There are few Marvel characters that have played as essential a role in the comic publisher’s history as the Fantastic Four. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Marvel’s “first family” debuted in the comics in 1961, and they were instrumental in bringing comic books and superheroes into a new era following the Golden Age of the ’40s and ’50s. The team has consisted of many different characters over the years, but the core four characters have always been Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm/the Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm/the Human Torch, and Ben Brimm/the Thing.
There have been a handful of attempts to bring the Fantastic Four to the big screen over the years, but those endeavors have proven to be notoriously difficult. The newest version of the team will exist within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has been dominating multiplexes for 15 years now. Marvel Studios’ chief Kevin Feige announced his Fantastic Four movie in the summer of 2019, and the film is currently set for release in May 2025.
There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the project, but there’s also understandably an aura of concern as well. Given the team’s history on film and the overall direction of the MCU right now, there’s a real possibility that this Fantastic Four movie is as doomed as all the others that have preceded it. Here’s why:
The Team’s History On-Screen
The very first attempt to bring Fantastic Four to the big screen came in the 1990s. This film was directed by Oley Sassone, and it starred Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, Michael Bailey Smith, and Joseph Culp. This Fantastic Four movie was cheaply produced on a budget of just $1 million, but it never actually released in theaters. There are a lot of theories and guesses as to why, but the most prominent is that the movie was produced exclusively as an effort from Constatin Film to retain the film rights to the property.
The movie never received any official release of any kind, but bootleg versions of the movie do exist online, and the general reaction from those that have seen the movie is not great, to say the least.
In the 2000s, the first theatrically released Fantastic Four movie was produced. This was 2005’s Fantastic Four, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, and Michael Chiklis. The film wasn’t very well-received, but it performed well-enough at the box office to warrant the development of a sequel, 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. That film also wasn’t very well-liked, and its financial underperformance resulted in the series being put on ice. Then, 20th Century Fox attempted to revive the series with the 2015 reboot, directed by Josh Trank.
While there was some excitement for this new iteration, starring Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell, the film was a disaster upon release. To this day, it is still the worst-reviewed Marvel film ever released, and it holds a mere 9% approval from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
With all of that said, Feige and the MCU have a pretty solid track record. The franchise is responsible for producing many of the best comic-book movies ever made, and it has a built-in fan base that trusts pretty much anything that Marvel Studios wants to do. If there’s any team that could make a good Fantastic Four movie, it’s the creatives at Marvel Studios. That’s why people are still excited about this movie, despite the many previous dramatic failures with the property.
However, that doesn’t definitively mean that this Fantastic Four movie is going to be good. It doesn’t take an expert to see that the MCU has been losing momentum over the last couple of years. By producing too many films and Disney+ series in too short a period of time, the MCU has become oversaturated and general audiences have stopped caring about the franchise as much as they used to. On top of that, the writing and general quality of storytelling in these projects habve also dipped. This has led to the MCU receiving its first few “rotten” scores on Rotten Tomatoes, with projects like Eternals, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and the new series Secret Invasion.
It has become obvious that this increased output from the MCU has decreased the quality of stories produced by Marvel Studios. While we hope that the MCU can turn this trend around, it is concerning that the new Fantastic Four movie is being produced within that context. An MCU Fantastic Four movie produced in 2017 or 2018 likely could have been counted on to tell a quality story, but that’s simply not the case at this point in time.
In addition to the general downward trajectory of the MCU right now, it’s also somewhat concerning that this Fantastic Four film doesn’t appear to be coming together as easily as many other MCU projects do. It’s not a great sign that the movie was announced four years ago, but it has yet to begin production, and it likely won’t until 2024 at the earliest. On top of that, the film has also cycled through numerous creatives behind-the-scenes. Jon Watts, who had directed the Tom Holland Spider-Man films, was initially hired to direct the movie, though he stepped away from the project a year and a half after he’d been brought on board. Later that summer, WandaVision‘s Matt Shakman was confirmed as the film’s new director.
The MCU’s Fantastic Four film has also gone through several major rewrites, as it has had scripts written by Jeff Kaplan, Ian Springer, and Josh Friedman. That’s not a red flag on its own, as many major Hollywood films will go through extensive rounds of rewriting with multiple screenwriters. But in combination with the changing of director and the general messiness of the MCU lately, it’s not exactly a reassuring fact either.
Now, it should be noted that the behind-the-scenes shuffling of Fantastic Four‘s creative team is not nearly as bad as it could be, nor does it mean that the movie will be terrible. There have been countless movies that had to jump high hurdles behind the scenes that ended up turning out great. We hope that Fantastic Four is one of those. It’s clear that Feige sees this Fantastic Four movie as a central chapter of the MCU moving forward, and the movie needs to be as good as it can be because of that. Many of these challenges facing the film could inspire excellence from its creative team.
Would we have liked to have seen the MCU’s Fantastic Four sooner than six years after it was announced? Of course. But if that extended development increases the chance that the movie will be good, we’re happy to keep waiting.
There have been four bad Fantastic Four movies already, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s current trajectory is pointing toward a fifth. Read More