Rumors have been swirling for a while about a possible re-boot of the Fantastic Four ala The Amazing Spider-Man. Considering Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Spider-Man 3 both came out in 2007, the timing seems a bit reasonable. Before I really dive in here, let me address the Tim Story Fantastic 4 movies. I feel like, especially at the time, they were not only good; they were also important. Why? Weren’t they a bit childish and more than a little silly? Exactly. In the grimy era in which every superhero thought drama was gritting their teeth like they were eternally constipated, the Fantastic 4 films dared to be fun and more than a little campy. God bless them. Without the Fantastic 4 films for some of the rest of us, the whole superhero world would have been plunged into quite a bit of darkness. Now, I know no one other than maybe the readers of this site will listen to me, but I have a few suggestions on this proposed re-boot.
I know that there is already a name bandied about for this one. However, there is also only one name that should really do this movie to make it a series of movies. That name is the one and only Brad Bird. Bird has shown that he can direct the superhero genre ( The Incredible ) as well as animated characters that no one thought had any use left ( Tom Cruise.) If you watch the extra features of The Incredibles, you will find a discussion that highlights why I love Brad Bird so much. There was supposed to be a scene in The Incredibles in which a pilot gets killed in the plane explosion in the air. Bird tells about how he loved the scene as well as wanting the scene in. However, he came to the decision that while he truly loved the scene, it elongated the story and did not make sense in the movie. The ability to objectively take out things that you love for the express purpose of storytelling is exactly what the Fantastic Four as well as the comic book genre as a whole needs. It is not in the works at the moment, but that does not mean that a future Fantastic Four movie could not benefit greatly from Bird’s involvement.
If Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy taught us anything, it is important to get the right actor and let them do the role. I always go back to a story told by Harrison Ford. Ford was talking to a studio exec in the 1970s and the exec told Ford he was not really cut out for movies. The exec said “I can watch Tony Curtis in a movie as a bag boy and say ‘That’s a movie star right there and I don’t see that in you.’” Ford responded ‘Well, that’s a horrible acting job.’ The exec was surprised and asked ‘Why?’ Ford responded ‘Well, you are supposed to sit in a theater and say ‘That’s a bag boy.’” I don’t want to beat up to much on Tom Cruise (ok yeah I do), but Tom Cruise mistakenly gave me a real revelation when he was promoting Mission Impossible III. Cruise said that you were going to see J. J. Abram’s “interpretation of the Mission Impossible franchise.” I have found this to be an interesting yet subtle difference in what I do as well as do not like. When Jim Carrey did the Riddler in Batman Forever, you did not see the Riddler. You saw ‘Jim Carrey playing the Riddler!’ I first realized that when I watched Face/Off in the theaters many years ago and during a gun sequence some one in the theater saw a gun shot and said “That’s John Woo.” Aren’t you supposed to think ‘That’s a gun shot.” Notice how everything that Tm Burton does seems to be “Tim Burton’s interpretation of …” In short, real cinema should not be about watching star director Andy Warhol show you how they would paint the Campbell’s soup cans. Let me watch a movie and be surprised when the credits roll and say ‘directed by Tim Burton.’ Sorry, got off on a little bit of a rant there, but you can get the general idea. Having said all of that, after careful consideration as well as his work history, the ideal Reed Richards as it stands in 2012 casting today is Ricky Schroder. Reed Richards is essentially a burned out child prodigy who is constantly trying to live up to image of what he could be. If you have never read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story The Birth-Mark, please do and do so immediately. Reed Richards is every bit the scientist in the Birth Mark. When his wife discovers his notebooks, she realized that all of that scientist’s advances were actually well short of what he was trying to do. Richards goes beyond what anyone in history could do, yet he is a failure in line with his goals. His cosmic rays experiments essentially mutate his own loved ones. Richards cannot cure The Thing. Schroder as shown in Return to Lonesome Dove and NYPD Blue has the ample chops as well as the personal history to give Richards a proper sense of gravitas.
