A Fantastic Four movie set in the past would be the best case scenario

A Fantastic Four movie set in the past would be the best case scenario

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Marvel Studios has finally announced the cast of The Fantastic Four, after what feels like months of anticipation (and almost five years after the movie was announced in the first place). Unusually, the predictable and buttoned up production studio dropped the news on Wednesday with… an illustrated Valentine depicting Marvel’s first family relaxing at home.

And the details of that home already seem to separate The Fantastic Four from most of its Marvel brethren, raising one question…

Is The Fantastic Four a period piece?

There’s no guarantee that this illustration is evocative of the actual look of The Fantastic Four. The production is not scheduled to begin shooting until August of this year, aiming for a July 2025 release, and so it’s entirely possible the look isn’t fully locked down. This “Valentine’s Day card” could simply be a celebratory illustration, not based on design documents.

But the reveal seems intentional and full of hints as to what’s to come. The set dressing and wardrobe of this illustration is very mid-century, and HERBIE the robot is in his classic retro-futuristic design. Ben Grimm even appears to be the reading the Dec. 13, 1963 issue of Life Magazine, featuring president Lyndon B. Johnson on the cover — implying that he’s really behind in his reading if he’s only picking it up in February.

Beyond the announcement art, there’s director Matt Shakman’s tenure at Marvel Studios. While Shakman has a long resume — including Game of Thrones, Psych, Mad Men, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — his MCU work is particularly singular. Shakman directed every episode of the time-period spanning, family sitcom-spoofing WandaVision series for Disney Plus. Marvel Studios knows he can deliver period settings, weird science, comedy, and interpersonal drama all at the same time.

And those are all vital ingredients to a good Fantastic Four story.

Are the Fantastic Four usually set in Marvel’s past?

No, barring specific subversions of the status quo, the Fantastic Four have always been contemporary with the modern Marvel setting. But that doesn’t mean that making them a mid-century team for their movie would be a bad idea. Especially if they don’t stay a mid-century team for very long.

In many ways the Fantastic Four are the Superman of the Marvel Universe. In their role as the character(s) who were invented first, they’re a simpler, more broadly optimistic concept than many of the superheroes that came after them. The Four aren’t so much superheroes who go out on patrol and fight crime than atomic-age cosmic adventurers, dedicated to exploring the fringes of science and reality and surviving whatever they encounter.

They’re one of the only true pulp sci-fi adventure franchises that survives in the modern day. Grounding them in the era of pulp sci-fi would go a long way to helping audiences fit their heads around this superhero team that really just wants to do science, and whose idea is science is so strange that it might as well be magic.

And while this is entirely in the realm of speculation, there’s no reason a mid-century Fantastic Four team would have to stay in the 1960s for very long. Their origin story is all about how they disappeared in a space accident and came back with weird powers — there’s no reason they have to come back in the same year they left. Not when time travel and dimension-hopping is becoming so central to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s overarching plot.

A time-traveling fish-out-of-water Fantastic Four struggling to bring the best version of atomic-age scientific optimism to a very modern world is exactly the kind of tension that could merge a simpler superhero concept with a very complicated MCU.



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