Why Fantastic Four Is Not Going To Work

The upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the Fantastic Four is going to fail, because the team is simply outdated.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

Fantastic Four is one of the most mysterious upcoming projects for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with almost no details having been revealed about the latest iterations of the First Family. We know it will be directed by Marvel and sitcom veteran Matt Shakman, who was recently confirmed to helm Fantastic Four after Spider-Man’s Jon Watts decided he needed a break from the MCU. We know that it will not be an origin story, which the studio seems to have realized not every single character needs right up front. We know that a whole bunch of people just got really disappointed when Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige announced there would be no Fantastic Four announcements at D23 this year, and everyone just needs to hold their horses. And here is another thing we know for certain: Fantastic Four is not going to be a successful movie. 

That is a big claim, so we will get right into it. There have been (so far) four live-action Fantastic Four films, all of which have been disappointments in their own way. Despite being one of the most famous superhero teams in comic book history and having the kind of brand name recognition the Suicide Squad and the Thunderbolts could only dream of, something has eluded the Fantastic Four in terms of cinematic success. The first attempt in 1994 was an infamously low-budget effort that was never officially released and has been the subject of conflicting stories about whether it was a cheap attempt to hang on to the film rights. The two films released in the 2000s and directed by Tim Story rapidly hit a wall of diminishing commercial returns, not to mention savagely negative reviews. The most recent attempt in 2015 was directed by Josh Trank and bombed hard at the box office and with critics, with Trank later publicly blaming studio interference. In addition to the many unique flaws that each version of the Fantastic Four has had, they all share a weakness that will also sink the MCU version: the Fantastic Four are outdated.

The Fantastic Four #1 debuted in 1961, over six decades of cultural development and progress. At the time, the team was a revelation. The team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pushed against what they felt were the creative constraints of comic book storytelling, creating a team of superheroes that was as much defined by their familial and personal conflict as their battles against Doctor Doom and the Mole Man. The idea that a superhero team could be a literal family with their own issues (rather than a collection of previously created characters, like the Justice League or the All-Winners Squad, was groundbreaking, as was the idea that heroes could have personal issues to deal with. The problem with the Fantastic Four now is simply that Stan Lee (along with his collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) and the entire medium of comic books have moved forward, while the team has not.

Everything that made the Fantastic Four unique in 1961 was done better in the years that followed. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby debuted the X-Men in 1963, which expanded on the idea of a superhero team being a troubled, argumentative family as well as the super-science that surrounded the Fantastic Four. Over the years, the X-Men would vastly expand their roster, including numerous actual family members and many chosen ones, eventually becoming a long saga of family dysfunction and heroics. Spider-Man would appear in 1962, further developing and refining the idea of a superhero with day-to-day troubles and issues, not to mention stripping away the tech and cosmic battles to make him even more relatable.

At this point, the Fantastic Four brings nothing to the table that the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t already done. Technological super-genius needed? Tony Stark, Hank Pym, Bruce Banner, Shuri: the MCU has got you covered. A strong, authoritative female superhero? It took the MCU a while, but there’s Black Widow, Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Okoye, you name it. A misanthropic, misunderstood monster? Hulk is right there. A cocky, but ultimately good-hearted handsome guy? Star-Lord, Loki, Valkyrie. The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy already did the family thing, and any number of smaller-scale MCU projects have shown that heroes can have to deal with bank loans, rude landlords, and romantic misunderstandings. 

All Fantastic Four has to offer Marvel fans now is a reminder that they have been evolved past (in the case of the X-Men, literally). That is not the fault of the team themselves, simply that they once walked so that other superhero teams could run and eventually fly. And that is why the movie just isn’t going to work: we’ve seen it before and we’ve seen it better.