The Fantastic Four is unquestionably one of the most important superhero teams in the history of Marvel, but has always been kept outside the gates of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thanks to the comic book company's bankruptcy in the 1990s, film rights to the heroes and all associated characters were sold off, and therefore they couldn't come to play with Iron Man, Captain America and Thor when they first made their way to the big screen a decade ago. Thankfully, barriers are now coming down due to the recently announced merger between Disney and Fox, but the situation presents its own special quandary: at this point, how do you properly go about introducing the Fantastic Four into canon?
There are many factors in play -- including the Fantastic Four movies that we've already seen, and the level of weirdness audiences are prepared to swallow narratively in a mainstream blockbuster -- but keeping them in consideration, we've determined four possible routes for the franchise to go. Read on for our explanations, and hit the comments section below with your own thoughts on how it should go down.
The Straight-Up Origin Story
Certainly the easiest approach towards introducing the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be to do exactly what they have done with most major heroes to this point. One of their upcoming movies can simply be a classic origin story, explaining how Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm came together and then gained their special abilities. It's the most straight-forward way to establish the characters in canon, as well as the cleanest. It requires no back-bending alterations to the franchise as we know it today, and like every other series, could take basic steps towards setting up future sequels.
Of course, there is an obvious problem with this angle: it would be the third time fans have watched the origin story on the big screen. The two previous versions made by Tim Story and Josh Trank did take different tactics to the narrative, adapting the classic 1960s and Ultimate comics, respectively, but they effectively zapped any interest in seeing it all happen yet again (even within the MCU). Spider-Man was in literally the exact same position prior to his homecoming, and Marvel avoided the standard approach in favor of something different -- recognizing that his was a backstory audiences knew and didn't need to see beat-for-beat again. That might be the better way to go about things with the Fantastic Four as well, hence these other ideas...
Lost In The Multiverse
The previous blockbuster versions of The Fantastic Four clearly pose a problem when it comes to rehashing a known story, but there is a way to actually make those movies work to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's advantage. As was explained in Doctor Strange, the world that we know of as the MCU is just one of an infinite number of dimensions within the multiverse, and when you think about it that means there are an infinite number of versions of the Fantastic Four (Tim Story and Josh Trank's iterations included). More importantly, going on a mission hopping through these different versions of existence is exactly the kind of weird sci-fi quest we should see from the Fantastic Four on the big screen, and it could provide a wonderful introduction to a new team.
A concept previously explored in Marvel Comics by the Exiles and on television by the 1990s series Sliders, the idea is that a new movie centers on a brand new, fully established version of the Fantastic Four that is on a mission through the multiverse gone wrong, searching for the universe that they call home (which may or may not be the MCU). Not only would this be a hell of a lot of fun because of the opportunity to explore alternate realities, but it even potentially keeps the door open to appearances from the previous big screen Fantastic Four teams (it's worth noting that the Human Torches, Chris Evans and Michael B. Jordan, are already part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe family, and Kate Mara -- Trank's Invisible Woman -- had a very small part in Iron Man 2).
They Were Around, They Were Gone, Now They're Back
After a decade of blockbusters, fans have gotten used to a Marvel Cinematic Universe without the Fantastic Four, but what if I were to tell you that Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and The Thing once served as protectors of the world? The catch is that they were active in the 1960s -- a period not really explored to this point in the canon -- and have been missing/presumed dead ever since. That information could easily be covered in an artful prologue that sets up a movie about heroes' triumphant return from wherever the hell it is they've been for decades.
This approach once again avoids the need for a feature-length origin story, but also has its issues. For starters, by the time this could actually happen, it will have already been done twice in the franchise: first with Captain America, and then again with Captain Marvel. Perhaps more importantly, though, the concept will potentially create too many in-canon questions that Marvel just won't want to deal with -- chief among them being, "If the Fantastic Four previously existed and were known about, how come nobody has ever mentioned them before?" There would be an endless number of these continuity issues that could easily distract any screenwriter, and while it's a cool idea, it may not be worth the problems that come with it.
In The Avengers: Infinity War, fans will witness the power of an object unlike anything previously seen in a comic book movie. The Infinity Gauntlet, when fully assembled with all six Infinity Stones, gives the wearer the abilities of a god -- able to entirely change the definition of reality. Provided that the film follows the rule of Chekhov's Gun, we should see the full extent of its ability in the blockbuster... but the big question that we're naturally left with is what the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks like after its utilization. What if it looks mostly the same, but with one catch being that the Fantastic Four has always existed in addition to the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy?
Compared to all of the other options mentioned here, this is what could be called the "Streamlined Version." There are no continuity issues because the reality shift makes sense of everything, and all of the previously established characters don't have to act any different than they ever did. Future features could ease us into the role that the Fantastic Four plays/has played in the world, and things can move forward without giving the whole procedure a bunch of fanfare or major plot moves. The greatest challenge is the fact that it would have to be done completely in secret in order to be fully effective, and that's damn near impossible in modern Hollywood.