A guy made of rocks. A stretchy boi. A woman who doesn’t want to be seen. A literal hothead. Historically, the Fantastic Four have been incredibly hard to nail on-screen because, on paper, they’re so damn silly. Like many of Marvel’s best heroes, they play a lot better on the page.
But that hasn’t stopped the MCU from developing the new Fantastic Four movie. In fact, they’re hoping to kickstart Phase 6 with Marvel’s most famous foursome, and fans (and foes) of the Four’s previous superhero movies know that things haven’t gone too well for this oddly powered group in the past.
The thing is, it really shouldn’t be that hard. The Fantastic Four, despite their hard-to-sell abilities, are actually some of the most palatable Marvel characters around. They were the first superhero team in its comic book collective, supposedly designed to counter DC’s Justice League sales. (A bitter move, and we love it.)
Their backstory in the comics is simple enough: four civilian astronauts head into space and are exposed to cosmic rays that grant them superhuman abilities. From then on, they use their powers for good. But one key element of the Four is their unity. They’ve literally been described as “Marvel’s First Family,” and that’s the one thing no new movies can seem to get right.
There’s nothing wrong with an origin story, but the problem with exploring the Fantastic Four in this way is that it’s the complete antithesis of what they stand for as a product. From the beginning, the Four have always been presented as a dysfunctional but loving family, and in order to portray that, you have to show them as an already-established family.
To be fair, when the first Fantastic Four movie arrived in 2005, origin stories were the name of the game. By that point, we’d already had Spider-Man, Hulk, and Catwoman, all of which focusing on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of their backstories.
Fantastic Four would be the same, with the group getting their powers and learning to use them for the greater good. The 2015 Fantastic Four (Fant4stic for those with a grudge) took a younger approach, still focusing on the origin route.
Neither of these movies (or the 2007 Rise of the Silver Surfer sequel) have been remembered well. The 2005 version was a box-office success but a critical dud, and the 2015 take was…well, a failure in both regards. For the record, I actually think the 2005 Fantastic Four is pretty damn fun, but that’s a defense for another day.
The problem with the movies so far is that they’ve completely skipped over this critical found-family detail in an effort to bring audiences up to speed. Yeah, the 2005 Four knew each other years before the space accident, but distantly so. In fact, they seem to hate each other to begin with, with the only real friendship existing between Reed Richards and Ben Grimm.
On top of this, the 2015 team didn’t know each other at all, with Reed and Ben again being the only pre-existing link. They only meet Sue and Johnny Storm later in the game. The lack of chemistry and history between the group makes them seem more like acquaintances than family. Not very fantastic.
So, what does the upcoming Marvel movie need to do? Well, skipping the backstory would be a start. It worked with Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it’ll work with the Fantastic Four. I wouldn’t be opposed to some flashbacks scattered throughout to show the team getting their abilities, but if Marvel wants audiences to take their first major superhero team seriously, the focus needs to be on the Four, not their powers.
If the recent casting rumors are to be believed, then it looks like Marvel is swinging towards a slightly older-skewing team anyway, so they might already be on track. For those who find the silliness of the Fantastic Four one of the more alluring elements, don’t worry — seeing a stretchy man fight bad guys is always going to be ridiculous, whether he’s doing it for the first time or the one hundredth.
What’s more, getting the origin prerequisite out of the way leaves much more room for fun with the Four. One of the rumors surrounding the plot of the science fiction movie is that it’ll be set, or partly set, in the ‘60s, perhaps with the team experiencing some time-and-space hopping. This sounds like it could be fun, but if this was wrapped up in an origin story, too? …It’s a complicated nightmare just waiting to happen.
Unlike the Avengers or the Thunderbolts, the Fantastic Four chose each other. Their relationships go way back, and if the new take manages to harness this, it could be one of the more effective movies in the slate. Yes, there are times when the team doesn’t always get along, but in a crisis, they’re one of the most dedicated and well-oiled pieces of the Marvel machine. Let’s hope they remember that.
For more, take a look at our guide on how to watch the Marvel movies in order, and take note of all the best Marvel villains. You can also check out some classics with our list of the best movies of all time, as well as all the new movies coming soon!