This article contains Fantastic Four spoilers.
Alright, so the new Fantastic Four movie is a disappointment. It’s bland, has an aura of studio meddling and last-minute editing all over it, and it strips the characters of any and all recognizable Marvel mythology.
Or does it?
Surprisingly, there are a number of Marvel Comics references and easter eggs hidden throughout the new Fantastic Four movie. While it never approaches Marvel Studios levels of fan service, if you know where to look, it’s there.
Primarily, this new Fantastic Four movie is influenced less by the absolutely essential Stan Lee and Jack Kirby 102 issue creative run on the comics, and far more by Ultimate Fantastic Four by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Andy Kubert, Stuart Immonen, and others.
To be clear, when The Fantastic Four comic debuted in 1962 (and despite the franchise’s lousy luck in cinemas, make no mistake, this is the comic that started the Marvel age of comics, and is arguably the most important book of its era), the team were fully grown adults. Well, except for Johnny, who was always a teenager. It was Ultimate Fantastic Four that de-aged the team, and that’s primarily the version that you see in this film.
So, let’s start at the beginning…of the movie. Not in 1962. We’ll touch on that stuff, too, don’t worry.
– The scenes of Reed Richards and Ben Grimm hanging out in Reed’s garage while he builds an inter-dimensional transporter comes right out of Ultimate Fantastic Four #1. To be fair, in the comics, they’re already in high school when this happens. In the comics, Reed already knows he’s on to interdimensional travel, while in the film, he just thinks he’s moving stuff from one part of our world to another.
– The dismissive science teacher who ridicules Reed’s teleportation idea makes a crack about Reed’s “flying car.” While that may sound ridiculous, that’s something that the Reed of the comics absolutely goes on to perfect…
…this baby was called the Fantasticar, by the way.
– Reed’s frustrated, sports fan Dad also comes from Ultimate Fantastic Four #1. Reed’s strained relationship with his father is alluded to several times in the movie, as well.
– The science fair scene also (more or less) comes out of that first issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four, and Reed sends a model car away, not a borrowed model plane. But we had already seen him teleport a model car earlier in the film, so it’s close enough!
– The main platform of Reed’s teleportation device does look faintly like something Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby would have designed, as does the larger machine they use later on.
– They did make sure that Ben Grimm is Jewish in this movie. Ben’s Jewish heritage was implied but never explored until 2002 (in Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #56 by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen) which seems absurd when you consider how many of the most important creators of the art form’s early decades were Jewish…notably Stanley Martin Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby).
The brother who smacks him around here is named Jimmy Grimm, and that’s where Ben’s “it’s clobberin’ time” comes from. In the comics, Ben had an older brother named Daniel, who died young because of gang violence. I’m not sure if the movie’s Jimmy Grimm is hanging with a tough crowd or if he’s just a douchebag.
Tim Blake Nelson’s “Dr. Allen” government liaison was initially said to be Harvey Elder, the awkward scientist who would become the Mole Man, the first foe that the Fantastic Four ever took on. I’m not sure if this was something that was changed in the course of the film’s production.
Anyway, here’s the Mole Man, who Tim Blake Nelson most certainly isn’t playing.
Maybe in the next one? Assuming there is a next one, of course.
Johnny Storm’s fascination with fast cars is straight out of the comics, where the young Human Torch took advantage of his celebrity status with a parade of awesome cars. Basically, the Johnny Storm you see on screen, the one who revels in his powers rather than viewing them as a curse, is very much the Johnny from the comics.
Note the fire flower from Super Mario Bros. hanging from his rearview mirror. It’s a nice touch. The flame motif pops up again on his welding facemask later on.
Also, the tune that Johnny is cranking in his car is crucial tune, “Standing in the Shadows of Love” by…the Fantastic Four of soul, The Four Tops.
– And yes, he does say “flame on!” when he activates the containment suit that controls his Human Torch form.
– Note that the Human Torch is technically the very first Marvel character. The original Human Torch was the lead feature in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939, where he was Jim Hammond, an android who could burst into flame.
– The Jim Hammond Human Torch shows up in the background of Marvel Studios flick, Captain America: The First Avenger, too. Unless FOX pulls a Sony with the FF rights after this movie, that’s as close as we’re ever going to get to seeing Captain America and the Human Torch in the same movie.
– I find it interesting that Sue Storm is listening to Portishead during her first meeting with Reed. Not just because Portishead is awesome (they are), but because Portishead singer Beth Gibbons always bore a certain resemblance to classic depictions of Sue Storm, while the band, despite achieving considerable success, only toured and released albums infrequently. Almost as if they were…invisible.
– Also, they kind of flipped the usual Reed/Sue dynamic, here. In the comics, she’s the one falling all over herself for Reed’s attention, while here, Reed is kind of the puppy dog.
– The Baxter Building is present and accounted for, and it’s basically as it is in either version of the FF continuity.
Because I’m a total dork for this kind of stuff, here’s a cool Jack Kirby-designed look inside the comic book Baxter Building…
Alright, back to the important stuff….
