Did you feel the earth tremble a bit this weekend? That was Fox’s Fantastic Four bombing at the box office. Barely making it halfway to its projected $50+ million opening weekend, the less-than-fantastic film flopped like a waterlogged Reed Richards.
Where do we go from here?
We could talk about how this is likely the end of the Fantastic Four franchise at Fox. How the best maneuver Fox could make is to leverage the Four and its connected assets in negotiations with Marvel to put the X-Men on TV.
Or, likewise, Marvel can use the Fantastic flop in its negotiations, so it can welcome characters like Namor, Galactus and the Silver Surfer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe more important, welcoming villains like the Skrulls, the Badoon, Agatha Harkness, Abraxas, Annihilus, Mole Man and more (assuming these are all Fantastic Four assets).
For that kind of commentary, Ethan Williams does a great job of that in his article, The fate of the Fantastic Four.
Instead, let’s talk about how the next generation of Fantastic Four filmmakers can make the property the bombastic adventure it should be:
Any new filmmaker brave enough to take on the third incarnation of the Fantastic Four (third time’s a charm, right?) would do well to remember this. At its heart, the FF is all about:
- The ups and downs of Reed and Sue’s marriage (he’s a workaholic and she’s a working parent - who can’t relate to that?)
- The sibling rivalry between Sue and Johnny (a more powerful older sibling who is arguably more successful? Prime stuff there),
- And the familial friendship between Ben and the rest of the team. I mean, Ben feels like a third-wheel all of the time, but he’s really the fourth wheel. He’s the glue. He is, in fact, the team’s rock.
It’s basically Parenthood with superpowers.
Keep these elements in mind and you automatically have conflict that everyone can related to. It also means Reed should be in his late 30s, Sue in her early to mid-30s, Johnny in his mid-20s and Ben in his 40s - at a minimum.
Forget the origin story
Marvel and Sony are doing a smart thing with the new Spider-Man movie. Ditching the origin story. You know a radioactive spider bit Peter Parker. Let’s get on with the web-slinging.
Same deal with a third Fantastic Four. We no longer need to see a spaceship exposed to cosmic rays, or an inter-dimensional transporter covered in gamma goo. or even a toaster oven on the fritz to explain how our heroes got their powers.
If anything, use the opening credits to refresh our collective memories. Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk does this wonderfully. Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 uses the same technique. Let the credits get us up to speed, then let’s jump into the story.
The biggest reason why? Both are pretty hokey origins. They worked well in the 1960s and 1990s. You might get away with it in five minutes of snippets and suggestion, though.
My vote? A rework of the original origin, but set in a simulated environment. If Reed is working as a private citizen and is a Tony Stark-esque entrepreneur, you would believe he’d get his family involved in an experimental situation that would end up going bad.
Again. Just tell it in five minutes over the opening credits.
Fend off Doom
I’m not the first to mention that Dr. Doom is a difficult character to capture correctly on screen. He’s meant to be disfigured and generally peeved at Reed and the FF for making him that way. Except he’s ultra-powerful and happens to be the dictator of an Eastern bloc country.
This incarnation of Doom doesn’t fit a story about a super-powered, high-tech science family. He’s incongruous. You would expect this Doom to battle Captain America. Or, if his armor was high-tech, Iron Man.
So what to do?
Leave him out.
Yes, Doom is the FF’s Magneto (Red Skull/Mandarin/Green Goblin). Leaving him out is okay. Relegating him to a secondary character - maybe one that’s pulling the strings and with whom the FF will battle in the trilogy’s finale - might be an even better idea.
Leave him out and give the Fantastic Four a more epic villain to battle.
You know, like the Skrulls.
Far flung and far out!
Finally, future filmmakers should embrace the Fantastic Four’s cosmic roots. Reed and the gang have visited so many worlds, universes, dimensions and alternate realities it’d make Groot’s leaves fall off.
Which is to say, Fox has its own Guardians of the Galaxy franchise sitting right in front of it.
Why not open a film with Johnny and Ben at the helm of a starship, Reed frantically trying to find a solution to the problem - a pair of Skrull fighters hot on their tail - while Sue is containing the situation with a force field?
Placing the FF in outer space pulls them away from the real world, which would allow the audience to better accept their superpowers. A man made of rocks and a scientist who stretches is easier to swallow on a world filled with shape-shifting Skrulls, two moons and lasers.
Give Reed a MacGuffin - chasing a interstellar signal that maybe turns out to be a subsonic wavelength left by the Silver Surfer - and you have a reason for the FF’s ship to find itself deep in Skrull territory. More than enough reason to pit the four against the Super Skrull.
And with the MacGuffin, you’ve set-up a much cooler cosmic battle with Galactus in the second film.
For the third? Negative zone.
Kind of where the current Fantastic Four movie is lost.