Marvel’s Fantastic Four cast is awesome, but can it save the MCU?

The Pressure on Marvel Studios Grows

The last few weeks have seen a rare admission from Team Marvel Studios: Maybe, just maybe, it overloaded the market and the last few movies and shows kinda stunk and even a behemoth, culture-warping, mega-property needs to slow down and take a breath every once in a while. Maybe.

Which puts a lot of pressure on 2025’s The Fantastic Four. The movie, currently casting up for a mid-summer shoot ahead of its July 25, 2025 release, is Marvel’s first original-character/team launchpad since 2021’s Eternals. It’s also a property that 20th Century Fox never delivered on like its X-Men franchise — the Matt Shakman-directed reboot comes off two cartoony early-2000s versions and a grimdark reboot that was DOA. So the stakes feel high for The Fantastic Four, and Marvel’s stakeholders are showing a bit of sweat.

In a recent interview with Empire, ahead of the studio’s sole 2024 theatrical release, Deadpool & Wolverine, Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito admitted that, yeah, the company obviously lost its luster after recent underperformers like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels, and critical stinkers like Secret Invasion.

“Maybe when you do too much, you dilute yourself a little bit,” D’Esposito said. “We’re not going to do that anymore. We learned our lesson.”

Echoing the point on a Disney earnings call earlier this week, CEO Bob Iger said, “we’ve been working hard with the studio to reduce output and focus more on quality,” noting that Disney would likely reduce Marvel’s theatrical output from four films a year to two or three. Kevin Feige, Marvel’s president and Hall H hypeman, suggests he prefers the scaleback — and the pressure.

“It’s nice to be able to rally behind one feature project this year,” Feige told Empire. “I’m much more comfortable being the underdog. I prefer being able to surprise, and exceed expectations. So it does seem like the last year, which has not been ideal, has set us up well for that.”

Claims of “superhero fatigue” date back to the release of 2011’s The Avengers, but waved off for years. Now it’s finally being addressed on the business level — and in the open. Iger has been clear about what happened: A few years of nonstop releases from both Marvel’s film and television, an attempt to recalibrate after the impossible-to-predict cave-in of 2020 and then bolster the Disney Plus streaming game through shared-universe storytelling, left the audience’s heads spinning. Marvel’s 2025 blockbusters, Captain America: Brave New World and Thunderbolts, are vestiges of that era, built from pieces of older stories to capitalize on the MCU’s aura of obligation.

The Fantastic Four looks distinct among the future Marvel slate, which for now still includes a WandaVision spinoff centered on Agatha, Armor Wars, the Blade reboot, and Avengers: Secret Wars. Rumors peg The Fantastic Four as a period piece, possibly set in a different pocket of the multiverse, since that’s a thing. There is no precedent for the Fantastic Four in the MCU, save for a cameo by fan-cast-favorite John Krasinski as the Earth-838 version of Reed Richards, giving Feige and Shakman plenty of room to tell a damn good two-hour story. The demands of four-quadrant global event cinema will eventually fold “Marvel’s first family” into a larger continuity, that’s a given, but the setup of the 2025 film has the potential of 2008’s Iron Man, where actors can play in a sandbox with a singular tone and set of rules. And the cast is super promising.

Graphic: Matt Patches/Polygon; Source images: John Byrne/Marvel Comics; Jacopo Raule/Getty Images; Michael Tullberg/FilmMagic; Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

For the core team, Marvel has lined up actors coming off rave reviews from across film and TV. There’s Pedro Pascal (The Last of Us) as Reed Richards, Vanessa Kirby (Napoleon) as Sue Storm, Joseph Quinn (Stranger Things, upcoming Gladiator II) as Johnny Storm, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (The Bear) as Ben Grimm. And in the last few weeks, more notables have joined the bench. Julia Garner (Ozark) will costar as Shalla-Bal, likely appearing in her Silver Surfer form. Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) and John Malkovich (Con Air) have been cast in unspecified roles (our current theories: Hauser as house robot HERBIE and Malkovich as Mole Man, who the Four are rumored to be squaring off against in the opening of the film).

The most recent addition is maybe the most sublime casting choice: Ralph Ineson as Galactus. Ineson is a veteran English actor who has appeared in the Harry Potter movies, the UK Office, Robert Eggers’ The Witch and The Northman, and recently played the Green Knight in David Lowery’s The Green Knight. That last credit seems like a perfect comp for Galactus, who will probably speak rarely and loom ominously.

Ralph Ineson in The Witch standing in a big coat with his big beard looming over camera
Ralph Ineson in The Witch
Image: A24

The parts are there, and if Feige feels like the underdog, Marvel may throw everything at the movie in order to deliver. While Shakman isn’t known as a visionary filmmaker, having come off a lot of TV (including WandaVision), he isn’t far off from where Jon Favreau was when the actor-director stepped into Iron Man. Shakman has directed everything from massive Game of Thrones battle sequences to some of the funniest episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He’s in a position to nail what the previous two big-screen iterations of Fantastic Four never managed: the family. Marvel Studios has prided itself over taking its B-list characters more seriously than any studio would have in the 2000s. Can they wash away the sour taste of previous movies to do it again with Fantastic Four?

If Shakman’s movie doesn’t reinvigorate the MCU with new momentum, it’s hard to imagine how the studio creates excitement for another one of its patented 10-year plans. Secret Wars needs to feel like the culmination of something, not an AP test. What’s missing is any amount of investment — but maybe a slew of fresh faces are exactly what the universe needs. And if it’s terrible… there’s always the X-Men?

As my colleague Joshua Rivera astutely pointed out when we were screaming about Fantastic Four earlier this week, the fate of Marvel’s Fantastic Four movie is ultimately the fate of the X-Men in the MCU, too. If the movie flops, Marvel may find itself using players like Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Magneto as a slapdash nostalgia-baiting escape plan, rather than as the emotional foundation for a new branch of storytelling; a branch that, as X-Men ‘97 has made extremely clear, needs to be intimate and epic and weird all at once to be truly successful. Though if Fantastic Four is a massive hit, the studio could chronicle the team’s adventures for years, and buy itself time to figure out how to do X-Men properly.

At the end of the day, the MCU has never felt more like a business — and one that’s as shaky as the industry around it. Uh, no pressure to all involved with Fantastic Four.