The Marvel Cinematic Universe undoubtedly has a lot going for it as Phase 4 continues, with two full Disney+ series having completed their streaming runs. The future is incredibly bright for the next three years, although one of the highlights is a movie that has been fantasized about within the MCU nearly since its inception: Fantastic Four.
While casting is still a long way away (no, fan-casts don’t count), the movie will be directed by Jon Watts and is currently planned for release sometime in 2023 or later. This will be the first appearance for Marvel’s First Family in the MCU as fans see names like Reed Richards and Johnny Storm in the same universe as heroes like Thor and Spider-Man.
While the film’s cast is rightfully the biggest question mark right now, fans are also wondering how the Fantastic Four’s story will fit into the narrative of everything that’s already been established in the MCU. There are many possibilities of time periods within which this movie could be set, including the distant past, throughout the established MCU, or in the present day.
Heres a breakdown of four general options for the film's time setting and how each could have an impact on the overall story and direction of Marvel's First Family...
TAKING THE TEAM TO THEIR COMIC ROOTS
When looking at the first option for the movie's timeline, it’s important to take a trip back about six decades to Marvel’s first comic runs with the Fantastic Four.
The team originally debuted in Marvel Comics’ "The Fantastic Four #1" in November 1961 with the classic team consisting of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and The Thing. If Marvel wants to go with the closest thing to comic book accurate for this team of heroes, taking the MCU’s story back to the 1960s would be, dare we say it…a fantastic decision.
In all seriousness, setting Fantastic Four in this era would check more than a few boxes for the Reed, Ben, and the Storm siblings. With their first stories having been published in the 1960s, the movie could take limitless inspiration directly from the comics both in terms of stories and setting.
The tech and knowledge that Reed and his teammates use as scientists and heroes would be a perfect reflection of the era, but it could also give the film a chance to show the MCU fandom exactly how smart they all are. In the same way that Iron Man put Tony Stark in a league of his own in the present day, Fantastic Four could highlight the group's brilliance in building their tech in the Baxter building and developing their powers even while limited by the technology of their time.
Looking to the bigger scale of the MCU, the 1960s is an era completely untouched throughout the franchise. (And no, Episode 2 of WandaVision doesn't count for going full '60s, it being an alternate Hex-based reality and all).
In the movies released to date, the earliest time period showcased in full was the early 1940s in Captain America: The First Avenger when Steve Rogers took the Super Soldier Serum to fight in World War II. After this, the MCU doesn't go full prequel again until 2019's Captain Marvel, which satisfied the needs of '90s kids all over the world with a soundtrack featuring TLC, Nirvana, and Salt-N-Pepa.
The 1960s are far enough away from both Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel that it would fill in many of the blanks for world history within the MCU through the Fantastic Four. Depending on the specific year, the franchise could indirectly explore the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missle Crisis, MLK, JFK, or even more lighthearted events like Woodstock or the debut of Star Trek.
The quartet could be even more directly connected to the era by involving themselves with early NASA missions into space to explore their superhero origin stories. The first manned mission to space occurred in 1968 with Apollo 7, while 1969 saw the USA land on the moon with the world-famous Apollo 11. Why not have Marvel's First Family serve as some of the nation's first astronauts in this universe as well?
While fans haven't actually seen any action from the 1960s, there is one specific organization that was just getting its start around that time as well: SHIELD. This could very well be another Ant-Man-style moment with somebody like Peggy Carter running the secret organization as the Fantastic Four first ventures into space, even making the team their first sanctioned superheroes after the name change in the process.
As for how the team could get from the 1960s to the present day, there are more than a few opportunities for some time-travel/multiversal shenanigans in the next couple of years of MCU films. Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumaina are just a few examples that could easily end with the quartet traveling through space and time into the modern era.
Whether the MCU decides to take the team back to the 1960s is still a complete unknown. Should it happen, there are more than enough ways for the franchise to do the team right in this era by taking them back to their comic roots.
A LITTLE CLOSER TO THE NEW MILLENNIUM
While it would certainly work to set Fantastic Four in the '60s and pay direct tribute to their comic origin story, this is far from the only option for Marvel Studios to consider. As was mentioned before, the MCU hasn't done many prequels, but there would certainly be a reason to do one for this exciting solo feature.
Take, for example, the 1980s or the 1990s, which haven't seen a ton of action through the history of the MCU outside of Captain Marvel and a few flashbacks mostly from the Ant-Man movies. Just the way that the '60s would pay tribute to the team's comic origins, these couple of decades could pay homage to some of the group's earliest outings in film and TV.
While the '80s weren't a largely memorable time for the group in the comics, they did have a temporary teammate in She-Hulk in the early part of the decade. Marvel Studios is bringing Jennifer Walters into her own Disney+ series in 2022, and even though it may be some time before the green lawyer meets Marvel's First Family, a hint to this era would serve as a nice tribute to both of their classic comic source material.
She-Hulk could even lay the earliest teases for this team's arrival in the Disney+ series with their past bonds in the comics. This would be quite difficult considering all the Fantastic Four-related madness that happened with WandaVision, but it could also be a reasonable avenue to travel down once the solo movie actually gets closer to release.
As for the '90s, there could undoubtedly be some benefits to introducing a team that's so heavily based in space during the same decade as another cosmic Avenger's origin story from Phase 3 in Captain Marvel.