Reading the Fantastic Four comic always seemed to me to be about a family as well as people that could only truly be great as part of a larger experience. People for whom that fact had been a hard pill to swallow. For Storm, you need a bit of a frat boy sensibility as well as just a touch of sadness that they are a hot shot that can only exist inside of a group effectively. Thus, a former hot property who has been somewhat reduced. I can really think of no better example than the now adult Haley Joel Osment. First of all, watching Osment and Schroder interact together is an intensely fascinating idea to me. You have the kid from The Silver Spoons mentoring the kid from The Sixth Sense as well as A. I. Osment was close to being Anakin Skywalker. Osment was close to being Harry Potter. In short, Osment was close to be being the biggest actor on the planet. There is a powerful sense of should have burned brighter there. I want to see all of that come out of him. Turn that emotion into an actual ability to explode into flame. Besides, these days Osment looks mostly like he is almost perpetually stoned (which is another attribute necessary to be Johnny Storm.)
Again, the general theme of my casting here is people that saw a moment in which they were the hottest thing on the planet and had to come through the rabbit hole onto the other side. There are girls who like dorks precisely because they can be a big fish swimming in a relatively small but very appreciative pond. For Sue Storm to truly be effective as a character, you don’t want the girl who is the hottest thing … now. You want the girl who is the hottest thing twice removed. On some level, you also want a girl who could be from Johnny Storm’s “awesome dude” DNA. By the way, you also need a girl that can act convincingly. That girl at the moment is former Austin Powers star Heather Graham. You want an actress who actually can identify with Sue Storm being a beautiful woman forced to display her power by going invisible. Off of The Spy Who Shagged Me, there was nothing that was not open to Graham. This was also the dream girl from License To Drive as well as the Skater Girl from Boogie Nights. Then? She has the dubious ‘honor’ of having a sitcom that lasted…. one episode. literally, almost overnight Graham went from everyone’s hottest fantasy to a dropping stone in FHM rankings. She is still gorgeous. She is still talented. She just sort of disappeared. This experience would truly encapsulate the dilemma that is the Invisible Girl.
You can almost see the upside down way in which I see the world when arguably the only true film star I am casting in this movie goes to the role of the Thing. However, there is only one actor working today that really will give you both Ben Grimm as well as The Thing. You need a sarcastic rock creature lighting up a stogie and making it look completely believable? Give me Vince Vaughn. Vaughn will give you Richards back up and frat brother. What you need out of Vaughan is not only a man, you need someone that is also unapologetically male. You want a guy who needs an ashtray … in space. What’s more, after he Things out, Vince Vaughn has that certain gruff Ben Grimm voice. Vaughn is also used to being on screen with other men and has done a lot of buddy comedy love/hate work. You need that to explore the dynamic of The Thing’s relationship with Johnny Storm. There is a lot of prankish behaviors and one liners going back and forth there. I will even admit that I am not a great fan of Vince Vaughn. I still believe he would be the right actor to play The Thing, though.
Doctor Doom is ideally a dark mirror to Reed Richards. If you put in Ricky Schroder as Reed Richards, why not actually cast someone who would be a dark mirror to Richards? That person is Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Look at the parallels. Gosselaar was a golden boy star. Gosselaar was on NYPD Blue. Gosselaar has struggled to get the respect of the acting as well as the viewing audience. It is important to me that the people doing the Fantastic Four be essentially on the same level. Emotionally, these characters are on the same level. They are all broken and have higher ambitions. There is a similar rage in Von Doom that is much more latent (but still present) in Richards. I see the Fantastic Four movie much like the wonderfully made Son of Frankenstein. In Son of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi was cast as the underling Ygor. Lugosi accepted the challenge. He wanted to prove that he was as good or a better actor than those around him which included Basil Rathbone as well as the rivalry with Boris Karloff. Lugosi is more famous for being Dracula but being the connoisseur of Universal horror that I am, I would argue that Ygor and not Dracula is the finest acting of Lugosi’s monster career. Doctor Doom would be a similar boon for Gosselaar. Put him among a group of his peers. Take him aside and say “I think you are a better actor than anyone else on this set.” Every scene is a personal challenge to you to prove that you have the best role and are the best actor here. I guarantee you a defining film villain that will give you chills on the level of Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger, or Hannibal Lecter. I have that much faith in Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
As a few one offs here, I would cast cameos with Michael Rosenbaum as the Silver Surfer, James Earl Jones as the voice of Galactus, and Laurence Fishburne as T’Challa or The Black Panther. Just allow that to kind of marinate around in your brain for a while. Like I said, I don’t think that any of this will come to pass but hopefully it will help you imagine the type of movie that this should be.