Could the , when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows to tell Iron Man that he’d “become part of a bigger universe.” Those words were a promise for viewers as well, and every movie since then has expanded the shared universe Marvel has been building for over a decade now.
When Marvel launched the MCU, it was in a universe that looked pretty much identical to our own, albeit with a man in armor who was taking on terrorists. True to the comics, Marvel’s ongoing narrative was based in “the world outside your window.” That approach began to change a little in 2011, when Marvel rewrote the history of the Second World War in order to introduce Captain America. Following on from that, in 2013 Marvel Television suggested that there’d been a secret history of superheroes and super-spies that had always been there, but just began to become visible to the world when Tony Stark outed himself as Iron Man. In one hilarious bit of dialogue, Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson asked a civilian, “Remember the panic when that antimatter meteor splashed down just off the coast of Miami, nearly devoured the city?” She didn’t, because S.H.I.E.L.D. had saved Miami and kept the near-disaster quiet. Superheroes and aliens, unnatural disasters and science experiments gone wrong; all these things had apparently been happening for decades, but S.H.I.E.L.D. had simply been doing a great job of keeping them contained.
Recent movies have followed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s lead. In 2015, the first Ant-Man movie revealed that Hank Pym and Scott Lang had been working for S.H.I.E.L.D. back during the days of the Cold War, and had even stopped an ICBM attack upon the United States in 1987. More recently, Ant-Man & the Wasp has carefully woven a new character, Ghost, into the history of the MCU. Next year’s Captain Marvel will be set in the ’90s, introducing viewers to a hero whose powers, according to Feige, are “off the charts.” Marvel is daring to dance around the timeline now, setting films out of sequence, using flashbacks to reveal previously-hidden backstories, and generally confirming that Tony Stark was never “the only superhero in town.“
The Fantastic Four Could Easily Be Added into MCU History
In the comics, the Fantastic Four were essentially superhero celebrities; they don’t have secret identities, they happily use their powers in public, and they frankly quite enjoy standing in the spotlight. On the face of it, that makes it a little difficult to write them into MCU history, where humanity didn’t know there were superheroes and aliens until Tony Stark outed himself in 2008 and, four years later, the Chitauri invaded New York.
But it’s really not too difficult to resolve the problem, simply because the public nature of the FF’s heroism isn’t core to their brand. The Fantastic Four franchise is centered, not upon showmanship, but upon the theme of “family.” It really doesn’t matter if, in the past, Reed Richards and his team kept their heroics under wraps in order to stop a global panic as the world learned of gods and monsters, aliens and cosmic beings. All that matters is that the relationships between the Four be preserved.
So let’s imagine a scenario where, at the height of the Cold War, scientist Reed Richards led a dangerous experiment into the depths of space – and unwittingly exposed his team to Cosmic Rays. Reed and his friends returned to Earth transformed, but – because of the secretive nature of their experiments – the military asked them not to go public with their newfound powers. Reed would likely still become a celebrity – but a celebrity scientist, rather than a celebrity superhero. Sue would stand at his side, not really interested in getting attention. Ben would be happy to watch from the shadows, keeping out of the public eye as much as possible because he hated being treated like a freak. Only Johnny would have chafed under these conditions, but that would frankly make for an amusing narrative in and of itself. It’s a simple idea, but it demonstrates just how easy it is to weave the Fantastic Four into the history of the MCU.
The Problem: Where are they Now?
Of course, the one problem with this idea is that – quite rightly – Marvel would want to use the Fantastic Four in the present-day as well. And that would raise awkward questions about where they were during key events in the MCU’s history; why didn’t they intervene during the Kree-Skrull War in Captain Marvel? Why didn’t the Fantastic Four ally with the Avengers during the Battle of New York? And just why weren’t they there on the fields of Wakanda, fighting to hold the Outriders at bay and give Scarlet Witch a chance to destroy an Infinity Stone?
Again, though, it’s just a matter of getting creative. The Fantastic Four are renowned for their insane pseudoscience, with Reed Richards conducting countless experiments on the fabric of time and space. All it takes is for one of them one of those experiments to go wrong, and for the Fantastic Four – and probably the Baxter Building too – to be projected forwards in time, to the present. The MCU seems set to embrace various concepts of time-travel in next year’s Avengers 4, so this one really wouldn’t be a hard sell.
Right now, we don’t really know what decisions Marvel will make should they reacquire the Fantastic Four. It’s clear Marvel’s First Family would be added to the MCU, but would their origin be in the present day or – as many hope – in the distant past? Feige insists he hasn’t made up his mind right now, but it seems likely he’s got a good idea of what the future holds for the Fantastic Four. The viewers, however, will just have to wait and see.