Can the Hollywood reboot of The Fantastic Four, now in the works, succeed where the original movies failed? It all depends on whether producer Matthew Vaughn and director Josh Trank have the guts to do one thing: To make The Fantastic Four about the family versus communism.
The Fantastic Four was the comic that launched the Marvel Comics revolution back in 1961; it came before The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The X-Men. It was also for many years Marvel’s best comic, depicting a family of four members who gain superpowers but still can’t stop acting like a family–i.e. arguing, getting on each others nerves, and resolving conflict with humor and love (the FF was The Incredibles decades before The Incredibles).
Another large part of the success of the FF had to do with the comic’s great menagerie of villains, from the Mole Man to Galactus and Dr. Doom.
Dr. Doom is one of the greatest villains to ever come from the minds of his creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He’s also far and away the most tragically misused in the first two failed Fantastic Four movies. For reasons that remain unclear and are probably inexplicable anyway, they changed Doom’s entire history. In the comic, Victor von Doom is a brilliant scientist and friend of Reed Richards. Doom is interested in science but also craves forbidden knowledge found in the occult. He is conducting a dangerous experiment one day when Richards tells him that his calculations are off. Doom, an egomaniac, dismisses Richards, and the experiment blows up, badly disfiguring Doom. Doom goes nuts and flees into exile, spending years in Tibet where he studies black magic and constructs a suit of armor. He surfaces later as the dictator of Latveria, “a small country not far from communist-occupied eastern Europe.”
This is such a wonderful back story that it is mystifying why the first Fantastic Four films altered it, instead making Doom a simple mad scientist. One of the things that make the first Dr. Doom stories so great is the way writer Stan Lee depicted Doom’s version of communism. Latveria wasn’t just a totalitarian country; it was one where the subjects must always, at all times, appear happy. They walk around the city shopping, raising children, and doing other seemingly normal things, but behind the placid faces is cold fear. Again and again Doom monologues about how all he wants is for his beloved subjects to be happy–and all he asks in return is total blind obedience. In communism, as in other totalitarian systems, the state is supposed to take the place of the family. There’s little doubt that in Latveria there is round the clock child care–if they let families stay together at all–and school textbooks that would embarrass an Iranian Madrassa.
The contrast between Doom and his counterparts in the Fantastic Four offers a profound lesson. The Fantastic Four–Reed Richards, his wife Sue, her brother Johnny Storm, and their friend Ben Grimm–are forever bickering, breaking apart, reforming, and coming to each other’s rescue. They are, like all families, dysfunctional and emotional. They suffer from all the problems that come with freedom, and have a love grounded in freedom that is stronger than anything any government can provide. For Victor von Doom the world was not enough, and when he paid the price for wanting forbidden knowledge, he was forced to create an ersatz family. But they are subjects, not siblings.
Sounds to me like the plot of a pretty cool movie.