Why I (Probably) Don’t Want to See John Krasinski as Reed Richards
Sometimes two great tastes don’t taste great together
I’m a big fan of The Office and a decades-long devotee of comics, so you’d think I’d be ecstatic about the possibility of John Krasinski playing Fantastic Four leader Reed Richards. But I’m concerned that the actor’s charm and affability will lead filmmakers to recast the character as an everyman — and if there is anything that Mr. Fantastic is not, it’s an everyman. More than that, I’m also worried that one of the most important stories that Marvel Studios can tell using the Fantastic Four will end up on the cutting room floor since it doesn’t align with that interpretation of the character.
Interpreting the “First Family” of Comics
Long subtitled “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine,” the Fantastic Four has largely lived up to that hype through its many incarnations over the last 50+ years. The prototypical Silver Age comic, it was at the vanguard of Stan Lee’s redefinition of superhero stories in the early 1960s. And while there has been an understandable ebb and flow in its quality in the intervening years, the book has nevertheless delivered many of Marvel’s most iconic plots and character introductions — Doctor Doom, the Black Panther, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Adam Warlock and many more.
In my mind, there are really three great eras of importance when you consider the history of the FF: the Lee-Kirby days, and later stints by John Byrne (in the 1980s) and Jonathan Hickman (with artists Alan Davis and Steve Epting through the early 2000s). The Lee-Kirby era is easy enough to defend for its significance — not just in terms of Lee’s establishment of the characters and their family dynamic but also because of how it revolutionized visual storytelling. Much of the work that gained Kirby the moniker of “King Kirby” — with his splash pages full of “Kirby crackle” and sound effects embedded directly into his graphics — was published during this period. The Byrne and Hickman runs would subsequently build on this foundation by evolving the relationships among the members of the family fantastic and between the team and its extensive rogues gallery — with Byrne focusing largely on Reed and Sue’s marriage and Hickman focusing on the relationship between the Richardses and their children.
And when I say the relationships “evolved,” I do mean that they progressed — as the interactions between the characters in the comic’s early days do come across as extremely dated. You have to remember that Lee’s original comics were comparatively progressive — but only in comparison to the social norms of 1960s America. The portrayal of Reed and Sue’s relationship over the years is full of cringe-worthy moments of the patronizingly named “Invisible Girl” being taken hostage by the villain of the month, gaping in horror as her teammates fought off hordes of monsters or henchmen, or being coaxed into action by the barked orders of her husband. And while the team’s patriarchal bent slowly became more implied than explicit, Byrne accelerated what had been a gradual change by drawing Susan Richards out of her husband’s shadow — showcasing her powers and her leadership abilities while also changing her codename to the more palatable “Invisible Woman.” What emerged was a more modern family dynamic with two invested spouses acting as partners and joint decision-makers. And it’s out of this period that I feel the best version of Mr. Fantastic also emerges — the version that needs to be memorialized in the MCU.
You see, making Sue a more three-dimensional character required a change in Reed’s personality as well. A more assertive Sue was increasingly framed by Byrne and later writers as the yin to his yang, the worldly practical influence serving to ground a single-minded technocrat who might otherwise forget to shave or eat or shower for days while in the throes of scientific discovery. It’s this ethereal — almost haunted — version of Reed Richards whose struggles with marriage and fatherhood I want to see adapted on the big screen. And I just don’t know if that’s a job for John Krasinski.
Not Just Another Day at “The Office”
As I’ve already said, I’m a big Krasinski fan. My family and I binge seasons of The Office often — perhaps too often, as we’re able to quote a lot of the dialogue from memory. But while we’ve enjoyed the actor’s turn as Jim Halpert, my concerns about him playing Reed Richards don’t stem from any doubts about his ability to toggle between comedy and drama. Anyone who harbors such misgivings clearly hasn’t seen A Quiet Place. (If you haven’t, you really need to do that right now. I mean, finish this article first — but then watch it immediately thereafter.) No, I’m sure he can be serious and intense — as shown in this film as well as his work in 13 Hours and the ongoing Jack Ryan series on Amazon Prime. So it’s not his acting abilities that give me pause.
