The last time I saw the Fantastic Four they were in their late 20s, battling both evil and receding hairlines.
They were desperate to save the planet because they had a deep respect for all life, but they had other powerful motivations too: they also really wanted to put down a deposit on an apartment and get a puppy.
Once upon a time, superheroes were grown-ups. Some of them were naïve when it came to the complexities of the human heart. Others had recently sprung fully formed out of clouds of plasma or the crumbling ruins of Marlon Brando. But all of them were at least old enough to buy a tequila after a tough day of fighting intergalactic crime. No longer.
As I watched the trailer for the rebooted Fantastic Four this weekend I saw heroes who were beautiful, tormented and brilliant, but I’m still not sure how they’re going to get to the scene of a crime unless their mom drives them there. The old Four fought to roll back evil. These guys seem to be fighting to roll back child labour laws.
To be fair, most of the actors involved are in their late 20s, but holy Botox, Batman, they do look young. Which makes me wonder where it will stop. If they’re supposed to look 22 now, will they be 18 in the next reboot, and 12 in the one after that?
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. It’s a gloomy teen
After all, superheroes might be able to withstand nuclear blasts, the deadly cold of deep space and the murderous embarrassment of getting an erection in skin-tight red underpants, but they are completely helpless against their ultimate enemy: the Hollywood babyfication machine.
Deep in the canyons of Los Angeles, mad geniuses are turning the knob relentlessly backwards, and soon proud adults will be transformed into slouching, sighing, troubled children. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. It’s a gloomy teen, resenting the crap out of having been given an origin story it never asked for!
Of course, it all makes great economic sense. The teens who flock to tent-pole movies want to see heroes who reflect their own lives. But I’m not sure how far you can turn the banality knob until the Fantastic Four become just four kids with body issues.
Consider The Thing. If you were in your early 30s and you woke up one morning looking like the love child of The Hulk and a cornflake you’d be pretty bummed. But you’re a grown-up, you’ve got a network of friends who can point you to a specialist, and besides, you prefer wearing layers these days so it’s not a train smash. But what must it be like for a 16-year-old to wake up as The Thing? I’d never leave my room again, let alone go out to battle for the forces of darkness. (If the forces of darkness had some kind of anti-cornflake ointment I might be tempted, but even then I’d insist that my dad dropped me off at least five blocks away.)
It’s even worse for poor Reed Richards, aka Mr Fantastic. “No, I’m Mr Fantastic. No, my dad is Mr Richards. No, he’s not Mr Mr Fantastic, he’s just Norm Richards. Oh for God’s sake …” And let’s not even imagine the social hell caused by teenage hormones and appendages that can stretch almost infinitely.
No, the Emo Four have given us a glimpse into the future of the superhero, and it’s not pretty. I can already see a scene from a 2018 blockbuster about Perfecta, a super-millennial who has to take down an English teacher who has refused to give everyone in the class a gold star and a cupcake. The pressure is affecting her home life …
“Young lady, go to your regeneration chamber this instant!”
“You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my dad!”
“Yes, but before your father was evaporated by the explosion of his cybertronic energon pulsator, he appointed me as your protector.”
“Oh my God! That is so unfair! I wish I’d never been cloned!”
And what of Wonderwoman, rebooted in 2019 as Wondergirl and then again in 2021 as Wondertween? Will she swap her Lasso of Truth for an iPhone of Meanness? “OMG Jokr, I dont know y your called Jokr bkoz u r so not funny, and whoeva is doing yr makeup is LAME.” Boom! “Lx Luthr, your a bald douchebag + if you don’t disarm the nukular bomb I am going to launch a #LexLuthorIsALozr tag. Yr move.” Shazzam!
And then? Batboy patrolling the streets of Gotham on a stealth tricycle? Supertoddler, invulnerable to everything except Kryptonite and ice cream? Will Peter Parker even get bitten by that damned spider if Aunt May never lets him go outside for fear of allergies?
Come back, Superman IV. All is forgiven.