows him heavily bandaged after the accident; Stan and Jack see Doom’s face unmasked and look away in horror; Don Blake sees it and is horrified (a fanzine article once quoted his “I never dreamed it would be like that” response as an ambiguous maybe-there’s-no-damage reaction, but no).
      I’m inclined to agree with the Commander that Byrne’s retcon blaming Doom putting on a red hot mask doesn’t really work, for reason covered in the OP.

      1. Le Messor

        I don’t think – but I could be wrong – that Byrne’s story was meant as a retcon. I always thought it was meant as further evidence. (Didn’t Doom don da mask in the original origin? (I ran out of ‘d’s))

        (Again, though, Jim is talking about a different version of events.)

        1. No matter what the damage may be, the core of the character is still that he peddles the lie that Richards did it to him, and did it deliberately, when in fact it was his own raging ego that caused him to disregard Reed’s warning.

          And of course fresh wounds look a lot worse than later scar tissue will, especially with modern medical treatments to reduce scarring. So, sure, anyone would be horrified by recently-removed bandages. That doesn’t mean he’s going to look like that in six months or a year.

          I would absolutely jettison the absurd notion that he demanded that somebody put a red-hot, freshly-forged mask on his face. He’s not an idiot, and it was a stupid thing to put that in a story in the first place. I’m a big believer in sticking with canon, when canon isn’t stupid.

          1. Le Messor

            I agree with all of that. Especially considering that what we call ‘modern medical treatments’ are probably fairly primitive to the super set.

          2. I agree ego and resentment are the core of Doom’s character, but I’d add a sense of melodrama to that. Doom is a guy who positively enjoys saying things like “Leaders of the free world, you now face Doom!” — his life is a movie and the spotlight is always on him, in every scene. Which fits with your observation about the armor being cosplay.

    2. “I believe Peter Cullen voiced Optimus Prime on the live-action Transfomers movies based on fan pressure.”

      Yes, but that was after he’d done the same voice in the animated version for over 20 years. Not quite the same thing.

      I think the Thing has been written very badly more often than not. Certainly he has a shorter temper, which isn’t too surprising, but if we don’t recognize him as the same guy, we won’t give a shit what happened to him.

      1. Le Messor

        “that was after he’d done the same voice in the animated version for over 20 years. Not quite the same thing.”
        True, but that was an example that sprang to mind.

        “I think the Thing has been written very badly more often than not.”
        Maybe, but I think Steve Gerber’s version wasn’t inconsistent with Stan and Jack’s. I remember reading an original (first 60 issues) story where Thing gets on some villain’s (villain? Prankster? The Yancey Street gang?) case for attacking Johnny Storm and saying ‘the way I do it is different’, and I really, seriously, honestly couldn’t tell. What this miscreant had done was absolutely no worse than the way Thing treated Johnny. (Not that Johnny’s without blame there!)

    3. Danny Pudi has already been in the MCU movies. Unless you want Reed to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?

      Meh. He had an Easter Egg cameo as an unnamed character. So there’s a SHIELD underling who looks like Reed Richards, shrug. It’s not like we will ever see that guy again. The entire celebrity lookalike industry exists because sometimes people look a whole lot like other people. When Katy Perry first started getting famous, she was frequently misidentified in the tabloids as Zoey Deschanel.

  4. Peter

    I think you’re totally on the money about Ben Grimm; Reed is the leader of the FF, but Ben is the real core of the team and if he’s not the greatest Marvel character, he’s second only to Spider-Man. I actually think John Cena could do a pretty good job, he’s got the build and definitely the capacity for comedy. My alternate pick would be Ben Foster – I think he’s got roughly the build that you can see as being “Ben Grimm,” I think he can pull off the more emotional moments as well, and he’s Jewish to boot.

    While I love John Turturro, I feel like I’ve seen him in too many roles where he’s uber-nebbish to take him seriously as Reed Richards, a charismatic leader of men (if also sometimes an obsessive guy with a tendency toward absentmindedness). If he hadn’t already been cast as Mysterio, I really think Jake Gyllenhaal would be great for the role – Zodiac and Nightcrawler show how great he is at playing characters with charm but also a bit of awkwardness and obsessive tendencies (hopefully Reed wouldn’t go down the same paths as Gyllenhaal’s characters in those films). Part of me thinks that Ioan Gruffudd’s old roommate Matthew Rhys would make a pretty good Reed – in the Americans he was great at playing an unassumingly competent man with deep love for his family but who occasionally struggles to admit when he needs help.

    No matter what, I think the key to an FF film is to make the characters feel like they really do love each other. The Corman film was actually probably the best at this, despite its other weaknesses. Even in some recent FF comics, the level of dysfunction that writers add to introduce “dramatic stakes” to the family unit and the amount of sarcasm they substitute for characterization (often on the part of Johnny) makes me wonder why these people would stick together when they have fame and fortune, let alone band together as a motley crew in order to attempt an illegal spaceflight. The pairwise chemistry between each couple of characters is utterly important for any FF story to work.

      1. Edo Bosnar

        Mostly agree with your casting choices – except Turturro. If he were a bit younger, I could see it, but Reed and Ben are supposed to be about the same age. Turturro’s basically old enough to be Cena’s dad. Actually, I never saw any problem with Ioan Gruffudd – as far as the look goes, he nailed it; the character just needed to be written better.

        One minor quibble with your point about the FF not being a dysfunctional family; I agree that they shouldn’t be portrayed that way, and all of my favorite FF stories portray them as a mostly loving family, just prone to bickering.
        However, they were initially portrayed as a *seriously* dysfunctional family. Go back and re-read the first 10 or 12 issues of FF and just pay attention to the interactions between them – it’s like fodder for an episode of the Jerry Springer show. (A while back, I remember reading a series of posts about these issues at a blog called Too Busy Thinking About Comics. The blog’s proprietor actually kind of laments the fact that that dysfunctional tone was eventually discarded…)

  5. I’m faintly awful at casting. I know when a film has got it wrong, & felt pretty ‘meh’ at the thought of ‘Krassy’ & Emily as Reed & Sue when the rumours came.
    Otherwise, I struggle, but your choices are intriguing. Loved Tuturro as a suggestion: his work with the Coens I enjoy. Only thing against Cena is I believe Ben should be 5’10”-6ft maximum height. Foster is a left-field pick suggested by fellow-Peter.

    And IGNORE DOOM initially!

    Love this: ‘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.’
    Various super-hero movie tropes have annoyed me. Maybe I’ve got hero movie fatigue!

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