4 Things We Need in The Fantastic Four Reboot

Published on December 17th, 2013

What does it take to make a good Fantastic Four movie? Marvel’s first team comic riffed on Space Age fears of the unknown and the courage of exploration. Space travel is not longer in its infancy. We carry tiny computers in our pockets! Where does that leave our superpowered explorers in a modern context? Forget costumes and villains, how does someone honor such superannuated source material and tell an engaging contemporary story? It isn’t without some timeless elements, but some things definitely need a change:

1. Character!

There’s a lot of super hero business going on in movies right now. At the top we’ve got The Avengers, a perfectly effective foursome of superheroes with guaranteed sequels. How on Earth can these guys compete? Exactly how is Reed Richards better than Iron Man? Why do I want to see The Thing break and punch stuff instead of Thor? Exactly what makes this whole thing so unique?

We kind of want to roll our eyes at the old cliche of an actor asking “what is my motivation?” nowadays, right? Although it seems trite now, maybe this is the comic movie that needs to think about it the most. Bringing a necessary third dimension of characterization into the mix might be the only way to make these stories stand out. It certainly feels like there’s a foundation for it, going all the way back to the original Lee/Kirby days.

This isn’t to say we need Requiem for a Dream with super heroes. Layered or challenging isn’t automatically “dark.” A good example might be 2008’s Iron Man, where Tony Stark is forced to confront his own nature and decides to go down a path of atonement. Conversely, Obidiah Stane reflects the exact opposite of Tony, complete with his own battle suit. It’s all handled with a light tone, but the themes and character motives really help make it feel fresh and modern. This carries over pretty strongly into Marvel’s other films. You could say all of the cinematic Avengers share a desire for redemption in some way. What is the common thread that unites the Fantastic Four? How do their enemies reflect it? There’s a foundation to be built on the FF2answers to these questions. To support scenes of thrilling and suspenseful action of course!

2. Point of View

In a story filled with super scientists, rock monsters and space gods, who can we identify with? Where is our emotional anchor? You might scoff at the idea of a “fish out of water” science fiction story. Fair enough, it’s been done to death, but taking this approach doesn’t necessarily require falling back on a string of cliches. How?

Let’s say Johnny Storm is chosen as the audience avatar. Boo! Right? Anyone familiar with The Human Torch might immediately label him as unrelatable. He’s thrill-seeking, self-centered and oversexed. No need to compromise traditional characterization though, that’s not really a problem here. What we’re most interested in is Johnny’s humanity. Since he’s just a little arrogant and brash, not a sociopath, we can find his base human emotions. Maybe he seems cocky now, but traveling to pocket universe or going toe-to-toe with a characters like Annihilus or Blastaar will probably humble you quickly.

Furthermore, how do these meetings effect each character? Sure, their primal survival instincts might kick in if they need to fight, and that will provide entertainment. But what else is below the surface here? Does observing and consequently interfering with an alien culture impact anyone’s philosophical or religious beliefs? How about fighting an actual dictator who is seen as royalty? What sort of moral questions are raised in handling that sort of thing? Classic sci fi doesn’t shy away from asking hard questions, and letting the audience think about them. Frame that in some solid plotting and now your audience is talking about it after the credits roll.

Unless there’s a cut scene. Maybe The Inhumans are in it! Quiet back down!


3. Kirby Styling

FF3Jack Kirby created maybe the coolest technology the comics medium has ever seen. Many creative people in the film industry would probably tell you it CANNOT be translated onto screen. Why? It looks too abstract? Too exaggerated? It is! And guess what? That’s exactly why it will work.

will allow for some very welcome suspension of disbelief. Harlan Ellison or Neil Degrasse Tyson might condemn the idea of using ignorance as a foundation for fictional science, but it looks fantastic (eh?) and keeps the audience from questioning details to the point of distraction. Albert Einstein said imagination is more important than facts, and I think when it comes to eliciting awe and inspiring audiences, we can safely agree.

Design isn’t the only Kirbyism to fall back on. Analyze his storytelling, get that excitement and energy that made you feel this stories. Cinematography has a specific, careful language that must be followed–unless you’re telling unconventional stories. Move the camera around, show us things from new perspectives and angles. Break the rules a little. We won’t mind!

4. Multicultural cast.
The Fantastic Four are white! But do they need to be? Lots of people were kind of upset about the rumored casting of Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, Fruitvale Station) as Johnny Storm in the upcoming reboot. Why? Because of skin complexion?

Seems pretty super racist. Let’s not judge for a second though. Say you’re only thinking “This is how it is in the comics. All I’m asking is that they stay completely faithful to the source material.” Well, in that case they should fire Hugh Jackman and get a Wolverine that’s 5’3”, Tony Stark will need to be replaced with a teenage version of himself from an alternate reality, and Superman has to fall in love with a mermaid.

What is the argument against casting non-white actors in traditionally white roles? Honestly, does ethnicity change anything but minor, inconsequential aesthetics? Nope! Does diversifying the cast of a popular comic book film send an influential message to kids and all ages? Yes! What message? That racial limitations are a social construct. Nothing is exclusively reserved for one color of skin.


Why is that the responsibility of this movie? It’s not, but it’s a great idea to promote this sort of thing in a movie where race is completely incidental, don’t you think? Let’s not let a devotion to minutiae of fiction turn us against one another. The Fantastic Four is really about challenging the unknown and keeping an open mind. Is it too much to ask that the audience do a very small amount of the same?

Randall Maynard