MARC ALAN FISHMAN: Fantastic Flop – How I’d Reboot Marvel’s First Family
So I found myself with a bit of time to kill while my wife and mother-in-law went out and about for lunch. My week-old son and I decided it was time to enjoy a bit of cable TV goodness. A quick surf left with me few options. Food Network was showing yet-another cupcake show… USA was playing that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where his wife is a shrew and his mother annoys him, and TBS was on Tyler Perry’s Black People Watch Everything I Put Out, Not That It’s Good. And FX? Callooh-Callay! They had on the Fantastic Four movie from a few years back. Given that I was still sporting half a nerd-boner for the Super Bowl Avengers spot, and the recent web-release of The Amazing Spider-Man trailer, FF seemed like the perfect way to wet my whistle for a bit of comic goodness.
Granted, I’ve seen the movie a few times. Saw it opening weekend, and didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it either, but somehow, it was one of those guilty “Hey, if it’s on, it’s really not that bad is it?” pleasures. A few hours later, my favorite ladies returned to a house with both their boys rife with a case of the cranky pants. I’m pretty sure my son Bennett had pooped himself. I didn’t have a mess in my trousers, but I had a tear in my eye. Seems I crossed that threshold where the movie stopped being “worth” the free cable viewing, and slid right into “Good lord, people paid money for this crap?” zone.
I could spend the remainder of this column dissecting how putrid the FF movie ended up being. But it’s old-hat, right? So, why not make this a turn for the positive. I’d like to outline four things Marvel can do to reboot the familial franchise into something… dare I say… more fantastic.
1. Explore the emotional origins as well as the basic plot points. We all know the bullet points by now, don’t we? On an outer space adventure… they got hit by cosmic rays. And that moment changed forever… in the most fantastic ways. No need to fear, their here… just call the four! Sorry, it was a damn catchy theme song. Suffice to say, the rocket ride with Kirby dots isn’t ALL that the origin of the FF is. You have romance between Sue and Reed. You have Ben, the stalwart pilot. Johnny, the joker, and comic relief. While these points were hit on in the last iteration, we miss the history. Use flashbacks (ala Batman Begins) to enhance our emotional ties to the characters. It’s not a race to the whiz-bang-special effects, when you have solid characterization. And each of the Four present a solid opportunity for fun beats.
2. Ditch the “We’re learning to use our powers until it matters at the end” montage. Face it. What killed Green Lantern (OK, one of the things that killed it…) was the age-old power development plot line. A solid 45 minutes of the last FF movie spent time building the revolvers it would later shoot at the movie’s climax. It’s just not needed. When you cross over into the sci-fi, plausibility takes a backseat to adventure. If we took time to dissect the fact that Luke Skywalker was able to get a shot into a teeny hole on a battle station that decimated nearly all of his backup (who were all far more experienced fighter pilots)… we’d go mad. Once you accept that “Comic Rays” can turn one man into a walking pilot light, and another into silly putty, you don’t need to spend an hour back-peddling to make us “believe” they’ll know what to do when it’s clobbering time.
3. The big villain? Mole Man. Follow me down the rabbit hole if you will. Batman Begins took a venerable B-Lister in Ra’s Al Ghul as its first antagonist. It was a smart choice. As Nolan said in countless interviews, the villain suits the arc the hero takes across the movie. In Spider-Man 2 (easily the best of Raimi’s Marvel contributions), we got a brilliant update on a pretty mort-worthy villain. And because Peter was learning to have balance in his life during the course of the movie, Doc Oc was a perfect foil. The Fantastic Four have a pretty decent rogues gallery. It’s easy to want to jump immediately to Doom or Galactus. But the first in a franchise needn’t aim so high. In both cases, those villains would outshine the stars of the film. First and foremost, it’s the FF that people should be ooohing and aaahing over. With Mole Man you have an obvious foe who will test the Four and their ability to become this odd family unit of world-savers. The villain fits the arc, as it were. Plus, it gives us a chance to recreate that iconic first issue cover on the big screen. And you know that’d be the bee’s knees.
4. Casting. Most every comic book film lands an amazing cast… even if they don’t get utilized properly. I didn’t hate anyone in the last FF iteration per say, but let’s be honest – Ioan Gruffudd looked OK but lacked the cockiness-by-way-of-supreme-intelligence. Jessica Alba was there for eye-candy only. Chris Evans stole the show, Michael Chiklis looked the part, but had no Yancy Street swagger. Ole’ Blue Eyes needs have a definitive balance between boisterous banter and tragic pathos. Some of this could easily be the scripting, but let’s say I was a casting agent? I’d cast accordingly: Jon Hamm as Mr. Fantastic. Uma Thurman as Sue Storm. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Johnny Storm. And Brendan Fraser as Ben Grimm. Hamm can pull off “the smartest man in the room, with ease. Thurman is equally weighted when on screen (and can pull off shorter hair, and heroic). Paul can sling insults, and certainly could look the part… And Fraser, who I know most would say is a stretch, is built big, can pull off a New York accent, and has more potential than most nerds give him credit for. And as my Mole Man? Paul Giamatti. He’s damn good in everything.
So there you have it. I know a new FF movie is already in the works… here’s hoping someone over at Marvel is trolling my articles, and a few of my hopes and dreams gets swept into the pre-production fracas. What do you think? Voice your opinion below, true believers!
SUNDAY: John Ostrander