Stand up comedian - improviser - writer
  • My Pitch For: Marvel's Fantastic Four (on Netflix)

    Thu 06 Aug 2015  ·  2:51AM
    As I write this sentence, it is the day before Fox officially releases its Josh Trank-helmed reboot of the Fantastic Four. It has been a troubled production (to say the least), with rumours of heavy reshoots, "controversial" casting choices (ooh, they're young, aren't they?), and finally, a studio-imposed embargo on all reviews until earlier this evening. THE NIGHT BEFORE IT'S RELEASED?! These are not encouraging signs, and having read some of the early reviews, it sounds as though Fox wanted them last-minute for a reason. The highest rating I've seen has been 3 stars (out of 5), with 2 stars being the average. I will, most likely go to see the film in a week or so to verify this for myself, but reviewers who I trust (Mark Ellis from the Schmoes Know & Collider Movie Talk for one) have implied that the film isn't great (nor even very good), and this does pose the question... "What next for Marvel's First Family?"

    A sequel was already meant to be lined up at Fox, but if this film doesn't do well, would they really forge ahead with something that could lose them millions? As a fan, in a truly ideal world, I'd hope that Fox give up on the property, and let the rights revert to Marvel Studios. Fox have had three goes at FF now, and none of them have made the earth move. This would allow them to focus on what they're good at: the X-Men. Deadpool (the trailers for which dropped today) looks sensational, and Bryan Singer has never made anything less than a great X-Men film, so I have high-hopes for Apocalypse. I'm also excited for Gambit and the (apparently final) Wolverine film, so Fox has stuff to be getting on with, and no shortage of mutant characters to draw from.

    However, if Marvel did get the rights back, what would they do with them? Their movie slate is full up until 2019, and that seems like a long time to go without introducing the Fantastic Four to the MCU. Yet, they've just announced a deal with Netflix, that they intend to produce a new Marvel series every six months (with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil Season 2, and The Defenders already announced), and it strikes me that an episodic, 10 hour event would probably suit the Fantastic Four better than a single movie, anyway. So, with that in mind, Here's my pitch for:

    The first thing to bear in mind about the FF is this: they're NOT the Avengers. They're not even superheroes, really. They're explorers; scientists and innovators, blessed/cursed by a body-horror transformation. Once they gain their powers, they don't actively seek out injustice to fight, but they do help out where they can. For this reason, the show should be about their attempts to make a better world through advancement, despite, essentially, being Hammer Horror-esque monsters.

    The advantage of putting them on Netflix is you can introduce them quickly to the Marvel Universe in their own show, and really take the time to get to know both them, and one of Marvel's best villains - Doctor Doom - before using them as prominent supporting cast in the films. You'd be able to add Reed Richards to the Science Bros brain trust of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, T'Challa, and Peter Parker, and provide extra muscle for the Avengers in a reduced capacity (the same way as War Machine was used in Age of Ultron - there to help, but not a major influence on the narrative).

    Next step, casting. I'd get back to basics, and make Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, and Victor Von Doom all 40-50 years old (they should approximately be contemporaries of each other), Sue Storm 25-35 (she was always younger than Reed in the comics - he'd done VERY well for himself), and Johnny Storm would be 20-30 (remember, he's meant to be close friends with Spider-Man, who is now set to be 16 in the MCU, so anything older would be a tad creepy). So, these are my fan-casting choices:

    REED RICHARDS: Josh Radnor
    Ok, I'll wait until you're done laughing... But seriously, Mr Fantastic shouldn't be overtly handsome (I'm looking at you Ioan Gruffudd & Miles Teller), but still good-looking enough to catch Sue Storm's eye. He's a scientist; smart & focused - he doesn't worry too much about his appearance or his public perception, because he'd rather be in his lab working than outside fighting super-villains. He's a leader when he has to be, a loving husband, and approachable despite being the smartest man in the room (or most rooms, at least). I believe the How I Met Your Mother star can deliver all that, and - as his hair's starting to grey a little now - he even looks like Reed Richards! (Side note, my short-list also included Adam Scott, Alexis Denisof, and Justin Bartha, but ultimately, Radnor was the one that jumped out at me).

