The Story of The 60’s Period Piece Fantastic Four Movie That Never Was

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The Fantastic Four

Marvel Comics

This weekend a small group of people will come out of Ant-Man, thinking, “What would’ve Edgar Wright’s version been like?” What they should really be asking is, “What would’ve Peyton Reed’s Fantastic Four looked like?” Over a decade ago the director behind Ant-Man, Down with Love, and Bring it On was attached to helm the superhero movie at Fox, before Tim Story (Ride Along) stepped in to helm the forgettable 2005 film.

In the 10 years since that Fantastic Four film the superhero genre has come a long way. Story’s picture is incredibly dated, both as a movie and a comic book adaptation. It’s a goofy and as light as a gum wrapper. With Josh Trank’s dour reboot coming up, hopefully Fox finally gets these characters right. As much as new interpretations are welcomed, it’s still a little disappointing we’re getting a dark Fantastic Four movie, when the stories themselves are often so much fun. Maybe Trank’s film will be fun its own way, but it doesn’t appear to have the appeal of the comics, which Reed clearly understands.

Ant-Man, tonally, hits the sweet spot – taking its drama and conflicts seriously enough, but also knowing audiences want to see a dude flying around on an Ant. “I think there are a lot of tonal similarities,” Reed says, comparing Ant-Man and the vision he had for Fantastic Four. “Visually, one of the things we always talked about – and this was 2003 – was The Fantastic Four as daytime superheroes. They don’t have secret identities. They’re very much a part of the fabric of Manhattan. In that universe, if you go to New York to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty or the Baxter Building, it was all a part of that. We talked about it being a ’60s period movie, but Fox at the time was not into it.”

“Audiences don’t want to see period pieces” is one of those studio notes that never ceases to die, so it’s not surprising Fox wasn’t into a Fantastic Four movie set in the 1960s. Reed, however, did have an idea for how to modernize the characters – by make them super stars. “We wanted to do a structure that was like A Hard Day’s Night,” he explains. “At the beginning of a working day in Manhattan, you’re in line at Starbucks and someone runs in, ‘Hey, the Fantastic Four is fighting right around the corner!’ People run out of Starbucks and the camera flies around the corner to this splash page imagery, where the Human Torch is flying, The Thing is fighting, and it’s just chaos. Really, Joss’ first Avengers movie had that feel – it’s broad daylight. There was a time when you just didn’t have the technology, so a lot of those fights took place at night. We thought having it take place in the city during the day would’ve been a lot of fun. They were kind of modern celebrities. There were a lot of different versions of it, but that was a movie I really wanted to make.”

Luckily for Reed, though, if he did make Fantastic Four, he probably never would’ve directed Ant-Man. As Reed calls it, this was a “long con” to get to where he is today. Some of the ideas Reed mentions hadn’t been done around 2005, so it sounds like we would’ve seen a truly original superhero movie. As for the upcoming reboot, Reed is hopeful. “I’m psyched to see Josh Trank’s movie,” he says. “I’m a huge fan of Chronicle. I know nothing about the new Fantastic Four, except for the ads everybody has seen. I hope it’s good. I want all of these movies to be good.”

Ant-Man opens in theaters July 17th.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.