Fans anxious to see the “Fantastic Four” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have to wait a bit longer. On Thursday, Noah Hawley, best known for his work as writer and producer of FX’s Fargo and Legion, announced he is developing a Doctor Doom movie with Fox.
The announcement came during Comic-Con International in San Diego’s Legion panel. “Because I’m at Comic-Con, I wanted to let you know about a movie I’m developing for Fox,” Hawley said. “The first word is ‘Doctor.’ And the second is ‘Doom.’”
The project still appears to be in its early stages, as no announcements have been made about the timeline or casting. But, that the project exists at all raises an intriguing question: could it be Doom who saves Fox’s Fantastic Four franchise?
Of all of Marvel’s major villains, Doom is probably best positioned to headline his own film. In addition to his name recognition, he is deeply complex, simultaneously selfish and trying to make the world better. He has a sense of noblesse oblige that makes him protective—if not exactly caring—of his fellow Latverians. He is, at worst, an anti-villain who sometimes has heroic tendencies, rather than someone bent on destroying or conquering the world for its own sake.
We saw this conflicted Doom most recently in Secret Wars, where he managed to save bits and pieces of the multiverse where everyone else had failed. His iron rule of Battleworld was even justified to some extent by the need to keep the place together: as the last holdout of existence in a sea of nothingness, any threat to its stability was a threat to all of reality. But, Doom being Doom, while he was able to imagine saving reality through the strength of his own will, he did not have the creative mind to take the next step and rebuild the multiverse.
This morally-ambiguous Doom could be a perfect film protagonist, and Hawley could be the perfect person to bring him to life.
With his work on Fargo and Legion, Hawley has proved himself a master at portraying morally-complicated characters. Fargo is filled with characters who think they are doing the wrong thing for the right reason, sociopaths who see themselves as the center of everything, and mostly-good people trying to figure out their place in a world with far more shades of grey than they had realized before. It has made for some of the best television in recent memory, managing to meet the quality of the Coen Brothers’ film.
As amazing as Fargo has been, however, it is Legion that shows Hawley has the chops to make a cinematic Doom work. In Legion, Hawley brought his own approach to a superhero franchise, and he made it work masterfully. Part of that was knowing how to adapt the material without slavishly parroting the original; the David Heller from Legion is at once both familiar and new to comics readers. Heller has been changed just enough to make him the perfect vessel for exploring themes hinted at, but never fully explored, in the comics. This same approach could make a Doom film a major success.
Of all the characters involved, Victor Von Doom has been particularly ill-served by Fox’s Fantastic Four movies, despite having considerable screen time. Part of that is the fact that Fox never quite seemed to understand the character. In the two Tim Story-directed films, Doom — played by Julian McMahon — was more a sleazy businessman in the Lex Luthor mold than the Doom we know from the comics. Toby Kebbell’s Doom in Josh Trank’s reboot was severely muddled, possibly the result of late rewrites. (Early rumors claimed Kebbell’s Doom would be a hacker.) It’s a sad reality that the best cinematic representation of Doom was in the unreleased Roger Corman film from 1994.
Part of the problem is that even when he is given a decent amount of screen time, Doom always has to play fifth fiddle to the Fantastic Four. He is the villain of the piece, and so must appear villainous. And, with film’s limited run time, there just isn’t room to delve deeply into Doom’s backstory without giving short shrift to at least one of the FF. (This dynamic was also seen in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, where Norrin Radd and Galactus were both severely underdeveloped.)
In his own movie, though, Doom could shine. He could be his morally-complicated self, free of limitations placed on him by being the fifth wheel on a Fantastic Four vehicle. He could be the anti-hero in his own story.
There are a lot of approaches Hawley and Fox could go with for a standalone Doom film, but one that might work particularly well is a post-college Doom returning to Latveria to discover just how much his country is dominated by oligarchs and a political class that cares nothing for the common people. We could watch Doom’s rise to power as he fights back against the economic elite who have turned his homeland into their personal piggybanks. It’s a story that fits well with the contemporary zeitgeist, while also allowing exploration of whether or not Doom is actually any better for the people of Latveria.
Even better, there’s already a comic series with a very similar plot, Doom 2099, which tracks a time-displaced Doom’s efforts to reclaim Latveria from multinational corporations, before he eventually moves on to trying to fix the United States as well. It was one of the standouts of Marvel’s 2099 line under original writer John Francis Moore, and became a true classic under Warren Ellis. A film that borrowed liberally from Doom 2099, with a dash of Books of Doom and Secret Wars, could finally get Doom right, while also being extremely timely.
With Doom firmly established as a major cinematic force to be reckoned with, the stage could be set to reintroduce the Fantastic Four, either on their own or in a Fantastic Four vs. Doctor Doom match-up. With Doom fully fleshed-out, he could finally be a truly worthy adversary for the FF.
Of course, Hawley’s Doctor Doom is not the only project Fox has cooking relating to the Fantastic Four. There have also been rumors of a Thing/Human Torch team-up, as well as a project focused on Franklin Richards. We could be on the verge of seeing a mass reinvention of Fox’s Fantastic Four franchise. Given the weakness of the earlier films, however, audiences are likely to be skeptical. By dramatically shaking up the status quo and heroic dynamic, though, Hawley’s Doom could be precisely what Fox needs to make the Fantastic Four relevant again.
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