– Victor Von Doom is kind of a cross between the Ultimate version and his depiction in his first appearance in Fantastic Four #5 back in 1962. He’s a brilliant but arrogant college kid, and there’s a hint of a foreign accent in Kebbel’s delivery at times. In both, he starts off as a friend of the young team, before anyone has powers.
Check him out in his younger days…
In the original Fantastic Four comics, Victor’s “origin” took place years before the rest of the team’s. In the Ultimate version, things play out a little closer to how they do in this movie, with everyone getting their powers at more or less the same time. More on that in a minute, though…
– You can see in his paperwork that his home country is listed as Latveria. In the comics, that’s the nation that Doom becomes the sovereign ruler of. He’s a dictator, but generally treats his people alright. It’s the rest of the world he’s a gigantic metal dick to.
– Movie Victor also displays a fondness for hoodies like his comic book counterpart.
– I kind of feel like his automated video game nerd lair is a hint of things to come for him, too. In the comics, he builds himself an army of Doombots, so Victor’s flair for robotics here could pay off in future movies. Assuming, of course, they ever actually do make Fantastic Four 2.
As for Doom’s “final form” well…
– This is very much the Ultimate version of Doctor Doom. While comic book Doom was scarred by an explosion and then sealed himself inside of a suit of armor (Darth Vader style) and taught himself magic, movie/Ultimate Doom is transformed by the extra-dimensional energies and dresses in rags. In other words, that’s not a suit of armor.
Now, let’s talk about why the FF origin story needed to be updated…
In Fantastic Four #1, the team undertook a secret nighttime mission to be the first Americans in space, because they had to do it before the Russians got there. This is hilariously outdated for many reasons, hence the interdimensional travel aspect of modern retellings.
On the other hand, the movie does a nice job here of indicating why they feel they need to use this untested technology in such a way. They aren’t racing the Russians or some other foreign power, they’re racing the US Government, who will otherwise take all the glory. Adding in the fact that they’re a little drunk when they come to that decision is a nice touch, and makes considerably more sense given the context.
Now, let’s talk about that other dimension for a few minutes, shall we?
– While it’s called “Planet Zero” in the film, I’m certain that planet resides in Marvel Comics fictional realm, The Negative Zone.
The Negative Zone was originally discovered by Reed Richards in Fantastic Four #61 (1966), and became the source of the team’s powers in the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics years later. Since that streamlined origin story is what the rest of this movie is working off of, that’s what we have here, too.
– The green energy that courses through the planet might just be a design choice, but it’s also reminiscent of insectoid FF villain (and Negative Zone conqueror), Annihilus…a character that really, really needs to make it to the movies somehow. Like all the best FF stuff, Annihilus was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He first appeared in Fantastic Four Annual #6 in 1968.
– Reed always held himself responsible for Ben Grimm’s transformation into The Thing, and the resentment that Ben holds against Reed for not finding a cure fast enough is straight out of the earliest Fantastic Four comics.
But Reed’s literal failure to save Doom from disfigurement is also tied in here. In the original comics, Reed held himself responsible for Victor’s disfigurement in an explosion, even though he really had very little to do with it. There’s a hint of that here, with Reed failing to pull Victor up fast enough as the Negative Zone energy engulfs and disfigures him.
– Area 57 does not have a Marvel Comics counterpart. However, this may serve a larger, Marvel-related purpose in relation to the film. The producers of this movie have gone back and forth as to whether or not Fantastic Four takes place in the same world as 20th Century Fox’s OTHER superhero franchise, the X-Men. Obviously, a shared universe makes the FF more marketable, but it’s tough to consider the FF “special” if they’re new to a world that is so used to mutants already.
Area 57 might just be the escape clause for that. By keeping the team secluded, only operating either as covert government ops or in another dimension, it removes them from the X-Men’s playing field for the purposes of the story, but also offers a handy explanation as to why nobody has ever heard of them.
On the other hand, the FF producers are quickly backtracking on the idea that this team exists in the same universe as the X-Men franchise. While Area 57 might have been an escape clause, the fact that the film is underperforming might mean that Fox doesn’t want to taint their far more successful X-Men franchise with the FF right now.
– Reg E. Cathey as Franklin Storm is a bright spot in the film. You know that awful moment when he dies in front of his kids? Yeah…they did that to him in the comics, too. It wasn’t Doom who fried him, though…it was a Skrull.
– There is no official Stan Lee cameo in this movie, but Johnny does call off screen to an Area 57 tech assisting in his power trials, and refers to him as “Stan.”
– At the end of the movie, the team is given a remote mountain facility that their new liaison refers to as “Central City.” Before it was determined that most Marvel Comics would take place in New York City, the Fantastic Four’s base of operations was referred to as Central City in Fantastic Four #1.
– The very end, with the team deciding what to call themselves also seems to come from that very first issue…
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!
Mike Cecchini really hopes that someday, somebody can get the FF right on screen. He can tell you all about it on Twitter.