Twelve Days of X-Mas, Day 6: ‘THE FANTASTIC FOUR’

This feature originally ran on MCU Exchange in December of 2017.

Welcome to another installment of what I hope is an enjoyable, extended look at a series of films that I’d like to see used as a way to bring the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes into the MCU. I’ve spent a troubling amount of time in my own mind thinking about this and figured that if I was going to spend that much time, I might as well write it up and feel accomplished! In doing so, I know that I’ll push some buttons with some readers, so let’s be clear about a few things: these are only MY ideas and do not, in any way, represent insight into what we should expect; of all the films I end up writing about, there’s a very small chance ANY of them get made; you’re free to write your own fan-fiction about films you want to see.

With so much time between now and when we will first see the X-Men enter the MCU, there’s a lot of time for things to change (including my own mind); however, this “blueprint” is my current idea and one that I’ve attempted to base both in the kind of decisions Marvel Studios has made to date and on the types of changes we’ve seen recently. Unfortunately, in writing these I’ve discovered I am NOT cut out to do screenplays, so some of these  stray from convention in a few ways.

In the first installment, I took at look at how The Starjammers could potentially kick off Marvel Studios’ inclusion of the X-Men characters into the MCU. Then I took a shot at introducing Charles Xavier to the world and explaining just why he needed the X-Men in the first place. Next, we introduced arguably Marvel’s greatest character, Victor von Doom. We then caught up on the adventures of Corsair and crew and met the poweful Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Now it’s finally time to bring Marvel’s first family to the MCU. Today, we get the Fantastic Four!

This film is one that no matter what I came up with, even I wouldn’t be happy. I love the stories of the Fantastic Four and there adventures so much that I just can’t imagine how to do it right. I also know, that much like Spider-Man, fans can do without another origin story and so we are going to pick up in media res, with them returning to Earth after a 12 year absence during which time they were feared lost. Of the many things that the other versions got wrong, the ones that stand out the most to me are the missing sense of adventure that made the comics so unique and the lack of focus on Sue Richards as the central character. I know that everyone just loves how cool Johnny looks when he flames on and it’s easy to fall back on Reed, but as a kid reading these comics that grew into an adult reading these comics, it always seemed that Sue was the driving force behind their love and sense of adventure. While I’m a bit mad at myself for putting Sue in a precarious position in this film, it’s something that will be remedied before the end. This film is going to start a thread that eventually brings the Avengers into the story, but first it has to get started.

In some ways I’ve thought of this film as the MCU’s Odyssey. We get a story about the hell the family went through to get home only to find their home in imminent danger. The film will open right where the post-credit scene from Doctor Doom left the four.  From news reports we find out that the heroes have been a known quantity for since their accident in 2005. Despite being lost, the family actually looks to be in relative good health. Different reports allow for us to catch up on their adventures as we see news footage of their battle with the Mole Man in California, a tussle with a version of the Frightful Four (which sadly won’t have Medusa!) and a major encounter with Namor (who we have already met at this point). All of New York is abuzz at not only the return of the heroes, but the shock of them walking out their ship with two children. The four are taken into a government building in order to begin their debrief. Here the narrative structure of the film’s second act will unfold: each of the four heroes will tell a portion of what went wrong, where they’ve been and how they got back.

We begin with Sue, who tells of the earliest days of the family’s mission in 2008. We find out they spent some time on the Blue Area of the Moon where they were exploring Skrull ruins there. As they excavated the ancient base, they were able to reboot one of the old computers. Reed spent days and days away from the team, poring over the files and taking notes. Upon returning to the ship, Reed became a man possessed. Almost a week had passed now and while the rest of the team had continued to work on exploring other parts of the base, which Reed now estimated to be nearly one million years old, he had been sleeping an hour a day at best. As this part of Sue’s story comes to an end, we see Reed begin assembling a device based on his notes from the Skrull archives.

The Richards children, Franklin and Valeria, undergo a battery of tests in separate rooms. Everything about Earth is alien to them. As the doctors continue their tests, Valeria begins to giggle. When her attending physician asks her what made her laugh, she looks at him and says, “Just something my brother told me.” As we flash back into Franklin’s room, we catch just the slightest bit of a strange glimmer fade from his eyes and understand he was in communication with his sister a moment ago.

