6 Films That Prove A Great Fantastic Four Movie Is Possible

By  · Published on August 28th, 2015

20th Century Fox

Fantastic Four was cruddy, yes? This I’m sure we can all agree on. But in the Internet’s avalanche of Fantastic Four reactions, I’ve noticed a trend that smacks as just a little bit off. Unfair even. Namely, that four failed Fantastic Four movies is indisputable proof that this franchise is unfilmable, and something best left on a comic page. Screen Crush made their case against the Fantastic Four. As did The Atlantic. And The Hollywood Reporter too, well before Fantastic Four was limping into box office second place. Plenty of reputable sites and reputable minds throwing in the towel on Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben.

This I don’t agree with at all. Especially when plenty of films have already come and gone and demonstrated how to make Marvel’s First Family, their world, their aesthetic and their villains work in a cinematic sense. Just read between the lines a bit (and maybe follow Max Landis on Twitter) and you’ll see that Fantastic Four’s just as filmable as any other costumed great.

Here, I’ll show you.

The Incredibles


Most people have made this connection already, but it’d be remiss of me to ignore it. So here we go: The Incredibles is a Fantastic Four movie in everything but name and costume color.

Throw in a kid who might just be the most powerful of all (Franklin, or maybe Jack-Jack), a scorned former buddy-turned-baddie with tech powers (Doctor Doom, also Syndrome), a secondary villain that spends most of his time lurking underground (Marvel’s Mole Man, Pixar’s Underminer) and a strong sense of family unity, and we’ve successfully made the argument that Brad Bird probably has a closet full of “Fantastic Four” comics somewhere.

Star Wars


Ok, let’s move onto more specific arguments. Like this one: the melodramatic, monologuing and perpetually masked Doctor Doom is just too silly to ever work onscreen (much of the arguments against Fantastic Four’s movie potential tend to invoke the whole “too silly” thing).

The counterpoint: Darth Vader. Like The Incredibles, there’s a long list of unmissable connections. Scarred face, perpetual mask/armor, tendency to grandstand with that old-school movie serial bravado. Vader, like Doom, comes with an unmistakable dash of camp, but no one’s complaining when Vader bursts into the opening of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and chokes out a few peons.

I’m guessing the labelling of Doom as “too silly” stems from how previous Fantastic Four movies clung to the origin story shtick, forcing Julian McMahon and Toby Kebbell to play Doom both as the grounded regular guy and the camp sci-fi megalomaniac. That may be too much. A New Hope didn’t attempt to humanize Vader (which the comics almost never do), and just as importantly, George Lucas assigned all the physical acting duties to bodybuilder David Prowse and all the verbal ones to James Earl Jones. That sounds like the formula for a much more successful Doom.

Stretch Armstrong

The next “too silly” argument extends to Reed Richards and his ability to become heroic Silly Putty. Per Screen Crush’s Britt Hayes: “No matter who directs the film or who stars in it or how good the CGI is, these abilities will always come off as corny.” Admittedly, there aren’t too many applications of top-notch stretchy powers in popular film. Besides Fantastic Four in its various forms and The Incredibles, you’ve got Master of the Flying Guillotine’s super-stretchy yoga master. Not much else.

I’d argue that Trank’s Fantastic Four actually makes a decent case for stretching we can take seriously. Mostly in the handful of moments just after Reed’s gotten his powers, where Trank is still more or less in control of the film and where Reed’s ability to stretch is meant to look nauseous and upsetting. But there’s also Stretch Armstrong, which languished in development hell for about 20 years and is an endless font of people trying to figure out how to make stretching look cool on-screen.

After Stretch Armstrong finally caved in on itself, we got a look at what might have been:

It’s actually not far from what’s found toward the end of Trank’s Fantastic Four. Stretch-powered punches, momentum-based stuff. The clip makes for a fun watch, even if the movie probably would have been a disaster just on the strength of Taylor Lautner in the titular role (his headshot appears briefly in one of the bad guys’ targeting layouts). Danny DeVito – also attached at one point – would have been a much stronger choice.

