Fantastic Four, Marvel's first family and the first creation of the Silver Age dream team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, is often heralded as one of the greatest comic book series of all time. Created in 1961, many reviewers and aficionados agree that Fantastic Four established a benchmark in comic book storytelling for the modern era. It's influenced many of the great comic writers of our time.
It was considered innovative for its time for introducing superpowered heroes with very human failings. We were presented with gods with character flaws. It was never done before and some say never done as well ever again. The films have attempted numerous times to recreate the magic of the Fantastic Four, but to no avail. Most recently, 2015's Fantastic Four, directed by Josh Trank, fell victim to behind-the-scenes drama and elaborate reshoots, which resulted in tonally unbalanced movie with unconvincing special effects and poorly developed characters.
Here are 15 Ways To Make A Great Fantastic Four Movie
15 An Elaborate Yet Grounded Story
Over the years, Fantastic Four has transcended its individual writers by depicting a complex yet light-hearted story through several interrelated simple, digestible plots. It’s a story filled with characters who function as templates for our most personal qualities. We can project our best and our worst natures into these characters, making them one of us. We can relate to The Thing's insecurities about his appearance, to the Human Torch's desire for fame, and to the romantic foibles of Sue Storm and Rex Reed, Lee and Kirby’s stories were outlandish yet familiar. The Fantastic Four provided a benchmark for future comic book stories by having these characters exist in a graspable, real world setting. It was a real city: New York. A real street: 42nd Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. And at a smaller more critical scale: they were tangible characters with real world problems. Millions of children understood it and embraced it immediately.
A true film adaptation of Fantastic Four can find success by capturing relatable subject matter without being dark and gloomy. There’s perpetual conflict, but there’s also hope. What the classic Fantastic Four excelled at more than any other book was in the pure fun factor.
14 A Dysfunctional Family Element
A recurring component of the Fantastic Four is their tendency to conflict with each other, as well as with their enemies. These squabbles, including the constant antagonism between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, play out as a constant source of dispute for the team and it is one of the ingredients that made the saga unique in the landscape of superhero comics.
Neither member is totally comfortable with their roles. The push and pull dynamic brought the stories a sense of dynamism that wasn’t present in comics at the time. There's always a source of tension lying under the adventure. It’s not just the Thing vs Torch, it’s also Reed and Ben’s conflicted friendship, Sue struggling to persuade Reed to balance logic with empathy, Johnny’s carefree nature conflicting with his duty to the team, Ben’s anger, depression and self-esteem, and Susan’s struggle and duty to her family.
The first two films touched on their family conflicts, but it’s actually the main theme of their story. Fantastic Four is a story about a fun, yet dysfunctional family that battles monsters. They ultimately overcome their internal conflicts with each other and come together for the common good.
13 Fleshed Out Characters
In the original comics, there was relatability to the characters because they had layers. Not just the heroes, but the villains as well. There are flaws to our heroes, and there are vulnerabilities to our villains. That is a part of what made Fantastic Four a benchmark of comic storytelling.
While the schemes could sometimes be cliché or contrived, the villains always had an arc to explain their motivations. Dr. Doom, in particular, had an extensive backstory story that explained how he became the monarch of Latveria, who ruled with an iron fist. Other would-be villains always had something that troubled them, and as such, they could be turned around before they did horrible things. Threats to the world weren’t always solved with fists. Sue was able to turn many would-be arch-enemies into allies. She did so with the Inhumans, with the Atlanteans, Dragon-Man, Gorr, and Miracle-Man.
These characters all have relatable, grounded struggles. The villains aren’t cliché monsters with shallow delusions of grandeur. If a movie were to recognize these qualities of the original comic, it would stand a pretty good chance of being a good movie.
12 Real world problems
When many people hear realism, they assume it's synonymous with “dark.” Realistic, meaning it should be put on a level similar to The Wire. But when we’re talking about realism, we’re talking about the relatable struggles that made the original Fantastic Four comic books great.
More than the other Marvel teams of the era, like The Avengers or X-Men, the Fantastic Four have always faced real world dilemmas. In what other comic did the heroes stress about paying the rent? What other team leader is constantly struggling to keep ahead of the bill collectors? It sounds boring to read about such a plot device instead of actually experiencing it, but Lee and Kirby managed to add these wrinkles in ways that made their characters tangible.
