Hello folks, time for another round of ‘memo to the executives’ where I, in a bout of supreme arrogance worthy of Doctor Doom himself, try to pitch some ideas about where ‘The Fantastic Four’ should go next as a franchise.
I wasn’t planning on tackling ‘Fantastic Four’ this week but upon hearing the news that the anti-Christ of comic book movie making Akiva Goldsman (whose track record ranges, in my opinion, from abysmal to barely passable) is taking the producing reigns on the new film, I decided to give him a hand and give you all an idea of how I think we could yield much better results from a do-over.
The one nice thing about it is that, as opposed to last week’s piece on X-Men, I don’t have to try and convince you to start this franchise from scratch and reboot it, because they’ve already decided to do that. It does seem like some kind of record though, to reboot a franchise literally two years after the previous film came out. Clearly, even Fox can admit that mistakes were made last time around.
After waiting so long for an epic Fantastic Four movie, it was very disappointing to see something on what felt like such a small scale. Instead of epic battles with a Latverian monarch determined to conquer the world, we got a not terribly epic battle with a jealous boyfriend who wants to kill the F4 because one of them was his ex-girlfriend. Also, though in their purest form Fantastic Four really is a product of the 60’s, a film version should not feel dated in any particular period. People will look back on that 2005 film with its rock soundtrack, snowboarding and dirt bike stunt shows and think of it is a product of the decade in which it was made. And since it feels like nothing more than a cheap way to appeal to teenagers and sell soundtracks, that needs to be gone from any new film.
We need something that follows the formula of ‘Superman: the movie’; something on a large scale with charm, wit, romance, optimism, heroes to really root for, a villain who means business and a classic score.
But actually, I think they got some things right last time around. In preparation for this article I re-watched the two hour (and much better) extended version of the first film and reminded myself of the horror of the second. I think there are a couple of good scenes in that first film. I think they came up with a good explanation for where their costumes came from (being special astronaut suits). Most importantly, the characters of the four and the chemistry between the actors was pretty good. I felt the family dynamic that makes this comic book so unique was present and correct. It was just disheartening to see that family’s biggest problem was stopping Johnny Storm from participating in the dirt bike rally.
It wasn’t so much the characters of the F4 themselves that got screwed up; it was Doctor Doom.
Now I am a huge fan of Doom. I love so much about him. There is so much that makes him unique in villainy. He has the kind of wealth, power and resources that so many of his ilk can only dream of. Though he, like so many others, wants to take over the world, at least he isn’t some under-qualified lunatic with no actual reason for conquest beyond a one note thirst for power. Doom has the qualifications for the job. He is the ruler of his own country. He only wants to progress to what he sees to be the natural progression of his life. With his intellect (and ego), one country isn’t enough for this monarch. And the best thing is, Doom may actually do a better job at running our planet than the ones who are in charge right now.
What was he reduced to, as played by Julian McMahon? Perving at Jessica Alba through security monitors, that’s what. It will not do. We need to see a film where Doctor Doom initiates a plot worthy of himself and actually pulls it off. Now that I look back, one element that has been missing from many of the recent Marvel films is getting to see the supervillain defeat the heroes. The way your superhero characters earn their stripes is to be knocked down, let the world go to pieces, pick themselves up and overcome overwhelming odds to defeat their enemy and put the planet back together again. The only enemy that knocked Spider-man down for three movies were his own personal demons. The Fantastic Four are not about subtlety or internal battles. They need to be defeated by Doom. Doom needs to take over the world and then our heroes need to make a comeback and kick his ass.
I’ve had this one image in particular burned into my brain for nigh on twenty years now ever since I first saw it in the Spider-man animated series from the early 80’s. In one particular episode, Doctor Doom utilises the usual slew of robots and mind control to dissolve the United Nations Council and become ‘master of the world’. Towards the climax of the episode we head inside the U.N. Building to find Doom in the council chamber completely alone, just standing there, his dream of conquest fulfilled and pondering where to go from here. Now I’m not trying to convince you of any mind-blowing allegory that generates from an 80’s cartoon but that scene has always fascinated me and is something I’ve been longing to see in live action.
I mean think about the potential of scenes in a new Fantastic Four movie that would show the world ruled by Doctor Doom. There are a hundred different ways you could write a wonderfully satirical scene where he makes his initial amendments to the US constitution. I can think of one right now.
“If you suspect any subject of Doom to own or admit to having enjoyed a Rob Zombie film, please report them to your nearest Doom robot patrol for re-education.”
One of the most fascinating things to do with villains who have clear goals is to see what would become of them if they accomplished those goals. Just think back to that wonderful scene in Superman II where General Zod, having conquered the world and with no man of steel to stop him, sits in the oval office completely bored out of his mind having total control over a planet but no clue what to do with it. Doom does know what he’s doing.
Another theme which was explored partially in Superman II and that I would carry into the first new Fantastic Four movie would be the concept of how super powers are abused, not by the people who possess them but by the people who depend upon them. I would actually pitch that in our story, once the Fantastic Four have settled into their powers and their roles as superheroes (which would happen by the second act), crime would become virtually non-existent in the U.S. Like a crime fighting team of Santa Clauses, the F4 are able to zip around the country in their Fantasticar and defeat it’s scum with relative ease. In the mind of the public, the answer to all their problems has quickly become ‘The Fantastic Four’. The American people actually start to question the need for any other sort of defence or deterrent.
