Could Adam Driver save the Fantastic Four movie franchise from its poisoned chalice position in the MCU?

With rumours abound that Adam Driver is set to be cast in an MCU Fantastic Four movie, has the franchise taken too many hits to become popular once again?

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Is Adam Driver joining the MCU? That’s the current rumours doing the rounds online overnight, as pop culture news scooper Daniel Richtman posted on his Patreon that the House of Mouse have suggested the Star Wars actor make a short leap over to the MCU side of the Disney offices. Though names like Diego Luna and Penn Badgley were also thought to be in line for the role, it’s Richtman’s use of the words “final talks” that seems to have indicated this will be our new Reed Richards - Mr. Fantastic - in the forthcoming Fantastic Four movie. 

Some comic book fans out there might now reel back in horror over the casting decision, and that’s not because of a resistance towards Adam Driver being cast as Mr. Fantastic, played over the years by Ioan Gruffudd and fan-favourite John Krasinski is a small cameo role. But it has more to do with the success of previous Fantastic Four adaptations, or the lack of success when it comes to critical appraisal and its position amongst the Marvel fandom.

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Perhaps the omen regarding adapting the popular comic book series should have been predicted much earlier than the 2005 film, which has the distinction of being one of the first Marvel characters Chris Evans played, cast as Johnny Storm before becoming a titan in the MCU as Captain America. The rights to option a Fantastic Four movie dates back to an initial meeting in 1983, when German producer Bernd Eichinger met with the late Stan Lee to discuss optioning a film based around Mr. Fantastic, Mrs. Fantastic, Johnny Storm and The Thing - however it wasn’t until 1986 that the project started to gain traction. 

However, there would be interest later in the decade from both Warner Bros. Pictures and Columbia Pictures, budget concerns ahead of any production, and with the option scheduled to expire on December 31 1992, the original option holders decided to undertake a quick film production in order to retain the rights to the property. Eichinger teamed up with B-movie king Roger Corman, who agreed to produce the film on a $1 million budget, to be released by his distribution company New Horizons Pictures.

But the film was never released; despite the world premiere being announced to take place at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, on January 19, 1994, with proceeds from the event earmarked for the charities Ronald McDonald House and Children's Miracle Network, the premiere was halted with the actors receiving a cease and desist orders on all promotion from the producers, and the studio confiscated the negatives.

The movie poster for the unreleased 1994 movie based on the Fantastic Four (Credit: Constantin Film)The movie poster for the unreleased 1994 movie based on the Fantastic Four (Credit: Constantin Film)
The movie poster for the unreleased 1994 movie based on the Fantastic Four (Credit: Constantin Film)

It would later transpire that the reason for this was that the film itself was never going to see a wide release, and as confirmed in an interview with Stan Lee in 2005, the reason the production took place was to ensure that Eichinger could retain the rights and possibly sell them at a premium to bigger film studios. 

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"That movie was never supposed to be shown to anybody,” Stan Lee stated during his interview with Los Angeles in March 2005, while Eichinger and Corman still maintain that they had a contract to release it, but Eichinger was bought out of the contract. Eichinger recalls a conversation with then Marvel executive Avi Arad, who would later become the founder of Marvel Studios: “[he] calls me up and says, "Listen, I think what you did was great, it shows your enthusiasm for the movie and the property, and ... I understand that you have invested so-and-much, and Roger has invested so-and-much. Let's do a deal." 

“Because he really didn't like the idea that a small movie was coming out and maybe ruining the franchise.... So he says to me that he wants to give me back the money that we spent on the movie and that we should not release it.” Though the movie has had one or two special screenings, it’s fair to say that given a new MCU reboot of the franchise coming out would make a wider release a little less easier considering it’s status as a B-movie.

Fantastic Four - Round Two

Actor Chris Evans, actress Jessica Alba and actor Chichal Chiklis pose for photographers during the Japan Premiere of "Fantastic Four" on September 6, 2005 in Tokyo, Japan. The film will open on September 17. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)Actor Chris Evans, actress Jessica Alba and actor Chichal Chiklis pose for photographers during the Japan Premiere of "Fantastic Four" on September 6, 2005 in Tokyo, Japan. The film will open on September 17. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
Actor Chris Evans, actress Jessica Alba and actor Chichal Chiklis pose for photographers during the Japan Premiere of "Fantastic Four" on September 6, 2005 in Tokyo, Japan. The film will open on September 17. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Eichinger would get his chance to try again and release a Fantastic Four film, this time assisted with a larger budget (estimated to have been between $80 million to $100 million, peanuts compared to the MCU budgets as of late) and the backing of the new Marvel Studios, set up by Arid, and 20th Century Fox, who also happened to pick up the rights to the X-Men franchise to great success. 

This time around, the main characters were played by some of pop culture’s more familiar faces rather than Jay Underwood from the 1992 unreleased film. Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis after his success with television series The Shield, Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd and Chris Evans. Despite being a success at the box office, critically it was panned with a current rating of 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. The site's critical consensus reads, "Marred by goofy attempts at wit, subpar acting, and bland storytelling, Fantastic Four is a mediocre attempt to bring Marvel's oldest hero team to the big screen."