    SUE STORM: Yvonne Strahovski
    Strahovski actually remains my first choice for Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel, but I keep hearing people say that Marvel are looking for someone with "a higher profile than Emily Blunt" (who I would've said was pretty high-profile anyway, but it seems Charlize Theron is the predominant rumour, at time of writing), so I guess Strahovski's not in the running for that role, any more.
    I love this woman. I think she's incredible. Chuck (which I watched for the first time this year, and will EVENTUALLY get around to writing a blog about) has become one of my favourite ever Television Shows, and her chemistry with Zachary Levi was unbelievable. Sarah Walker was a really kick-ass character, that still had opportunity to be vulnerable, and I think those qualities makes her ideal for Invisible Woman. Plus, she's a natural blonde, which is more than you can say for Jessica Alba or Kate Mara...

    JOHNNY STORM: Sterling Knight I have to admit, I haven't seen this kid do very much - mostly 17 Again, where he did a perfectly reasonable job as Zac Efron/Matthew Perry's son - I googled "actors under 30" to find someone for this role, and his face jumped out. Plus, his name is STERLING KNIGHT - how cool is that?!
    If I was casting a Fantastic Four show, and I was looking through different actors' head-shots, I'd very quickly get him in to audition, because he looks like what I want Johnny Storm to look like (and no, I don't mean, "because he's white". I've got no problem with Michael B Jordan playing Johnny in the reboot - if anything, I actually wish they'd cast a black actress to play Sue, as well, rather than go to the effort of her being adopted; seemed daft to me to cast two people of different races to play characters who are famously siblings).
    Knight is young enough to be Yvonne Strahovski's little brother, old enough to carry himself with the cockiness/hot-headedness of Johnny Storm, and baby-faced enough that you could see him on screen next to Tom Holland without it being jarring. Plus, HE'S CALLED STERLING KNIGHT.

    BEN GRIMM: Michael Shanks
    This was probably the most difficult one to cast, because - as unpopular as those Tim Story films were - I still think Michael Chiklis was pretty damn awesome as The Thing. Michael Shanks is a similar age to Josh Radnor, though perhaps more conventionally handsome than him, which I think is a very interesting quality for Ben Grimm (he is the most permanently/extensively transformed by his powers of the group). For him to go from being the most handsome member of the group to a hulking Rock monster would make for a fascinating adaption process and character transition, especially if you portray pre-transformation Grimm as a bit of a ladies man. That would all factor into his grouchy-vibe, as The Thing.
    Shanks, of course, has already played a brooding superhero before, as he portrayed Hawkman in five episodes of Smallville - and I actually like what he did with it (though I know some didn't - I think that might've been more to do with the costume than Shanks' performance though). He's also got a deep enough voice to play The Thing without too much modulation being required.

    VICTOR VON DOOM: Rufus Sewell
    Rufus Sewell is one of my favourite actors. He's an excellent villain (considering he has relatively little screen time) in A Knight's Tale, and he's hilarious as Petruchio in the BBC's ShakespeaRe-Told adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, to name but two things. When you consider that Doctor Doom generally wears a metal mask, you need an actor with incredibly strong and engaging eyes to portray him. Sewell's also incredibly charismatic, as you would need to be to become leader of your country, and he carries himself in a manor that says "I'm already seven moves ahead of you".

    So, there's the major players in place. Now, here's (the start, at least, of) my pitch for the story.

    Marvel's The Fantastic Four

    We begin in Flashback. It's 2015. Ultron is attacking Sokovia, and the Avengers are doing their best to fight back. During the battle, part of the city is destroyed when a sizable portion of it is raised from the ground by Ultron's machine, and then dropped onto the land below. While this is happening, a local scientist is doing his best to protect as many people as he can, with a rudimentary energy shield he's been working on. He shelters as many people as he can inside his laboratory building, but as the the city falls from the sky, huge amounts of rubble hit the lab, knocking out the energy shield, and killing several of those sheltered within, including the Doctor's wife, Latisha. As she lays dying, he promises her that no-one else will ever be killed in their country, if he can prevent it. With her final breath, she replies, "You shouldn't promise what you cannot do, Victor, but I know you will do great things..."

    Two years later, and Doctor Victor von Doom has done what he promised to his wife. He rallied the people of Sokovia, using his scientific skills to grow high-yield crops, secure the countries borders with robotic drones (using pieces of tech left over from Ultron's drones), and utilising other drones to help rebuild housing throughout the city. His philanthropy has earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, and he's been elected as the country's new President.