One thing I very rarely see superheroes do in either comic books or the films based on them is try to share their power with others who could truly benefit from them. Did it ever occur to Daredevil that throwing radioactive waste in the faces of other blind people would really help them out? I’m joking of course but in this film, Dr. Reed Richards possesses the scientific know-how and feels obligated and compelled to discover the root of the F4’s powers and how the effects can be replicated to benefit the people of the world. Reed is so blinded by his ambitions, that he become oblivious to the concerns of Sue, Johnny and Ben who frankly don’t want to spend the rest of their lives being America’s no.1 crime fighters. Neither can Reed see the forest for the trees and it doesn’t yet occur to him how badly this power will certainly be abused. And neither can the public, so gracious for the job the F4 have done cleaning up the country, they demand whatever, now redundant, amount of money is being spent on national defence, be allocated to Richards to continue his research.
And observing all of this from the country of Latveria is Doctor Doom, the man who began Reed’s research with him all those years ago. We don’t need to tell Doom’s full origin in this first film (fascinating though I find it) but what must be told is the past, the rivalry and the hatred he has for Richards. They are not polar opposites. Their drive for results is the same and yet Doom seethes with fury over how different their lives have become. Reed’s drive landed him the title of “greatest mind of the 20th century”, the luxurious Baxter Building as a home, Sue Storm as a wife, fame, fortune and super powers. Doom’s drive landed him with a disfigured face.
But now it seems that fortune smiles on Doom. He lures the F4 to his castle in Latveria, not through any subterfuge but simply by revealing that Victor Von Doom is alive and well, not burned to a cinder as Reed feared all those years ago, and that he has made a major breakthrough in their research. Reed blindly takes the bait and the four are defeated. Now Doom can invade the now defenceless United States with his army of Doombots, not only achieving his goals of conquest but enacting a humiliating revenge against the one man he hates with every fibre of his being. The F4 escape just as the United States of Doom are about to be recognised by the United Nations and return to save the day in an epic showdown. Though defeated, Doom cannot be indicted for his actions as he has diplomatic immunity. His gravely injured body is returned to Latveria where his people, rather than nailing him to a cross, embrace their beloved leader and return him to his castle to recover. The only words Doom can weakly mumble are “Richards……Richards……..Richaaaaaards”. Some wounds will clearly never heal. The Fantastic Four are heroes once more but the world has learned an important lesson not to place it’s safety entirely on their shoulders.
Once again, I’m one for comic book films that stand on their own two feet without the need for cliffhangers or unresolved stories to be told in sequels, and that deal with powerful themes. One of the problems with the Fantastic Four movies we got was that they weren’t about anything. This film that I pitch to you would be about the very thing that get scientists in movies into trouble all the time; ambition and obsession. And the lesson learned by the end of the film would be that ambition even exceeds the grasp of a man who can stretch the farthest.
And the theme of the second film would be that clouds cannot eat planets….but Aliens in purple costumes can.
Now don’t go telling me that literal Galactus cannot work on screen. You have no proof of that and neither do I have evidence to the contrary. What I will say is that I’ve seen some animated versions of the Galactus saga where the planet eating behemoth is about ten times the size of the Thing, wears that silly costume and threatens to eat the planet and THAT WILL DEFINITELY NOT WORK. But I think if you made Galactus so huge that we could only see parts of him in frame or just his outline in the clouds (no not a storm cloud), it would be worth a try.
The original Galactus storyline from Fantastic Four issues 48-50 is a cracking doomsday tale that deserves to be told. All those people who cried in agony after watching ‘Rise of the Silver Surfer’ (I was one of them) weren’t doing it because they had nothing better to moan about. It was because we are talking about one of the defining Marvel Universe storylines right up there with ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ from the X-Men. The most appealing thing about the story to me is the idea of Galactus’ herald the Silver Surfer coming to Earth to prepare for his master’s arrival but discovering a world worth protecting, seeing the best of humanity through the eyes of a blind girl, and being prepared at the end to sacrifice himself and his home world (which Galactus has only spared from destruction due to the Surfer’s servitude) to save us.
They touched briefly on some of this in the film we got but the story was so half-baked that it never achieved anything close to the drama and pathos we should feel. Galactus needs to arrive on Earth by the mid point of the film. We can’t feel the jeopardy of Earth’s destruction unless the destructor is there, staring our heroes in the face. And this is the story that separates the Fantastic Four from all the other superheroes. They have to face a challenge on a totally different scale; they have to save the entire world from an enemy they cannot possibly defeat physically.
And if you contrast that by bringing in Alicia Masters and developing a touching romance between her and the Silver Surfer and between her and Ben Grimm (a romance he has to earn through the film) and you’ll have something moving on screen.
And in the third film, do an alien invasion movie with the Skrulls. Only instead of them being run of the mill aggressors conquering our planet for the sake of it, make them desperate refugees whose own planet has been destroyed by Galactus and now need a new world to call their own. They just don’t care if somebody else happens to live there already.
Ok, I’m just spit-balling now and it doesn’t make for good reading. Hopefully though, you can see the potential to really make a Fantastic Four series work if the studio are willing to invest the money to make a gigantic scale science fiction fantasy that could make its audience feel high as a kite; something magical.
That is my pitch for this evening, I now invite you to either compliment or throw things at me.