<i>by George Marston, Newsarama Contributor</i> <p>With work moving forward on Fox's long-rumored reboot of their <b>Fantastic Four</b> big-screen franchise, including the official announcement of <i>Chronicle</i> director Josh Trank signing on to helm the film, today we're looking at some of the fundamental elements that define Marvel's first family, and spelling out some of the marks we'd like to see the next film hit! <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>
Expecting FOX to open its Marvel properties to interact with those controlled by Disney and Marvel is a little like expecting Batman to show up in <i>Avengers 2</i> - it just ain't gonna happen. On the other hand, FOX now controls the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Daredevil properties, and there's plenty of room for even minor overlap there. <p>On top of that, with the sheer number of concepts like the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, the Celestials, the Skrulls, and so many more potentially falling under the Fantastic Four's purview, there's more than enough material for FOX to copy some of Marvel's MO, and give us a glimpse of the other characters that populate the FF's world.
In the first hundred issues of Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee reinvented comics and superheroes as we know them, creating, innovating, and defining the genre as we know it. There are so many great ideas in those pages, and so much characterization that all Fox has to do to ensure a more gripping adaptation of the property is look to its source material. <p>Now, no comic book film would be successful by slavishly adhering to the printed page - in fact, plenty work even when they specifically ignore it, like <i>The Dark Knight</i>, or <i>X-Men : First Class</i> - but we've seen FOX's take on the FF before, and the main thing it lacked was the elegance and heart of the classic comics.
Some of this falls into the "larger mythos" category, but there are plenty of great supporting characters like Willy Lumpkin, Alicia Masters, Wyatt Wingfoot, Nathaniel Richards, and even Lyja, the Skrull turncoat that really deserve a chance to offset the familial nature of the team. <p>Sure, some of these characters have turned up before, and who can argue with Stan Lee's cameo as Lumpkin, the FF's mailman? But there's more to be done with these characters than brief appearances, and off-hand characterization. Just think of the potential introducing a character like Nathaniel Richards could have, or the emotional impact the story of Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters could have if done right.
The Fantastic Four may be all about family, but there's a sense of scope to their stories that plays off the intimacy of the Richards family. There's more than enough room for intimate, humorous moments in a Fantastic Four film, but at the same time, it's important to hold on to the dynamic of this close-knit family travelling through not just our universe, but others as well. The Fantastic Four are global, ideological, experimental heroes, and the widescreen nature of film is perfectly suited to reflect that.
On that note, there are hundreds of beautiful, nightmarish, and exotic locations in the Fantastic Four mythos that would make for perfect, if expensive and expansive set-pieces for a film. The Negative Zone, Sub-Atomica, Attilan, the Blue Area of the Moon, Hala, Latveria, and countless other places are perfect grist for the mill of a science-fiction film. <p>At their core, the Fantastic Four are explorers, scientists, and problem-solvers before super-heroes. New York may be their home base, but their adventures almost always involve travelling into parts unknown, and besides, there are plenty of superhero movies that make unimpeachable use of New York as a backdrop. How about a change of pace?
The Fantastic Four may be well known for their family drama, but what makes those dramatic personal moments important is that the Fantastic Four are not hopeless, dark, troubled heroes. Their physical alterations may lend themselves to the idea of tortured, misunderstood freaks desperately trying to find their place in society - poor Ben Grimm alone has more than enough baggage for a whole spate of David Lynch or Werner Herzog films - but the fact is, they embrace who they are, and view their situation as a gift; a chance to lead lives that others only dream of, and to help people in the process. <p>It's an important distinction, and one that FOX's first attempts at filming the Fantastic Four tried too hard to capture, winding up goofy in the process. The balance of excitement, action, and drama may be key, but it should carry a sense of wonder and enjoyment throughout.
Reed Richards is the smartest man in the universe. More often than not, it's his wit and ingenuity that either puts the Fantastic Four in, or gets them out of trouble. It's his constant duel of one-upsmanship with Dr. Doom that has set the tone for some of the FF's greatest stories, and it's his willingness to experiment with dangerous devices like the Ultimate Nullifier that has won them some of their greatest victories. If Star Trek can make conversations about "bandwidth phase adjustors" and "graviton particle beams" sound natural, imagine the potential with a sarcastic, less-than-scientifically-inclined character like Johnny Storm in the mix. Don't hide the sci-fi behind the super-heroics; audiences can handle high concepts, and that's what drives the Fantastic Four.
A chance at a proper take on Dr. Doom alone is enough to justify another attempt at filming the Fantastic Four, and that says nothing of characters like Galactus, who deserves better than a cosmic cloud, Annihilus, whose Annihilation Wave is more than enough threat for a big budget motion picture, or even the fun and visual potential of Mole Man, and his army of Deviant monsters. <p>Hell, they could even use the Skrulls as a long-term plotline, just give us a glimpse of a disguised invader in the form of a friend as the "stinger" scene. Honestly, all they really have to do to get this right is give us a Doom who is a maniacal, self-obsessed dictator, and not a sarcastic pretty boy with a bizarrely inappropriate humanitarian award on his face.
This has come up a lot in the previous eight entries, but this may be one of the single most important things that must be captured for a Fantastic Four film to work. When the Fantastic Four launched in 1961, they established a template for super-hero comics that absolutely changed the game. Remember how the Avengers was so good because nobody really got along, and they all acted like human beings? You can thank the Fantastic Four for that. The always tense, but never hostile relationship between the four main characters was a completely innovative and exciting change from the previous vision of super-heroes as stoic, friendly team players who upheld the most perfect human ideals. The Fantastic Four put the "human" in "super-human," and that's a distinction that continues to set them apart from other super-teams.
Ok, Jack Kirby has sadly been dead for over a decade, a fact which pretty much precludes a cameo in any of the many films based on his characters, but more than any other Marvel comic, Kirby's work on the Fantastic Four was definitive of his vision, his creativity, and his style. Kirby didn't just define the look of the book, he defined the way stories are still told in comics, and established a visual continuity more innovative and engaging than almost anything else in comics. <p>On top of that, he created some of the FF's most iconic characters, like the Silver Surfer and Galactus. Just because the man himself can't show up in a Fantastic Four film, that doesn't mean that the visual language he developed for the characters and their world can't. Some of it may look outdated to modern eyes, but there's something about Kirby's vision of the super-heroic and sci-fi elements of the FF that is undeniably infectious, unimpeachably creative, and could translate to an absolutely breathtaking film. <p>Even if nothing else on this list shows up in the next film, letting Kirby's style define the look and attitude of the film could immediately set the Fantastic Four apart from any other superhero franchise, and give even purists something to root for.