    In New York, scientist Reed Richards is attempting to raise funding for an expedition into space, by demonstrating to potential backers a new energy shield he's perfected to guard his space shuttle against cosmic radiation. He deploys the shield over the skyscraper that includes his laboratory - the Baxter Building - and demonstrates that the shield can withstand any form of attack (by having his associate Ben Grimm fire a bazooka at the building). While impressed, nobody agrees to fund Richards' voyage, but news of the shield technology brings him to the attention of Victor von Doom.

    von Doom travels to New York to meet with Richards, and agrees a deal to buy the shield technology from him, in exchange for the funding required for Reed's space mission. A reluctant Richards warns him that the shield prototype hasn't been tested on an area larger than a single building, and that any wider deployment could destabilise the containment unit. von Doom assures Reed he's up to the task of making the alterations, and returns to Sokovia with the shield technology.

    Reed gathers his team together, which includes astronaut Ben Grimm, Reed's fiancée Sue Storm, and her brother Johnny (Reed is reluctant to let the latter two join them, but Sue persuades him that they should go too. After all, "Aliens and killer robots keep invading Earth, so how much worse could things be in space?").
    They set off on their mission, but the ship is bombarded by cosmic radiation far stronger than anything Reed had calculated for. They crash land on an alien planet, where their abilities begin to manifest. Reed repairs the ship, and Ben pilots them home in a ship shielded by Sue's new abilities, and powered by Johnny's heat to fuel the engines.

    While they've been away, Victor has attempted to deploy the shield over the whole of Sokovia, but the device explodes, scarring his face, and leaving him in a coma. When he wakes, he blames Reed for his injuries, and redoubles his efforts to expand his countries defenses, while removing any personal vulnerabilities he may have had left. He transforms himself into the armoured tyrant, Doctor Doom, convinced that he's protecting his people by forcing them to follow his laws. He renames the country Latveria, in honour of his late wife.

    As Reed's expedition returns to Earth, they set about testing the limits of their new abilities. Only Ben considers his transformation to be a curse, and despite Reed's best efforts, he can't reverse Ben's transformation. Ben is contacted by Doom, who tells him that Latverian science may be able to reverse the effects of the radiation. Ben travels to Doom's castle, unaware that he's being lured into a trap, designed to bring Reed Richards to Latveria so that Doom can seek revenge on his own sovereign soil.
    - - -
    That's all I've got so far plot-wise, but there's a few other details/potential easter eggs that I thought of.

    • Sue Storm's favourite movie is The Invisible Man, starring Claude Rains. Before she even gets her powers, Johnny remarks to her, "are you watching that, again?" What the film is would never be explicitly stated, but the television would be showing it in the background.
    • Upon returning to earth, Director Coulson's SHIELD team quarantines the group to check for signs of latent radiation that could harm the populous of New York City.
    • Fitz & Simmons provide the stretchy fabric for The Thing's blue trousers, based on Bruce Banner's design.
    • You can see Avengers Tower from Reed's lab window.
    • In the last episode, Captain America approaches the group, asking whether they'd be willing to join the Avengers. They accept reserve membership only; saying they'll be there if they're needed. As he's leaving, Cap turns to Johnny Storm and comments, "You look a lot like me when I was younger..." (obviously a reference to the fact that Chris Evans played Johnny Storm in the Tim Story films).
    • The series would end with Sue asking Reed where he wants to travel next; "Y'know," he says, thoughtfully, "over 70% of the world's ocean mass has never been explored..." This could potentially set up Namor for the second season (IP Issues, not withstanding).

    So that seems like a reasonable starting point. The rest of the series could be about them adapting to their powers and learning to be heroes in their own right, even if they don't set out to be. The most important thing would be that they don't depose Doom. He must remain in power as an ongoing threat, so they'd have to find a reason to form a truce. Perhaps Doom redevelops his shield technology only for it to open a portal to the negative zone, and Latveria is attacked by alien beings that the Fantastic Four help defeat; who knows? If Marvel pay me some money I'll take the time to work out the rest for them!

    If the rights do revert to Marvel, it'd open up a lot of story possibilities within the MCU, as they'd regain Galactus & Silver Surfer, along with the five characters listed here, and where do you go after Thanos has been defeated, other than to a giant space being who feeds on planets? (What's that? Skrull invasion? Yeah, ok, reasonable point...)