Carol Danvers is known to have spent plenty of her time in the vast reaches of space, as proven by her time with the Kree in her solo movie and notable absence from Avengers: Endgame as she surveilled the galaxy. With SHIELD having started to develop technology to explore outside Earth's atmosphere, the Storms, Reed, and Ben could very well be establishing themselves as galactic experts whether they're connected to Captain Marvel's adventures or not.
In the team's cinematic history, they were the unfortunate subjects of the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie directed by Oley Sassone, which was only seen due to pirated copies circulating through the public. This was the early beginnings of some of the team's mishaps in live-action movies. If Marvel wanted to do a little real-life avenging, this era could be the perfect one in which the MCU's team could shine.
If director Jon Watts and the team at Marvel want to connect things a little closer to the MCU's established story while also exploring a time period that's been previously untouched, either of these decades would work like a charm.
INTEGRATING THE TEAM DIRECTLY INTO THE INFINITY SAGA
All things considered, it seems pretty safe to say that fans would mostly want Fantastic Four to be set in something close to the present day. Thankfully, even if the MCU decides to go the prequel route, the franchise is already 13 years old in real-time with about the same timeframe in-universe, too.
The movies of Phase 1 all took place within less than three years from Iron Man to The Avengers, and it's more than conceivable that Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben could have been making their way through life with today's modern conveniences. With Stark Industries serving as the MCU's premier technological mogul and a potential arrival for Oscorp Industries within the Spider-Man universe, there seems to be plenty of room for a Baxter Building somewhere in the mix.
Even though this option would be less likely due to past fan reactions from similar plot points, the team could find their way into the mix through the MCU's original leading man similar to the way Peter Parker did. Whether they work at Stark Industries or simply collaborate with them through different projects, the Fantastic Four could find themselves with some connection to Iron Man as they're introduced into the MCU.
In the end, even though fans will miss the interactions between Reed Richards and Tony Stark, this seems like a less likely option. The Fantastic Four is one of Marvel's iconic teams, and even though they've been absent due to rights issues, they should have the opportunity to stand on their own before joining the rest of the MCU's top heroes.
Even if it isn't Tony Stark, there are a couple of other options for already established MCU personalities for the team to have a bond with as they join the fray. Bruce Banner was a world-renowned scientist before turning into an enormous green rage monster, and in the 21st century, SHIELD is fully established as the world's leading spy organization as well.
Just imagine Nick Fury having this kind of team at his disposal for a time before they become unavailable, possibly gaining their powers in the process while the rest of the MCU madness is happening.
The team could also find their origin story coming closer to the end of the Infinity Saga as arcs for heroes like Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff are coming to an end.
There was, of course, a life-altering event thanks to the Mad Titan Thanos gaining possession of the six Infinity Stones and wiping out half of all life in the universe. With that kind of cosmic energy having radiated throughout the cosmos on four separate occasions, two in the span of one day, it seems strange that there haven't been any repercussions from an event that massive.
In the original Fantastic Four movie from 2005, the team gained their powers thanks to a freak accident on Victor Von Doom's space station where they were hit with a huge blast of cosmic energy. This could very well be re-imagined to fit right in with the MCU's biggest plot point to date, especially with the Infinity Stones having their own roots outside of Earth's atmosphere.
With so much history already built since May 2008, the MCU has more than a handful of openings in which Marvel's First Family could come into their own.
CONTINUING AFTER THE REST OF PHASE 4
Even with all this theorizing about where Fantastic Four will fit in the MCU timeline, the answer could be simpler than any of us are making it out to be. Maybe, just maybe, it will actually come as a direct follow-up to everything that is planned before it in Phase 4.
Whether the film comes out in 2023, that year could be the setting in which the four superheroes are living when they make their long-awaited MCU debut. This would mean they live in a world where Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff are gone, The Blip has fully passed, Spider-Man's identity is revealed, and that's just the start.
With the movie being at least two years away from release, there is no way to theorize any specific plot details that will come in this story. That being said, the quartet living in the present day with modern technology and conveniences would be quite the impressive playground within which to put their brilliance and skills to good use.
The way SHIELD was in full form during the early days of the MCU, Phase 4 is building up the newly-introduced SWORD in the same manner, starting with WandaVision.
Monica Rambeau will likely be leading the way as the organization continues in the story, with its next likely appearance coming in next 2022's Captain Marvel 2. With this organization specializing in space exploration, there is a clear opening for the Fantastic Four to find their way into the stars to inevitably become enhanced beings.
All that in mind, there are almost 20 MCU projects coming before Fantastic Four makes its way into theaters. With multiple franchises coming before this team and an unfathomable amount of plot still untold, it's nearly impossible to predict the details of how this movie will fit in with the rest of its companions.
But, then again, if we knew all this, articles like this one wouldn't serve any purpose.
DETAILS STILL A LONG WAY OUT
No matter what time period Marvel Studios decides to use for Fantastic Four, it will likely be months or more than a year until any specific plot details find their way into the light. Director Jon Watts is currently the only name attached to the production, which means there is still a whole team of writers, crew, and cast to bring into play before more progress is made.
Thankfully, excitement for this movie remains at a fever pitch. The staff at The Direct ranked the project at #7 out of the 25 confirmed projects after Disney Investor's Day 2020, and as soon as more news is confirmed about its production, that anticipation will surely skyrocket.