Any successful movie adaptation of Fantastic Four will make sure to include aspects from the comics that reveal there are enemies in the "real world" of New York City as well as Latveria.
11 The Incubator For Other Franchises
Fantastic Four stories were a fertile ground for many of Marvel’s greatest and strangest characters. No other comic franchise has had such an extensive and diverse catalog of memorable characters such as The Inhumans, Galactus, Silver Surfer, The Watcher, the Black Panther, Dr. Doom, The Mole Man, among others.
Due to their popularity, many spinoffs have been developed starring many of these characters. Such a treasure trove of characters should be put to good use in any potentially good Fantastic Four movie. Dr. Doom is a great villain, but there are so many more amazing stories to be told.
10 Monsters Galore
Fantastic Four is as much of a monster comic book as it is a superhero comic book. The main antagonists in Fantastic Four have traditionally been imposing, colossal monsters. Unlike other superhero comics, whose protagonists match wits with various supervillains, the Fantastic Four constantly find themselves facing down creatures of all types, from the subterranean races of the Mole-Man to the strange genetically modified creatures on the moon. Fantastic Four stories are never short of tales starring warlords from other dimensions, or world-devouring demigods, and a technocratic monarch in a metal mask or a fire-breathing Dragon-Man is constantly around the corner.
Readers regularly find themselves bedazzled by the stories of the Fantastic Four taking on fiendish creatures with bizarre and bewildering powers. The works of Lee and Kirby reshaped the medium through the monsters and their perpetual threats to humanity. No Fantastic Four movie has come close to portraying that critical facet of their saga. This is what makes the FF so unique, and their stories awe-inspiring.
9 The Thing Is a Tortured Soul
The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing is a fan favorite of the Fantastic Four. Despite being the “idol of millions” as he proclaims himself to be, Ben is a gentle-giant filled with defense mechanisms, insecurities, persecution complexes and fears. He hides his instability with a thick layer of brutish, hyper-masculinity. Beneath the rough and intimidating exterior is the biggest softy there is. Ben is misunderstood. He likes to think of himself as a rough and tumble guy with relentless wit and sarcasm, but he’s actually a sensitive soul. He gets scared for the other members of the team, but will never admit it. His girlfriend, Alicia Masters, is the only person who can see through his exterior, possibly because she's blind. She sees his pain and his agony. She recognizes his true nature.
What keeps him going is his gift and curse, which is his stubbornness. He falls on his behind as much as anyone, but he gets back up stronger than before. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the deeper elements of our fantastic protagonists in the movies, especially that of Ben Grimm.
8 Classical story inspirations and Cultural Homages
Fantastic Four invokes the elements of some of the greatest stories ever told. From John Carter of Mars to Jason and the Argonauts.
The Fantastic Four exemplify the mythological tales that have shaped us. It’s a grand tale rife with smaller mythemes and subtropes. It’s a story with bigger-than-life monsters who personify our very lifelike fears and insecurities. At it’s greatest, Fantastic Four gives us something to think about, and something to feel. It delivers it in a familiar package. In one story we might see elements of Greek mythology, and in the next we might detect the influence of Egyptian mythology. Fantastic Four has always been a grand form of escapism and the movies would do well to remember that.
7 They Are Inseparable
The Fantastic Four are exclusively identified by their members. They are an unbreakable team. If one member leaves, the team’s entire dynamic dissolves. The Avengers, the Justice League, and the X-Men have had members come and go over the years, but have managed to establish a strong unit. They have recovered from losing members. The Fantastic Four, by its very nature, is tied to Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny. Period. Throughout the years, the Fantastic Four have had temporary members like She-Hulk, Crystal, Medusa, Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and even Ant-Man (Scott Lang), but no substitute has ever been able to fill the shoes of a founding member.
No Fantastic Four member is more important than any other.
6 Cultural and Political Themes
Fantastic Four's underlying themes are inherently political, and rooted in the Cold War culture that the series was created in. The great stories of our times reflect what is going on in the world around us. It gives its readers a sense of urgency and relatability. The blue-collar worker of the story (The Thing) feels marginalized and outdated next to his scientist friends. He's caught in two worlds, the working class guy now shunned by his old neighborhood and making good with an elitist intellectual who doesn't think gives him his due.
