The Fantastic Four are considered the “First Family” of Marvel Comics, namely due to their bringing about the company’s dominance during the Silver Age of Comics. The team is now set to have a new movie adaptation set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with said movie rebooting them on the big screen once more. Strangely enough, this movie is apparently pulling from some rather recent comic books.
Director Matt Shakman has noted that the most recent Fantastic Four stories will be as much of an influence on the new movie as their classic comics are. This is likely to surprise even the franchise’s fans, but it makes sense for a lot of different reasons. Not only does adapting the Ryan North run on F4 provide for more “grounded” stories as the team debuts in the MCU, but it also saves more iconic stories for later movies, giving them time for a proper build-up.
The Next F4 Movie Is Drawing from the Newest Comic Books
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In a recent interview with Inverse, Matt Shakman – the director of Marvel Studios’ Fantastic Four reboot – discussed some of the elements that will go into the movie. A fan of the source material, Shakman noted the many iconic runs that will be used in some way throughout the movie’s story. Obviously, the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby material is an influence, as is the John Byrne and Mark Waid runs on Fantastic Four. Surprisingly, however, another inspiration is the current Ryan North Fantastic Four comic book. Beginning in 2022, the Ryan North/Iban Coelle (known for providing art on recent Venom and Spider-Man comic books) run of the “world’s greatest comics magazine” is only the second run of the series after its return to publication in 2018.
Instead of tackling the team’s usually magnanimous scope, North’s stories go in a much different direction. Since the previous run literally ended with the F4 dealing with the concept of the multiverse, the new series utilized more grounded concepts, albeit with a familiar science fiction veneer. An example includes Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters being stuck in a time loop. Most notably, the series began not with the team together and on a united front, but separated. This saw Ben/Alicia, Reed/Sue and Johnny all stuck in different problems, with each testing them in unique ways. So far, it’s been an excellent way to rejuvenate the comic book’s concept while exploring the iconic characters. It’s also an excellent way to dial back the overly grand nature of the team’s stories, which can sometimes lead to the loss of a sense of scale. That’s true not only in the comics, but especially in the movies, which is why this run inspiring the next Fantastic Four film is such a good thing.
The Best Fantastic Four Comics are Too Esoteric for the First Movie
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Perhaps the biggest and best storyline in the history of the Fantastic Four is “The Coming of Galactus,” which involves the arrival of the cosmic connoisseur as he intends to consume Earth. It was a landmark storyline that emphasized how grandiose the Fantastic Four’s adventures were. Other notable plots involve them exploring the Negative Zone and other such brands of action-based research. To this end, the F4 are best characterized as “science explorers,” not outright superheroes. It afforded them an incredible legacy throughout comic books, with even rival publisher DC Comics being inspired by the team. This also gives the F4 a unique place in the Marvel Universe of the comic books, but it also means that some of their best stories might not work as their proverbial “origin” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As the premiere cosmic team at Marvel, the Fantastic Four are largely the most “unrelatable” property among the company’s more mainstream stable. Though the X-Men have their fair share of cosmic stories, these have largely been pushed to the side since the early 2000s. After all, the success of not only the Fox X-Men movies but also the Ultimate X-Men comic books and the X-Men: Evolution emphasized the more relatable sci-fi social commentary in the franchise while downplaying its more ridiculous elements. Even with formerly B-list characters such as Iron Man and the Avengers, their recent success has mostly been due to how the movies make them more relatable than ever. Their movies rarely explore the kinds of cosmic, esoteric hard science fiction that Fantastic Four requires, namely in that property’s biggest storylines.
Even in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a series featuring a group of roguish, ragtag troublemakers embarking on what are many times comedic escapades. Those movies took the MCU’s humorous formula and dialed things up to the nth degree, making it easier to win mainstream audiences. That’s a far cry from getting them to accept a giant hungry purple man and his mondo metallic minion in a completely serious way. It’s the kind of dichotomy that’s always made Star Wars a bit more mainstream than Star Trek. Thus, adapting these stories in some way for the team’s MCU debut might only set them up for failure in terms of finally becoming popular. It doesn’t help that the Marvel Studios brand is currently a bit tarnished, meaning that it will be harder than usual to get franchises “over.”
Adapting Ryan North’s Fantastic Four for the MCU is for the Best
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As noted, the Ryan North Fantastic Four run is a bit different from what came before it, namely in terms of its scope. While the science fiction tone is still heavily present, it’s more along the lines of The Twilight Zone than Star Trek. The series feels a lot less grandiose and cosmic in its nature, all while still retaining the traditional Fantastic Four aura. It makes for somewhat more relatable stories, and while it involves such things as a dinosaur version of the team, the general sentiment behind it is similar to the reinvention of the X-Men in the early 2000s. By easing audiences in with these types of stories, the Marvel Cinematic Universe Fantastic Four movie won’t throw them into the deep end of cosmic jargon and other “ridiculous” concepts.
It’s this sort of ground zero approach that’s needed more than ever, both given the state of the MCU and superhero fiction in general. Beyond the success of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (which again is an outlier in many respects) or the animated movie Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (which has a somewhat younger target audience and also features Spider-Man, who’s a brand unto himself), the most popular superhero/comic book works in the past two years have been those with more grounded and relatable natures. These included DC’s “Elseworlds” movie The Batman, plus Amazon Prime Video’s adaptation of The Boys and its spinoff series Gen V. Even with the animated Invincible, which features more overtly heroic superhero elements, it’s far darker and “grittier” than anything the MCU and the Fantastic Four are used to providing in terms of themes. Of course, with the easily relatable nature of The Thing, that middle point between the “fantastic” and the down to Earth shouldn’t be hard to find.
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Another thing to keep in mind is that classic stories involving the planet-eating Galactus and even the F4’s powerful rival Doctor Doom can’t be rushed. Those were issues that affected the previous adaptations of the property, with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer in particular having a poor version of Galactus. Similarly, Doctor Doom has never been portrayed correctly on the big screen, so rushing out a storyline featuring him without the proper buildup would simply recreate the same issue. The best path forward for the MCU’s take on the First Family is to use the current Ryan North run as a proverbial basis, all the while planting the seeds for the more iconic stories to play out down the line.
One way in which this can be done is to simply show flashbacks to the team together at the end of the movie, quickly establishing their history and team dynamic. From there, the movie can emulate the beginning of the Ryan North comics, having the team separated and dealing with their own issues and strange situations before finally reuniting them. Doing so will fast-forward past the need for an origin story retread while also doing something different with the team on the big screen. It’ll also establish some of their greatest enemies and lay the seeds for more appearances without “wasting” them in the first movie. This will provide room to grow for numerous Fantastic Four sequels, ensuring that the characters are finally done justice and that all of their best stories are utilized in some way.
Fantastic Four is scheduled to release in theaters on May 2, 2025.
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