Fox Should Not Sell Fantastic Four Movie Rights To Marvel

By  · Published on August 10th, 2015

A Marvel Comics-based superhero movie franchise disappoints with its latest installment, so the studio reboots the property, but the fans like this version even less and so, it seems, does the general audience. With box office returns much lower than expected, the studio decides to strike a deal with Marvel in the hopes of saving the brand with yet another reboot, this one with a shared hold of the rights and profits between companies. That’s the story of Sony and Spider-Man, but it could also turn out to be the story of 20th Century Fox and Fantastic Four.

But should Fox actually follow Sony’s lead and either make a special agreement with Marvel Studios and Disney or just sell the rights back entirely now that the latest Fantastic Four movie is a disaster, one far worse than The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was? Surely a lot of Marvel loyalists would like that to happen, especially those who are huge fans of the Fantastic Four characters on the page and have suffered through three differently despicable attempts (over four movies in 21 years) to adapt the team to the big screen. To them, Marvel will finally get it right.

What if, at this point, Marvel doesn’t even want their own First Family under their roof? What if they agree the MCU is getting too crowded and also would be less interesting with focus reserved for the Fantastic Four? Maybe Fox has driven these once-beloved characters so far into the ground that even Marvel can’t salvage them, and the best thing might be for Disney to get the rights back and then just bury the film property for a long while, in the meantime attempting to resurrect their reputation in the comics first.

Even if Marvel would be glad to take the foursome off Fox’s hands, Fox shouldn’t do it. They still have the rights to Fantastic Four through 2024 and there is a potentially great way for them to come back from this debacle. There shouldn’t be another reboot. There should be that teased crossover with the X-Men franchise. Taking a page from the DC Extended Universe, instead of a Fantastic Four sequel we ought to get Fantastic Four v the X-Men: Doom of Justice (or whatever). Base it loosely on Chris Claremont’s 1987 series or something simpler, going with the usual deal where the two combatants join together and fight a common threat.

Mixing the two properties shouldn’t be too difficult for Fox. While there’s no indication in the new Fantastic Four that the mutant universe exists, it also doesn’t give any reason why the X-Men, who aren’t as public in their action as, say, The Avengers, couldn’t be in the background of their world. But even if they’re not already sharing a universe, there are easy fixes given that the X-Men movies have established time-travel capability (which includes alternate timelines) and Fantastic Four involves inter-dimensional travel.

What does X-Men gain from this, you ask? Nothing, but we could also ask what Batman has to gain from fighting Superman in what’s evolved from being a Man of Steel sequel. And it’s not up to them, because they’re characters. Plus, this could just be an extra installment for them, and it wouldn’t necessarily need to feature the entire X-Men franchise cast. It is a shame that Hugh Jackman is done with Wolverine, though, because he’d be the biggest draw for this crossover. Also, that character fighting the Fantastic Four gang is always the most fun.

Speaking of retiring cast members, let’s consider a possibility of Kate Mara, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell not returning for this crossover. It isn’t that they’re not all terrific actors and great in the respective (albeit yet unnamed) roles of Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch and the Thing, but Fox can get past some of the negative association with the new movie by recasting the characters while still maintaining that it’s the same canon. Age them up, skip the origin story, keep the events of the latest reboot as having happened and let them be established superheroes. Maybe Reed and Sue are already married. Maybe they’ve had Franklin. Yes, again, this is what DC is doing with Batman, but it makes a lot of sense, maybe more so for the Fantastic Four.

Most importantly, though, and some of this at least is different from DC’s approach, the movie should be lighter, more fun and definitely more action packed. Not to dismiss the few truly great things Josh Trank does with Fantastic Four in giving it a more realistic approach yet also more sci-fi focus, as some of that can be retained at the same time that some wonder and excitement and joy are injected into the property. The Fantastic Four have powers that are both tragic and silly, not that different from the burdened and ridiculous gifted mutants of X-Men. There’s a tone that can work somewhere between what the 2005 and 2015 Fantastic Four movies so disparately go for.

X-Men tends to have success with such a tone, never too serious but never too comical. The key there, though, is tends to. As in not always. One thing that Fox has managed to get away with is having the occasional setback with its X-Men franchise. Fantastic Four aside, the studio seems to know how to reboot a superhero series, from within the canon using prequels like X-Men: The First Class and the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse to recast established characters with younger actors and course-correcting time travel to retcon away from hated sequels like X-Men: The Last Stand and the just plain ignoring of certain episodes, such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

They’re also doing bold things with the franchise while also trying to now appease fans they’ve previously wronged. Next year we’re getting solo Deadpool and Gambit movies, both of them reboots of their respective characters from X-Men: Origins that still exist in the same universe, further washing the spinoff’s stink away. When Jackman is replaced, the new Wolverine will surely exist in the same world the old one did. They’ve already given (or are in the process of giving us) us a number of (not just recast but reworked) versions of Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Psylocke and others, and nobody seems to mind.

Of course, no X-Men movie has ever opened so low as Fantastic Four has. Its follow-ups to both The Last Stand and the first solo Wolverine movie had huge drops, however, and the franchise has since bounced back financially as well as artistically. Fantastic Four can come back, too, with time, care and creative tinkering. To its own credit, though, X-Men also had already planted strong roots for its movies before going off its mark. Fantastic Four doesn’t have such a foundation to hold on to. In four movies, there has never been a well-liked Fantastic Four.

Many believe there never will be, that there can’t be, that these characters aren’t cool enough or interesting enough for them to work faithfully on the screen. And yet they’re just popular enough that they can’t be too altered, either – and this isn’t so much an address of Trank casting a black actor as Human Torch, complaints against which mostly come from racist non-fans who likely have no impact on a movie’s success. But this is a property that Fox must find a way to save and do well, whether that means the crossover or some other way to draw audiences to a new but not necessarily rebooted/origin-retelling installment.

Fox has the time and hopefully the faith to have one more chance with Fantastic Four, if only so they can also finally get Silver Surfer and Galactus right, too. And give us Skrulls, Mole Man, Alicia Masters and her villainous step-father, Puppet Master, and more. Maybe even Power Pack (it should be noted, the new movie’s best scenes involve kids). The studio shouldn’t look to dealing with Marvel except maybe to work out a way to bring in Namor, She-Hulk and others – maybe there’s even a way for the Fantastic Four to mix with MCU characters and X-Men characters separately without those two universes ever being linked, thanks to more inter-dimensional travel.

If Fox can get people excited about a new Alien movie by Neill Blomkamp, in the wake of Alien: Resurrection, Prometheus and Chappie, they can find a way to get people excited about another go at Fantastic Four after this weekend. No need to make any rash decisions this week, however, nor announce any kind of future publicly just yet. They’re not going to get the world on board immediately, but they should start their efforts to get to that place right away. Excelsior!

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.