The Fantastic Four reflected the time it was created in. The breakthroughs in chemistry and medicine, as the breakthroughs in civil rights and women's liberation. Fantastic Four penetrated our consciousness because we were experiencing these world-changing events with them.
5 The Epic Scale
While Fantastic Four is grounded by the familial interactions of its members and the unconditional love they have for each other despite their constant differences, it's juxtaposed against a vast universe of friends and foes. Their journeys to other galaxies and engagements with various beings are all a part of the grand story that makes Fantastic Four as amazing and wondrously strange as any comic ever created.
The Fantastic Four introduced us to the Sub-Space which is later called Negative Zone, alternate timelines, far-off galaxies and gods of all types. The adventures they go on seem to have no limit. The grounded stories of these characters are pitted in direct contrast to the vast scale of their ventures. Perhaps a future Fantastic Four movie could take advantage of this scale?
4 The Sue Storm Dynamic
Despite some cliché and sexist writing throughout the early years of the Fantastic Four, Sue Storm’s character has proven to be the centerpiece of the team. She was the one that convinced Reed to let her and Johnny join the space expedition. She’s the one that convinced Ben to join their first fateful mission. On multiple occasions, she’s kept them together, despite Reed’s occasional plans to break up the team.
Between Reed’s micromanaging, Ben’s temperamental attitude, and Johnny’s mischief, she has kept them not only balanced but has also kept them from killing each other. While the boys are quick to use violence to solve their problems, Sue tends toward compassion and empathy, sometimes developing a kinship with potential enemies. As intelligent as Reed is, he can be incredibly insensitive. Sue is the one that sees that building bonds and cultivating relationships peacefully is what matters. Reed sees the details, but Sue sees the big picture.
Most importantly, she does it with a gentle grace that precedes any other character in Marvel. She appeals to the better nature of other characters, especially Reed. We need to see that sue Storm on the big screen, rather than version played by Jessica Alba and Kate Mara.
3 The Sci-Fi universe
Fantastic Four is a true science fiction tale. The series opened up an intergalactic universe that Marvel had never been to before. It's rich with the spectacle and wondrous realms, creatures, and foes within these universes.
Fantastic Four is more than a series of villain-of-the-month tales, they are more like the Star Trek of comic books, using science fiction to explore various philosophical and spiritual questions. Reed Richards is the vehicle for much of the sci-fi elements of these stories. His arc is tied directly to sci-fi elements. He’s the transhumanist who sometimes slips further from his humanity only to be saved by true love. Without the grounded love of Sue, Reed would turn into another Dr. Doom, and he is wise enough to recognize that.
2 The Legion of Super-Villains
Dr. Doom is just one of many, many villains that the Fantastic Four face off against. The rogues gallery of classic villains that have transcended the Fantastic Four franchise is numerous.
There is an endless assortment of characters to choose from when trying to conceive of the next Fantastic Four movie. After two lackluster attempts at bringing Dr. Doom to the screen, perhaps another villain might produce better results. Many of these characters have an arc all their own. They are not just mustache-twirling antagonists. So far we've had three Fantastic Four movies and in all three of them, Dr. Doom has been the main villain. It's a waste of an amazing rogues gallery of villains.
1 Dr. Doom
It’s bad enough that the cinematic portrayal of the Fantastic Four has been one failure after another by Fox, but the portrayal of Dr. Doom has been, up to this point, nothing short of abysmal. Throughout the decades, Dr. Doom has been an icon of comic book villainy. He’s constantly ranked near the top of the list of greatest villains of all time. In all of Marvel comics, no other villain has been a more threatening antagonist than Dr. Doom. He’s one of comic book’s first “mega-villains”.
For those that don’t know the magnitude of his importance as a villain, consider him in the same realm as Thanos or Darkseid. The fact that he’s been marginalized in the movies is a source of constant disappointment, not just for Fantastic Four fans, but for fans of comic books in general. He’s a transcendent figure in comic book lore. So, when one is doing a movie about the Fantastic Four with Dr. Doom, one should understand that they are portraying a character that transcends the franchise, a character that means something to fans of many different types at once.
Can you think of any other way to make a great Fantastic Four movie? Let us know in the comments!