Ahead of a potential merger with Disney, Fox executives are moving full steam ahead on some potential X-Men films.
Marvel fans who thought December’s Disney/20th Century Fox merger announcement meant an Avengers vs. X-Men film was on the immediate horizon may be disappointed. A new piece in The Hollywood Reporter describes an atmosphere at Fox that seems somewhat less than submissive. Executives aren’t clearing the pieces out of the way for a Kevin Feige-spearheaded MCU reboot; they’re adding new pieces to the board. They’re in the midst of restructuring next year’s The New Mutants, with plans to add an entirely new character in reshoots this summer. They remain stubbornly determined to make Channing Tatum’s Gambit happen in the wake of Gore Verbinski’s departure. And on top of all that, they’re finding the time to secretly develop a Silver Surfer film from iconic writer Brian K. Vaughn.
Like Sony’s long-gestating Venom project, the idea of a Silver Surfer movie dates back to an entirely different era of superhero filmmaking. In the wake of 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Alex Proyas entered negotiations to direct a spin-off featuring Doug Jones’ iteration of the character, but he ended up turning it down. Proyas later blamed a bad experience directing Fox’s I, Robot on the collapse of the project, but he also cited those ever-popular creative differences, complaining about the treatment the character received in Rise of the Silver Surfer:“It’s like the origin of Silver Surfer was in that movie, and I’m going, ‘This is such a f–king great story, why throw it away?’…I think they messed it up.”
Tim Story’s film had little confidence in its audience’s ability to stomach the weirdness of the best Surfer stories, shying away from one of the most important elements of the character, his servitude to Galactus, the planet devourer. Even Story himself came to agree. When he spoke to ScreenCrush in 2014, he had this to say about his film’s depiction of Galactus: “I think the studio also had a little fear of what that was going to be. I think to a certain degree; we shied away from it because of that.”
In 2007, Galactus was a weird, intimidating character to tackle, a giant planet-eating space god wearing a huge purple hat. Like the Surfer himself, he was a vintage Jack Kirby creation, something bizarre and cosmic that defied simple description. At a time when the weirdest superhero movies were also the biggest flops, studio notes forced Galactus into a bland, easily digestible box. When Fantastic Four 2 depicted him as a giant ugly space cloud, fans were incensed, and the film’s disappointing box office killed the franchise for a good eight years.
Bringing the Surfer back to the silver screen might be a better bet in 2018 than it was in 2007, however. Story agrees. In another excerpt from his ScreenCrush interview, he added that “you have to commit to it — commit 100 percent and don’t be apologetic about it. And I think that’s what Marvel is doing so well now: They’re going 100 percent for it. They don’t apologize for it — capes and color and powers! That’s what the audience wants today.”
Indeed, in a post-Rocket Raccoon world, a chrome surfer badass and his giant purple boss now seem positively tame by comparison. Whatever its other faults, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has opened the doors for the best parts of comic book weirdness to come pouring into cinemas. The Marvel movies aren’t ashamed of the silliest parts of their source material; instead, they embrace them. Doctor Strange did an admirable job adapting Jack Kirby’s trippiest panels for the big screen, and there’s no reason to think that a talented filmmaker couldn’t do the same for the Silver Surfer.
Assuming Silver Surfer stays cosmic and avoids an R-rating, it could even end up retconned into the MCU. The same goes for the Doctor Doom film currently being written by Legion showrunner Noah Hawley. If Marvel wants to grow quickly without sacrificing its reputation for quality control, it might do well to borrow a little from these final days of Fox’s franchise tenure.