Bad news this week for those fans hoping to see John Krasinski confirmed as the new Reed Richards, after his sterling cameo as Mister Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Deadline’s Justin Kroll reports that Marvel is no closer to settling on a director for its Fantastic Four reboot, which means it could be a while until casting news rolls in. According to the Hollywood trade journalist, studio supremo Kevin Feige wants to find a film-maker with the clout and kudos to oversee the project without too much interference from Marvel, just as Sam Raimi did with Madness.
Krasinski boasts the right combination of brawn and brain to make for an excellent Richards, who in the comics is not only the stretchiest superhero around but also the smartest. But there’s no guarantee that his appearance in Raimi’s film means that he’ll also be turning up again: the version we met in Multiverse of Madness was from another universe. There’s certainly no way back for that particular iteration of Mister Fantastic, who was sliced and diced by Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch like he was made of plasticine. In years to come, we may realise that Krasinski’s appearance was a tricksy false dawn inspired by fans’ fervour for the actor to team with his real-life wife Emily Blunt as Richards and Susan Storm, AKA the Invisible Woman. Perhaps the question we should be asking is why Marvel is taking so long to bring the Fantastic Four into the MCU. What exactly is the holdup here?
Ever since Disney bought 21st Century Fox in 2019 the studio has been in a position to bring all Marvel superheroes previously owned (in terms of the big-screen rights) by its rival studio into the main fold. But so far it hasn’t quite got round to doing so, except via the alternate versions we saw in Multiverse of Madness, which also included Patrick Stewart’s Professor X. Other than this fleeting cameo, Xavier’s X-Men remain missing from the MCU, which means we still don’t know who the new Jean Grey will be, let alone what the MCU’s take on characters such as Storm, Rogue, Beast or Wolverine will be. Karl Urban, who many fans would love to portray the adamantium-clawed mutant, ruled himself out in a recent interview, saying that he’s too old to be a long-term option. So when will Marvel get round to all these recastings?
Those feeling impatient would do well to recall why the MCU has become so popular over its 28-movie run thus far. Rather than rushing to introduce new superheroes into the fray every five minutes without properly bedding them in with audiences, the studio has intelligently introduced all its big hitters over time. Characters such as Iron Man, Captain America and Thor all got their own films first, while other heroes such as Spider-Man were given cameos before getting their own title. Marvel might have conjured a world in which aliens can finger-snap half the known galaxy out of existence, but it rarely takes fans for granted by introducing characters who are anything less than fully formed.
The problem for the studio, when it comes to introducing the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, is how to explain their absence from the main Marvel reality until this point. The advent of the Multiverse presents the perfect solution: they simply existed in other realities. Perhaps one of these even looked a lot like the Fox movies.
There are other benefits too. If the Fantastic Four arrive from another reality, we wouldn’t need their cheesy origins story played out for the umpteenth time. If Wolverine does the same, Marvel won’t have to explain why nobody ever heard about the Weapon X programme before. And most fans will be perfectly content to imagine that these origins stories still exist out there in another, distant and half-remembered reality.
How will we know whether to expect the Fantastic Four and X-Men to bleed through from other universes or suddenly arrive full-formed in the MCU? There ought to be clues in Marvel’s future movies: if alternate realities continue to clash and fuse in films like Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, all of which hit cinemas in the next 12 months, there’s a fair bet the studio will keep using all the tools at its disposal when it comes to bringing in new characters.
And if our heroes accidentally find themselves in a universe in which everyone swears a lot and the body count seems to be substantially higher than usual, don’t be surprised if there’s a certain potty-mouthed, self-healing mutant lurking in a dark corner just waiting to experience the joy of inter-dimensional chimichangas.