As Reed eats a warm meal, he picks up where Sue left off. The Skrull archives contained information about an ancient parallel universe made of what he believes to be anti-matter: the Negative Zone. This is Reed Richards and people are asking him about what may be the most monumental discovery of his time, so he gets deep into the science of it here. The Skrulls new of the universe and had constructed a gateway to it. Their first party was annihilated immediately upon breaching the portal, but a group of Skrull scientists were able to keep it stable and open. Over time they the Negative Zone through the portal and, eventually cataloged many planets, several of which they named. According to the archives, they never sent another team through the portal, but continued to monitor the Negative Zone for thousands of years until life found it from the other side. As the camera pans to give us a clear view of the Skrull portal, we see the figure of a young Annihilus approach before a Skrull scientist powers down the portal.

Ben tells the interview team that Reed became obsessed with recreating a portal to the Negative Zone because he believed that if they were able to undergo charge conjugation, they could fundamentally alter their bodies, allowing them to exist within the Negative Zone. While not something Skrull scientists of the time could achieve, Richards is a bit of an expert on Rydberg atoms and metastable states and believes he can create a device that can enter the Negative Zone. Ben indicates that at this point Reed realized he was on the brink of not only discovering another dimension, but also creating faster than light travel. Reed used a shuttle to return to Earth for supplies and it was this point that the remaining team became aware of the presence of another being: Uatu the Watcher.

Johnny tells us that Reed returned to the Blue Area of the Moon and, over the next couple of weeks, recreated the gateway. Though driven to make his way to the Negative Zone, Reed has always believed that the principles of science are to be trusted and so they opened the gateway, set up every piece of equipment they could, and simply observed for nearly 3 years. They recorded data on radiation, charted the movement of the planets they could see and decided that only two of them seemed to be capable of sustaining life. At one point during the observations, Johnny, bored to pieces by the process, rolled a tool into the portal only to watch it be instantly destroyed. At that time it was mid-2011 and Sue was pregnant with Franklin. Johnny explained that while Reed worked, he and Sue and Ben continued to explore not only the Skrull base but also the rest of the Blue Area, eventually stumbling onto the lair of Uatu.

Sue explains that while her pregnancy went on, Reed worked tirelessly at the math necessary to eventually allow them to send a probe into the Negative Zone. It’s crucial here to see Reed and Sue’s relationship work itself out. This isn’t Jessica Alba getting mad at Ioan Gruffudd for working too much. This is a couple that have committed to and know one another. Not only is Sue not mad at Reed, her presence in Reed’s life is what keeps him going and she’s aware of it. Once he was sure that he had it right, he built an early model H.E.R.B.I.E. and sent it through, programmed to return in two weeks. When two weeks time had passed, H.E.R.B.I.E. returned and Reed downloaded the video stream. H.E.R.B.I.E. had been programmed to spend one week on the planet they had named Arthros and one week on the planet they had named Baluur. As expected each of the planets were revealed to have life; unexpectedly, while H.E.R.B.I.E. was programmed to return in two weeks, he held over 10 weeks worth of data. Sue and Reed came to the conclusion that they were experiencing the relativity of simultaneity and upon a closer look at the data they’d been collecting realized that time in the Negative Zone moved faster relative to our own universe because the Negative Zone has begun to contract.

Reed explains that with the math done and proven successful, there was nothing to stop them from their expedition into the Negative Zone. He’s then reminded of there being one thing that stopped them: the impending birth of his first child. While this begins as Reed’s story, we get bits and pieces from everyone as they detail Franklin’s birth and first year. To me this is as important as any sequence in the film because it captures the essence of this group of people: for this bit of the story all we see is love and the importance of these characters to one another.

With Franklin now one-year old, the family is ready to board the ship and prepare for exploration into the negative zone. It’s 2013 and this is the last time we’ll see them in our dimension for 7 years. Ben explains that because they were certain to find life on Arthros and Baluur, they chose to explore other near by planets. The contraction of the Negative Zone along with Reed’s recent mastery of faster than light travel made it easy to navigate. It’s 2015 and Sue is pregnant again. Ben’s face harrows: the baby inside Sue was killing her. In some way the radiation from the Negative Zone took its toll on the baby. Reed was certain that his work reversing the polarity of their molecules should have extended to the baby; it didn’t and as she grew in Sue’s womb, she began emitting small doses of Negative Zone anti-matter. Desperate to save Sue, the team sets course for Arthros were they know they’ll find life.