The Avengers

Marvel Studios

Alright, one more accusation of “too silly,” and we’ll move on. This time it’s the Thing and his crunchy, cartoon-character rock aesthetic. Hayes refers him “a hulking pile of rocks,” and I think the use of the word “hulking” is especially appropriate. Because really, is there that much of a gap between a great big green guy in purple briefs and a great big orange guy in blue?

The Hulk had his share of detractors after a couple poorly received films, just like the Fantastic Four. And all it took was one out-of-the-park portrayal to cause every Hulk naysayer to flip a 180 and start cheering for a Planet Hulk movie at every available opportunity. Fantastic Four just needs the same.

I do think Trank’s Thing, like his Mr. Fantastic, actually looks pretty neat. Misshapen enough to repulse most of society and give Ben his usual inferiority complex, but with enough humanity in the blue eyes to stir something inside us. If Fantastic Four actually gave us a reason to stir once in a while, I think he’d have been very well-received. It sounds a little like circular reasoning- oh, once they make a good Fantastic Four movie, people’s arguments that you can’t make one will dry up. It is pretty circular, honestly. But the same circle fit a silly green rage monster in purple stretch pants, and look how that turned out.

I’ve read arguments that the Storms are just as unfilmable as Reed and Ben, but that always rung kind of hollow. Invisibility and fire are about as baseline as superpowers come. I’m sure Marvel Studios will bust them out at some point and no one will bat an eye.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Honey I Shrunk The Kids

Buena Vista Pictures

I’ve always wondered why Fantastic Four films are so insistent on clinging to the usual superhero formula – origin story out the wazoo, then punch a villain and save the day – when the best Fantastic Four comics don’t follow that at all. On the page, the Fantastic Four is a family exploring uncharted worlds and having kooky super-science adventures. Maybe for a Fantastic Four film to really gel, they should do the same on screen.

Take the FF’s original tussle with Galactus (“Fantastic Four #48–50”). Sure, some fighting is involved, but the climax (which has reverberated around the Marvel comic universe for decades) is punch-free. Johnny gets his hands on the Ultimate Nullifier, a little grey gizmo that has the power to obliterate (or nullify, I guess?) entire galaxies. Reed points it at Galactus and threatens to push the clicker on top. Galactus throws his hands up- OK, you win, geez– and agrees not to devour the Earth after all.

Not a single punch thrown.

With Marvel Studios espousing the idea of comic book movies stretching to fill different genres (Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a superhero spy thriller, Ant-Man as a superhero heist movie), Fantastic Four is far better suited to a PG rating and a “family adventures through super-science” schtick. Something where a last-minute stroke of genius, not a physical feat, saves the day. My mind jumps to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but with a weirder core conceit than shrinking (Ant-Man’s already got that covered). Maybe getting trapped in the microverse or kooky take on the Negative Zone. The Fantastic Voyage would work as a template, too. Even Ant-Man, which curbed the silliness of a guy shrinking and talking to ants with a decidedly family-friendly tone. The Incredibles was PG too, you know.

Max Landis’s Fantastic Four

Like Stretch Armstrong, also not a real movie. Still a great example of how to make Fantastic Four work onscreen, though. On Monday, Landis posted the first four pages of a Fantastic Four script he wrote four years back. It’s sharp and instantly engaging, it’s got the “loving family” and “constant bickering” aspects of the Fantastic Four down pat, and Landis’s use of Spacehog’s “In the Meantime” and a rebel Fantastic Four on the lam implies it’d be very much in line with Guardians of the Galaxy. No problems there.

In celebration of the release of Fantastic 4, here’s the first 4 pages of a Fantastic 4 script I wrote 4 years ago… pic.twitter.com/izKR96G67G

— Max Landis (@Uptomyknees) August 10, 2015

In answering a few tweeted questions about the script, Landis clarified a few things about his Fantastic Four: Doom is “not the villain at all in the first film,” but has a presence as a friend of the FF. And “hell no,” he’s never going to release the rest online.

The first four pages are marvelous, though, so at least we’ve got that.

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