For a movie that not a lot of people actually went to see this past weekend, Fantastic Four seems to be one of the biggest things anyone is talking about. There have already been dozens of articles about what went when wrong with Fox’s latest attempt (their third) at bringing Marvel’s so-called “First Family” to cinematic life. Whether or not it was the studio or director Josh Trank to blame for everything wrong with the movie, it will no doubt be the subject of much debate for months to come. But what’s done is done, and I’m not particularly interested in what made the Fantastic Four fail, but instead about what can be done to make sure that next time, they are finally done right.
Before anyone chimes in and suggests that there should never even be a next time, or that these three movies have proven that the Fantastic Four simply cannot be done correctly in live-action, I say that’s a load of nonsense. In this world, where Marvel Studios has made hit films out of a Norse god, a talking space raccoon, and even Ant-Man for crying out loud, a character that has never been able to hold his own comic series for more than a hot minute, you can’t tell me the story of four hapless souls who get turned into super-powered freaks in an accident is too “out there” for modern audiences.
Audiences WANT to love a Fantastic Four movie. The first 2005 film, for all its flaws, ended up with a $154 million domestic take, for what amounts to $200 million (adjusted for inflation) in 2015 dollars, which is more than the first Captain America and Thor movies made. People wanted a good FF movie, enough that they came out to see the now much-derided Tim Story movie in solid numbers. They just didn’t like what they saw enough to want to come back for the sequel. And even with this new reboot, which has some of the most scathing reviews in recent memory and lousy word of mouth on social media, it still made $26 million this weekend, meaning people want to see a good FF movie. It’s just that no one has made one yet.
However, let’s not mince words here: Fantastic Four is pretty much done as a movie franchise. You only have so many times at bat, and three attempts in a decade, all of which failed to varying degrees, is enough. You’re not going to get paying filmgoers to fork over $12 bucks again after three attempts that even the most generous fan would say didn’t meet up to expectations. Maybe in twenty or so years, when no one remembers these movies, but not anytime soon. As a film franchise, it’s over for now. But the Fantastic Four is far too valuable to Marvel to be allowed to die with this latest failed attempt from Fox, and here’s what needs to happen next to save it:
Marvel Studios/Disney Need To Get The Rights Back, and Make a Fantastic Four Netflix Original Series
So if it’s dead as a film series, what next? First off, Disney needs to open up their wallets and spare no expense at getting the rights back in some form. While right now the world at large may be viewing the Fantastic Four as a failed property, I promise you that Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige knows better. He knows the value of the Fantastic Four to Marvel and to their overall history. If Disney (which already owns the characters) wants to sell Human Torch action figures and Thing backpacks at any point in the foreseeable future, then they need to fix the public perception of the team. And if movies are off the table for now, then it’s time to pull a Daredevil and make this a Netflix original series, and make sure it’s done right. You might not be able to fool people into spending money on an Fantastic Four movie again, but if a television series surprises everyone and knocks their socks off by being quality, people will talk, and tell their friends and family to see it. And Disney/Marvel will look even better in the eyes of the fans for saving the property.
Of course, Fox owns the Fantastic Four movie rights in perpetuity…..as long as they keep making movies based on the characters that is. Apparently they need to go into production on an new film every seven years, and by doing so, they keep the film rights. But right now, Disney has a hand they can play if they want Fox to release the rights to the FF earlier than 2023, and it’s that Fox currently want to develeop an X-Men television series…and they need Marvel’s permission to do it. So I say this: let Fox keep the rights to making Fantastic Four movies but negotiate the rights to the characters for television and for appearance in other Marvel Studios films, like the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. This is similar to how the Hulk can appear in Marvel films, but only Universal has the rights to release movies with the words “Hulk” in the title.
Of course, a Fantastic Four television show would certainly be more expensive than Daredevil or Jessica Jones, or the other upcoming Netflix shows, but effects technology has advanced a lot in the past decade, to the point where we have a character like Firestorm appearing on The Flash. If there can Firestorm on that show, then the FantasticF show can do a Human Torch. The Thing might be tougher to pull off, but not impossible. Instead of a rubber suit or CGI, maybe a combination of both? Where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.
Set the show In the 1960’s, And Go Full-On “Stan Lee/Jack Kirby” With it
I’m not one of those people who think the Fantastic Four can only work as a retro-style property. I enjoyed the modern update of Mark Millar’s Ultimate Fantastic Four title and was genuinely rooting for Josh Trank’s modern update of the characters. But when the last two attempts to modernize it for the big screen have failed, you need to do something to differentiate it from the previous versions, not to mention modern hero groups like the Avengers. And setting the show in the early sixties era, the era when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took the book to new heights of popularity and changed comic book storytelling forever, might be the only way.
Not only does the early sixties give you that wonderful Mad Men aesthetic, with the clothes, the hair, and the music, but it allows you to use, as well as make commentary on, some of the more dated concepts of the Fantastic Four, like the fact that college professor Reed Richards, clearly in his 40s, was dating a much younger former student of his, Don Draper style. Or that Sue Storm had to be called Invisible “Girl” instead of Invisible Woman. Our entire culture changed during this decade, and a Fantastic Four series set during this time period could be a fun way to comment on that time.
This would also be an ideal way to really bring in some Jack Kirby designs to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His design aesthetic is a little too “of its time” to fit into the modern MCU, but in the sixties it fits in perfectly. While Kirby had a hand in designing most of the Marvel universe’s look, it was really in the pages of Fantastic Four where his did the majority of his greatest work. A Fantastic Four series could be a great ongoing tribute to his genius.
Setting it in the sixties also allows you to cover another “lost period” of the MCU. We’ve seen the 40s from the perspective of Captain America and Peggy Carter. and we know Hank Pym and Wasp were operating as Ant-Man in the 80s, but what about the 60s? They’ve never explicitly stated that there were no superheroes between Cap and Iron Man, and many of the Fantastic Four’s adventure through time and space (they were always more explorers than traditional superheroes) would have been off the general public’s radar. Yes, it’s a little bit of retconning, but what is more Marvel Comics than a good retcon?
Why The Fantastic Four Matters
So why should Marvel go out of their way to rescue this franchise, and possibly break the bank to do so? They’ve had the rights back to Ghost Rider and Blade from rival studios for years now, and don’t seem in any rush to re-do those anytime soom. What makes the Fantastic Four so important? It’s because without the Fantastic Four, there would be no Marvel Universe. It’s that simple.
Almost everything that the Marvel Comics revolution of the early sixties started in comics-the interpersonal squabbling, the soap opera dynamics, the self-depricationg humor-things that were later popularized in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men and Avengers, and that their chief rival DC Comics would later adopt, all had their origins in the pages of Fantastic Four. If the comic hadn’t been the runaway hit that it was when it came onto the scene in 1961, none of those other titles would have followed. The Marvel universe is built around those four characters, and it’s time for them to get the respect they deserve from the powerhouse company they helped to create.