Johnny is quick to add that the life they found was anything but friendly. Arriving on Arthros, the ship is immediately greeted by by thousands of insectivorids. Reed and Ben exit the ship and are taken away, leaving Sue, Johnny and Franklin aboard.

Returning to Sue, we find that she was days away from delivery by the time they made landfall on Arthros. From her perspective we see Franklin, now a 3-year old, continue to attend to his mother with growing concern. While she can’t explain it, Sue is sure that while Franklin is in the room, her pain is lessened. Despite being just 3, Franklin is so worried about his mom that he has created a pocket dimension in which he is siphoning off the radiation from his sister. Given that neither Sue, Johnny nor Franklin know what’s happening, they can’t account for it.

Reed and Johnny enter the throne room of Annihilus, the great lord of the Negative Zone. Ever pensive and paranoid, Annihilus is sure that the explorers have come to take his kingdom from them and, in classic Annihilus fashion, details the great power of his Cosmic Control Rod, assuring the duo that they are nothing to The Living Death That Walks! Reed tells us that he became instantly aware that the Cosmic Control Rod held the answer to saving both his wife and unborn child but that they needed to formulate a plan. Reed and Johnny throw themselves at the mercy of Annihilus, explaining they are merely a family of explorers from an alternate universe. Remembering how close he came to escaping the Negative Zone long ago, Annihilus allows the duo to return to their ship so he can plan his escape.

At this point, Ben explains, things were looking bad for Sue. Reed needed to make his play for the Cosmic Control Rod and needed to make it now. Johnny details how he alerted Reed to the apparent mobilization of Anninilus and his army of Borers. Annihilus is headed for the gateway and then Earth. Using Reeds hyperspace equation, the team jumped to the gateway, destroying it just as Annihilus arrives. A battle ensued that works as a showcase of the teams’ fantastic powers and their years of having worked together. With Annihilus defeated, Reed assures him that there will never be another gateway to his dimension as the design is in his mind. He makes a deal with Annihilus: hand over the Cosmic Control Rod long enough to heal Sue and the baby and Reed will make another gateway. Annihilus agrees. Sue is saved; Valeria is born. It’s now 2016 and the Fantastic Four realize they may never be going back.

Reed works night and day on the new gateway and time passes by. As the day approaches, Annihilus approches Reed who powers up the device. As the gateway opens and Annihilus and his army prepare to enter, the great bug king unleashes the power of the Cosmic Control Rod on Reed. As Johnny and Ben race to his side, Annihilus steps through the portal, ready to conquer a new universe. As he enters the threshold, an invisible and nearby Sue hatches the plan. The gateway changes color as Sue unleashes a powerful blast of concussive force onto Annihilus. As he staggers to his feet, we see him easily lifted from the ground. He’s still in the Negative Zone on Baluur and he’s now in the hands of Blastaar. His army of Borers is easily turned away with a little rock and fire and the family takes Reed back to the ship. They head back to the Blue Area of the Moon and approach Uatu who, despite his vow to only observe, helps restore Reed to health. Before they leave for Earth on July 3, 2o2o, Uatu uses his screens to reveal to them an impending threat to the time stream. It seems a bit silly, but this quick trip to Uatu’s lair proves crucial down the line. The Four head back to Earth and we are back to the beginning.

Post-Credit Scene #1: The family is back to the Baxter Building. Reed is hard at work trying to recall the mechanics of his one-time rival Victor von Doom’s Time Platform. As he reaches the breaking point, a portal opens in his lab and out steps a man Reed has not seen in a long, long time: his father, Nathaniel Richards. He explains he’s come from the future and that the heroes of Earth have to assemble to stop the time lord known as Kang.

Post-Credit Scene #2: Latveria. As Victor puts the finishing touches on his Time Platform, Reed and his father open a portal to his lab. Victor attacks the duo, but is easily put down by Nathaniel who tells him his Time Platform is outdated and sad. He then uses the technology of his suit to open a chronal portal and he, his son and Victor step through into Ancient Egypt.

Fan Cast: I’ve thought about this one quite a bit and I absolutely love this group. In this iteration, we won’t be seeing Ben Grimm at all as he’ll have been the Thing for quite some time; therefore, we only need someone to voice him and Adrien Brody is my guy!

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