Instead, I worry that fan expectations will likely push any John Krasinski-attached project to initiate Reed Richards’s story at the end rather than the beginning. One of the most notable aspects of the actor’s performance in A Quiet Place is how heartbreakingly relatable it is. He and wife Emily Blunt have as much as said that they viewed the project as a love letter to their own children — a dramatic portrayal of the lengths they’d undertake to protect their own family. With remarkably little dialogue, both actors make you feel the weight of their devotion. And where Mr. Fantastic is concerned, that sort of emotional connection needs to be the result of a long build-up — the result of hard-fought character growth rather than a starting point.
As I’ve mentioned above, the memorable Jonathan Hickman run on Fantastic Four at the beginning of the 2000s reshaped a lot of relationships within the team. In some ways, he deconstructed it — not as violently as Brian Bendis’s deconstruction of the Avengers in his “Avengers Disassembled” story arc, but every bit as impactful. Just as Byrne had evolved the characters that Lee had created, Hickman continued that evolution in a multi-layered sequence of overlapping arcs that included the death of a teammate and family member and the resulting reinvention of the team as something completely new. And while all of the characters got their moment to shine, it’s on the writer’s treatment of Reed Richards as husband and father that the story largely hinges.
By the beginning of the Hickman run, Sue and Reed have two offspring — the soft-spoken but enormously powerful Franklin and the brash genius and sometimes precog Valeria. Franklin had been a fixture in the comics since the 1970s whereas Valeria wouldn’t join the family until the 1990s. But in typical comic book fashion, both characters are school-age when Hickman starts to weave his story. Being that these aren’t typical children, their education poses an unusual challenge — one that Reed ultimately addresses by turning the soon-disbanded Fantastic Four into a different FF, the Future Foundation, a school where he can interact with his children as a lecturer.
“What price a man’s mistakes?” asks the title of one story. As I said at the top of the article, Reed Richards isn’t an everyman and his mistakes, therefore, aren’t an everyman’s mistakes. He bargains with space gods, wields the power cosmic, and faces down infinite versions of himself and his greatest foes. But his familial relationships tether him to the mundane, to the questions we all must face — including what type of parent and spouse we want to be. Hickman essentially asks him (and us), whether the best path is to seek to make the world a better place for our children or to make the world a better place through our children.
The Struggle is Real Even When It’s Fictional
Though the struggle of balancing work and family seems to be most often portrayed as a mother’s burden, the reality is that it’s equally true for fathers. In real families, love and duty are often at odds — as the people we need to provide for, whose safety and well being we fight to secure, are the same people most impacted by the physical or emotional absence required by our responsibilities.
In the case of the Richardses, there is a clear tension in this regard — as Reed’s abilities as a renowned polymath leave him feeling an oversized responsibility to the world at large even as he endeavors to maintain relationships with those closest to him. And it’s often a conundrum he’s not emotionally or intellectually equipped to resolve — a social challenge that is paradoxically both outside of our everyday experience yet nonetheless humanizing. To paraphrase a line often uttered by his close friend and teammate Ben Grimm (a.k.a. The Thing), “he’s the dumbest smart guy I know.”
It’s this baseline social awkwardness permeating all of his relationships — this fugue-like, almost child-like, state of continuous wonderment — that defines Reed Richards and sets him apart from the bubbly Shuri or the cocksure Tony Stark in the pantheon of Marvel’s transcendent geniuses. He’s every movie scientist who ducks under the yellow caution tape to grab a sample or more closely view the accident scene. He’s Spock from Star Trek The Motion Picture attempting to make solo contact with V’Ger. And I think it remains to be seen if that’s in John Krasinski’s wheelhouse. I fear that Krasinski’s Mr. Fantastic would reprise his role as Lee Abbott from A Quiet Place when the Reed Richards we really need from the MCU, at least to start, would combine equal parts of Dr. John Robinson from Lost in Space (movie version) and Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead — perhaps with a dash of Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins thrown in for good measure.
While he’d be arguably the smartest guy in the Marvel cinematic universe, I need this character to be capable of learning and growing. In many ways, John Krasinski is the guy Reed Richards should aspire to be when he grows up. Let’s hope that — in the wake of this seemingly inevitable casting choice — he doesn’t do so off-screen.
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