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Fantastic Four

Let's get it out of the way: The "Fantastic Four" comics have not had a great run at the movies. The first big-screen take of the classic Marvel series about four people in a spacecraft who gain extraordinary abilities after being bombarded by cosmic rays was shot in the '90s but never released. The 2005 installment that ignored the other version was a victim of the era when comic book films were largely viewed as hokey fare for kids without being taken seriously. That movie and its 2007 sequel can, at best, be called "Not the worst thing I've ever seen" — and that's because the boring, self-serious 2015 reboot exists. These films took a series bursting with interesting conflicts and outlandish settings and gave us thin characters and bland set pieces. With the exception of the 2005 film, which at least made enough money to get a follow-up, the others didn't set the box office on fire and none were well received by fans.

A good adaptation of the comics, however, may be on the horizon. The recent news that the merger between Fox — which owned the rights to the series — and Disney was finalized means the FF can now be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point, though it likely will be a few years until a project hits screens due to Disney officially securing Fox's rights only a few days ago. Though fans have long wondered what a film adaptation worthy of the series that put Marvel Comics on the map in the early '60s would like, Marvel's first family may be best suited for TV.

The House of Mouse has a streaming service, Disney Plus, bowing some time this year, with plans for shows based on characters who have already been seen in the MCU, such as Scarlet Witch and the Vision, the Winter Soldier and the Falcon, and Loki — though I have some serious doubts about the latter project. The actors who originated these parts on the big screen are set to return and Disney is expected to throw serious money at these shows. With Disney reportedly set to make the budgets high and the Fantastic Four's previous cinematic incarnations being busts, why not rocket such a special effects-heavy group like the FF onto Disney Plus?

The other FF films didn't leave a mark on audiences, and though Disney's MCU track records indicate a film would do the comic's trademark mix of family drama and cosmic adventure justice, it may be best for Marvel studios to handle it in a fashion similar to what they did with another Marvel property botched by 20th Century Fox: "Daredevil." The 2003 film didn't reach the creative heights the character has in the comics, so once the rights reverted back to Disney we got a largely successful but recently canned Netflix series that ran for three seasons. While Daredevil's exploits are far more street-level than the dimension-hopping situations the FF normally get into, that could be taken care of with the funds reportedly being shelled out for Disney Plus' upcoming Marvel slate. Plus, a key element of the series would be best rendered through TV episodes anyway.

The "Fantastic Four," more than most comic series, thrives on the characters and their relationships. It may sound odd to say about a series that frequently features stare downs with cosmic gods, but the interactions between the characters give the series life, even back when it began in 1961. Before other Marvel characters that are now more famous such as Spider-Man and the X-Men even happened, the publisher first gained attention from fans in the '60s due to the FF since they acted like real people who fought and didn't always get along. Despite being comic book characters, they had goals and insecurities at a time when most comic characters —especially of the spandex variety — were smiling do-gooders whose biggest problems were that the bad guy they had to punch in the face hadn't been punched in the face yet. 

To this day, the best "Fantastic Four" comics feature bonkers situations in other worlds or crazy situations without losing sight of the characters who drive each other crazy but are still a family. The events the team gets in were outlandish, but their dynamics and emotions they feel are recognizable.

You have Reed's massive ego and his insatiable thirst for knowledge, Sue's feelings be damned. Sue dealing with her uncertainties loving a man whose biggest priority is normally what is under his microscope. Johnny dealing with his own insecurities while mocking Ben for his rocky appearance as The Thing. Ben feeling Reed is responsible for his condition while sticking by Reed's side. Outside of the main four, there's the complex rivalry between Reed and Dr. Doom, A.K.A. Victor Von Doom (who, name aside, is one of the greatest comic characters of all time, fight me). They respect each other's capabilities, but Victor, a ruler of a fictional European nation and a man whose intellect towers above almost anyone else's, can not handle someone being smarter than him, so therefore Reed must be destroyed. And that's without even mentioning the FF's financial troubles, the issues with Sue's pregnancies, Victor's feelings for Sue, Ben's angst with his Thing form and various members of the team leaving and getting replaced, etc.

These relationships and other operatic trappings are baked into the DNA of the FF and would be better served over 8 episodes rather than a 90-minute film where their origin story also has to be told and stuff has to blow up real good. These characters have pathos and complexities, and there is enough material from these figures bumping up against each other that could easily fill a series.

A TV series would likely mean that incarnation of the FF wouldn't be hitting the movies, however, and on one level it would be a shame to see these characters deprived of a Marvel Studios film that could manage them faithfully. However, at the end of the day, most fans just want to see them in a good project, and a TV show could not only have the time to depict the characters working off of each other but to feature the various settings we've seen in the comics gloriously displayed on the screen: The otherworldly dimension The Negative Zone, Doom's Kingdom of Latveria and the subterranean realms of the Mole Man. 

Plus, many of the other Marvel characters heading to Disney Plus are supporting players in the films. They will be at the center of their narratives rather than just a part of someone else's story. These shows will likely expand on the characters more than the films have; Why can't it be the same with the Fantastic Four? True, sequestering the team off to TV — even if they are officially a part of the MCU — could mean Galactus, devourer of worlds and heavyweight Marvel antagonist, wouldn't be in the films since he first appeared in an iconic "Fantastic Four" tale and was a part of the quartet's film rights. However, the alien Skrull race, who also debuted in the pages of "Fantastic Four" and were closely associated with the group, just made their film debut in "Captain Marvel," so Galactus would likely be just fine fighting Marvel's film stable, since the Avengers and countless others have dealt with him on the page.

The Fantastic Four's legacy is a goldmine of excellent serialized material waiting to be mined, and Disney Plus could provide both the money and the space to finally produce a live-action story worthy of the team's name. What do you think, though? Is a TV show the way to go, or could the FF only be handled well in a MCU film? What do you want the next live-action FF project to feature (Namor or The Impossible Man may get their day in the sun some day)? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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