Another Marvel movie comes out this week: Fantastic Four. But it’s a Marvel movie made by Fox instead of Marvel Studios. Fox’s track record has been much more uneven than Marvel proper (who made Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil). You may be saying, “I thought they did a Fantastic Four movie already,” and you’d be correct. The first (also titled Fantastic Four) came out in 2005, with a sequel in 2007. They weren’t great, and they didn’t do so hot at the box office either. So what’s so fantastic about Marvel’s First Family?
In 1961, Marvel comics wasn’t really in the superhero business anymore. But when the head of Marvel noticed that rival DC’s Justice League of America was doing well, he told his editor Stan Lee that they need to steal this superhero team idea. Stan, past 40 and almost done with comics, decided he would do the book how he wanted it, along with his best artist Jack Kirby. Thus did the Marvel age begin. The team gained superpowers after a hasty experiment bombards them with cosmic rays. FF #1 featured a team that argued and didn’t wear costumes (the latter soon changed, the former still has not). One team member even looked like a monster. After the success of this new team and style of comics, Stan and Jack began a streak of creating memorable heroes. But it started with these four:
Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards): The genius leader of the team, who gains the power to stretch his body, and blames himself for the accident that gave the team their powers. He’s often portrayed as kind of a jerk, but he’s usually trying to use his brilliance to help society (I see a lot of similarity to The Doctor from Doctor Who).
Invisible Woman (Sue Storm/Richards): Sue has transitioned a lot over the decades. Invisible Girl to Invisible Woman. Reed’s girlfriend to his wife. Only able to turn invisible to having force-field powers. Damsel-in-distress to capable leader. Really, she’s what keeps the team together.
Human Torch (Johnny Storm): Sue’s little brother. Your classic hot-headed teenager (see what they did there?). Johnny can set himself on fire and fly. Again, he’s rebellious and brash but this was pretty different from the teen sidekicks people were used to.
The Thing (Ben Grimm): Reed’s friend, and an uncle figure to the rest of the team. He’s the most tragic, on account of being turned into a rock monster, but he’s also the big heart of the group.
The family relationships between the team are fundamental. For most of their time, they’ve been an actual family. Sue and Reed have been married since 1965 and had their first kid in 1968 (little Franklin is still under 10 nearly 50 years later). The best FF stories emphasize this along with a sense of scientific adventure and wonder – exploring space and time and such.
And so this is why I don’t have high hopes for the new movie. I don’t know how the familial relationships will play into it (no, it’s not a problem that they made Human Torch African-American). It does seem strange that they’re making them all teenagers (I believe their taking their cues from the Ultimate line of comics, which I have not read). What worries me is the way the actors and filmmakers describe the film. They keep using terms like ‘gritty’ and ‘grounded’ and ‘realistic.’ They describe their powers as disabilities. That’s kind of Thing’s thing, but who wouldn’t want to fly or turn invisible? Basically, they’re going for the opposite of what is says right there in the title: Fantastic Four. Not the Gritty Four or Realistic Four. They should be copying the feel of The Incredibles, not The Dark Knight.
I’m trying not to judge it before I see it, and it would feel strange to tell you not to see a comic book movie (early reviews are not great). But if this bombs, maybe Marvel Studios will get the rights back and finally give us their take on their First Family.