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Despite the critical mauling, those box office figures proved that there was an interest in the superhero team movie and given the continued success of another Marvel franchise, X-Men, in terms of box office numbers and general critical appraisal, the team decided to roll the dice once again with a sequel two years later. 

This time the threat wasn’t from Dr. Victor von Doom (played in the 2005 movie by Nip/Tuck actor Julian McMahon), but instead from the world eater Galacticus, who’s arrival on each planet is heralded by the Silver Surfer, voiced by Laurence Fishburne. The budget to accommodate the special effects required for Silver Surfer alone led to a production cost of between $120–130 million, the film once again topped the box office and made $330 million USD in the process. Critical evaluation was a little better than the first film - however with an aggregate score of 37% on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics were only just more receptive this time around. While the special effects were commended, critics felt it suffered from the same problem the 2005 movie had - a lack of depth, weak storytelling and overly formulaic. 

Fantastic Four - Round Three

The superhero buzz died off for a few years until Robert Downey Jr stepped in to play Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man and practically kickstarted a new golden age of superhero cinema in 2008. People flocked to any MCU franchise between the years of 2008 and 2015, which is when the then 20th Century Fox decided to take the franchise off the shelf and have another stab at turning the franchise into a popular entry into the shortly over-swamped superhero genre.

Actors Jamie Bell, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, and Michael B. Jordan attend the New York premiere of "Fantastic Four" at Williamsburg Cinemas on August 4, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)Actors Jamie Bell, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, and Michael B. Jordan attend the New York premiere of "Fantastic Four" at Williamsburg Cinemas on August 4, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Actors Jamie Bell, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, and Michael B. Jordan attend the New York premiere of "Fantastic Four" at Williamsburg Cinemas on August 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Fantastic Four was rebooted, and had an impressive cast which included Michael B Jordan race-swapping the character Johnny Storm this time around, Miles Teller cast as Mr. Fantastic, Rooney Mara as Susan Storm and Jamie Bell as The Thing - Bell had experience motion capturing for the role after his performance in Steven Speilerg’s Tintin movie in 2011. 

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With a production budget of $120–155 million USD, the film only managed to make $167.9 million at the box office, a lot less than the previous two films which amassed $335 million USD the first time around and the aforementioned $330 USD. It also had the worst reviews out of all the films, including the quick 1992 cash in on the licence, with a 9% aggregate rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a general malaise towards the new feature from comic book fans spoiled with the outings the MCU were providing at the time.

That led to the end of the Fantastic Four’s dalliance as a franchise with 20th Century Fox, and we all know what happened next - Disney bought out 20th Century Fox and in doing so received the rights to the Fantastic Four property. They would introduce the Fantastic Four into the MCU universe in the ultimate case of fan service - only for that to suddenly sour at the end of one of the studio’s most recent films.

Exhibition Round - Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

Heavy spoilers ahead readers, so be forewarned.

When Disney picked up the rights to the Fantastic Four after their acquisition of 20th Century Fox, that spurred rumours that one of Marvel’s oldest superhero teams might once again see the light of day. Indeed, when Kevin Feige laid out plans for Phase 5 of the MCU and beyond, one of those projects announced would be the revival of the Fantastic Four. 

That elicited responses from the fandom who they would want to play some of the characters, and one name in particular kept being brought up as the perfect choice to play Reed Richards; John Krasinski. We got our wish also, as alongside Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Professor Xavier, Krasinski was cast as Mr. Fantastic in a scene where a council of superheroes (which in many ways was a nod to the Illuminati super team in recent Marvel storylines) warned Dr. Strange about the dangers of keeping America Chavez alive despite her incredible powers. 

John Krasinski was long considered a great casting for Mr. Fantastic, which Marvel toyed with during Dr. Strange and the Mutiverse of Madness (Credit: Getty Images/Marvel Studios)John Krasinski was long considered a great casting for Mr. Fantastic, which Marvel toyed with during Dr. Strange and the Mutiverse of Madness (Credit: Getty Images/Marvel Studios)
John Krasinski was long considered a great casting for Mr. Fantastic, which Marvel toyed with during Dr. Strange and the Mutiverse of Madness (Credit: Getty Images/Marvel Studios)
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But even in this instance, there were complaints about the Fantastic Four character - but rather than the overall performance Krasinski gave in his cameo, it stemmed more from the fact that they killed the character off during a confrontation with Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch (played wonderfully once again by Elizabeth Olsen.) Many wondered why they would introduce Reed Richards only to kill him off in the same film he debuted in, prompting many fans to suggest that the fan service casting Krasinski in the role was a cruel joke only to have him killed off moments later. 

This soured the idea of a Fantastic Four movie with Jim from The Office. But with the advent that Adam Driver may take on the role and no doubt play it with such intensity, perhaps he could save a franchise that seemed cursed from its inception to the silver screen four decades ago. We’re expecting some casting announcements ahead of San Diego Comic Con later in the year - fingers crossed for you, both Adam Driver and the remaining Fantastic Four fans still waiting for that one movie to surpass expectations.

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