Home Entertainment ‘The Fantastic Four’ Could Be the Fresh Start Marvel Needs, From an Epic Cast...

‘The Fantastic Four’ Could Be the Fresh Start Marvel Needs, From an Epic Cast to a (Possible) 1960s Setting

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Christopher Nolan recently proclaimed that the decision to hire Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark in “Iron Man” was “one of the most consequential casting decisions that’s ever been made in the history of the movie business.”

By the end of this decade, the same might be said for the four actors who were just cast as the titular superheroes in Marvel’s “The Fantastic Four”: Pedro Pascal, Vanessa Kirby, Joseph Quinn and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Like Downey, all of these actors have had recent experiences with big-budget productions — Pascal with “The Mandalorian” and “The Last of Us,” Kirby with the two most recent “Mission: Impossible” films, Quinn with “Stranger Things” and Moss-Bachrach with “Andor.” But, also like Downey, none of them have headlined their own studio action blockbuster before signing up with Marvel.

Downey, of course, proved to be such an electrifying presence as Iron Man that he propelled the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the next 11 years, appearing in 10 movies that have collectively earned $12.5 billion in global box office grosses before Stark died in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Since then, Downey’s absence has been acutely felt by Marvel fans, as has the loss of Chris Evans’ Captain America, who also took his (possibly) final bow in “Endgame.” Those two characters served as the yin and yang for the early MCU — Stark the brash, rakish genius; Cap the stalwart, aw shucks warrior — that became the franchise’s gravitational center. With the Guardians of the Galaxy breaking up, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor taking sabbaticals, and the deaths of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and, tragically, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, Marvel has been hurting for characters who can serve as the central anchor for the most successful movie franchise in Hollywood history. (With all due respect to Doctor Strange and Ant-Man, they’ve always worked best as potent side dishes rather than the main course.)

This new Fantastic Four could be those characters, as they finally step into the roles on the big screen that they’ve been playing in comic books since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first dreamed them up in 1961, launching the Marvel universe as we know it today. Reed Richards (Pascal) and Johnny Storm (Quinn) are like remixes of Stark and Cap — Reed’s Mr. Fantastic as the stalwart, aw shucks genius, Johnny’s Human Torch as the brash and rakish warrior. Sue’s Invisible Woman grows into one of the most impressive suites of powers in the Marvel canon, but unlike Captain Marvel or Scarlet Witch, she’s far more grounded, with Earth-bound, everyday concerns. And Ben Grimm (Moss-Bachrach) is walking pathos, a scrappy, good natured man stuck with the Thing’s seemingly monstrous body of orange boulders — he’s Hulk without the uncontrollable rage and Rocket without the antisocial misanthropy. 

Readers of Marvel comics know that these four characters have been integral to the ongoing Marvel universe — often at its very center. But while the “Fantastic 4” movies of the 2000s (with Evans playing Johnny) have their charms, it’s fair to say that Marvel’s First Family has never gotten the top shelf feature film adaptation that they deserve. (The less said about the 2015 reboot, the better.) Bringing them into the MCU is a win-win: Marvel gets the central characters it’s needed, plus the Fantastic Four get a cinematic home worthy of their importance in Marvel history. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Pascal, Kirby, Quinn and Moss-Bachrach are all wildly talented actors, either.

What is most tantalizing about Wednesday’s announcement, however, is the way Marvel went about it, with a playful illustration of the actors as their characters celebrating Valentine’s Day. From the retro title treatment, to the mid-century modern costumes and furniture, to the fact that Ben appears to be reading an issue of Life magazine from December 1963, it seems pretty clear that “The Fantastic Four” will be set in the 1960s.

More to the point, that suggests that “The Fantastic Four” will exist in a parallel universe separate from the core MCU — if there was a family of space age superheroes who were contemporaries of Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, we probably would’ve heard about them by now. Instead, Marvel appears to be using this film to give itself a literal fresh start, allowing audiences to walk into this movie without necessarily having to know anything about the 50-plus MCU titles that will precede it.

Of course, eventually, the Fantastic Four will join the main MCU — most likely in 2027’s “Avengers: Secret Wars,” which (if it follows the storyline from the 2015 comics run of the same name) will involve multiple parallel universes colliding with each other. That might lead to a brand new, semi-rebooted MCU with the Fantastic Four (and the X-Men, as suggested by the post-credits scene of “The Marvels”) at its center. 

After the roughest year in Marvel’s history, that is fantastic news, indeed.