Pitchmas 2021, Part 5: Spider-Man and the Future Foundation

Just so we’re all clear, this starts as a sequel-ish to Fantastic Four as I described it. If you don’t want to read that pitch, the gist is Doom has sullied their names, and they’re time-displaced from the 60s, broke and largely without any tech to their names- so they’re in a remarkably similar position to Spider-Man at the end of No Way Home. This is also being bumped up a few weeks, because of some timely casting thoughts.

We start with Reed and Sue in bed. No, not like that. They’re sleeping. Reed mumbles a name in his sleep, then sits bolt upright. Sue asks him what’s wrong. “What’s a Peter Parker?” he asks.

Sue yawns. “I don’t know. Did he pick a peck of pickled peppers?”

Reed is using some kind of 3D hologram computer thing to search online. “I think that was Piper. Nothing on the internet- I mean, nothing useful– there are dozens of Peter Parkers in this borough, but… it’s a tickle in my brain. I can’t even describe it, let alone explain. But that name. It’s important, somehow.” He gets up, and is already on his way out of the room. “I’ll be in the lab, honey.”

“I guess I’ll just try to go back to sleep then…” she drops frustrated back onto the bed. She closes her eyes and sighs wearily. “No, I’ll make coffee.”

We cut to a little later. She enters his lab, with two cups, now dressed. “Oh, thank you, darling,” Reed says, stretching across the room to take his. “So I have fascinating news. One, magic really is just technology we didn’t previously understand, though I’m in the process of inventing a new branch of mathematics to be able to- but more importantly, someone used it to make us all forget ‘Peter Parker.’”

“Who?” she asks, because the spell has already made her forget him all over again.

“Right. I’ve been able to change the shapes of the impacted neurons in my own mind to circumvent the spell, but I also invented an innoculation,” he’s already stretched an arm with an injector, and shoots the serum into her arm, startling her.

“Reed, we’ve talked about this. It’s not okay for you to inject people with new inventions without consent- informed consent.”

“Sorry. I get caught up in my train of thought and completely forget. The spell made all of us forget Peter Parker.”

“You mean Spider-Man.”

“Precisely. But the reason this has been on my mind, is that the morning of the spell, I received this email.” He pulls it up as a hologram. “Purported to be from Tony Stark, but clearly arrived after his death. It’s supposed to be automated, triggered by Jonah Jameson outing Parker to outrage and vitriol, apparently asking me, as the currently most intelligent adult available, to take Parker under my wing. My to-do list kept trying to ping this information; I don’t know if it was a flaw in the spell, my coding, or just the spell not being calibrated to handle a brain made of chewing gum, but his name kept creeping into my dreams.”

“Should I be worried you’re dreaming about underaged boys?”

“He’s an adult. College-aged. And just the name. My dreams are typically equational, not prurient; I’m not Johnny.”

We cut to Johnny, and show bouncy bed springs from below, and his face, bouncing, sweaty, from enough of an angle for a moment we worry what we’re about to see. Then we pull back, and see he’s jumping up and down on the top bunk of a bunk bed.

“Come on, I’m bored.”

“It’s night,” Ben grumbles, “you’re supposed to be sleeping.”

He drops onto his butt, bounces to the floor. “I’d say you’re supposed to be grumping, but you’re holding up your end on that.”

Ben sighs. “Matchstick, I got a complexion you could only fix with an angle grinder, and most of the rocks on my face are still cracked from our last fight. Stretch still don’t know if they’ll ever properly ‘heal,’ and somehow I’m still sore. I need my beauty rest.”

“Why, are you worried about getting uglier?” We see he’s actually hurt by this, and Johnny flops down beside him. “Oh, come on, Ben! I always teased you about your mug.”

“Yeah, but it used to be subjective. Now… well, look, it’s a face only the blind could appreciate, even then, only from afar.”

“Okay, it’s just sad when you rag on yourself. So let’s go. Let’s do something. Anything has got to be better than moping around here. We could mini golf.”

“No, we can’t. Last time we tried, I snapped the club like a toothpick.”

“Right. Motion control games.”

“They suck.”

“They suck a lot less than having to replace controllers every time you try to hit ‘X.’” Ben sighs, resigned. “Or, I could make us some BLTs.”

“Now you’re speaking my language.” Okay, it’s at this point that I’m actually forming an interesting casting thought. We raid the Community closet for this movie. Jeff Winger as a brainy but dickish Reed (or Abed, and lean into Reed on the Spectrum, and use Jeff for the antagonist, instead). Donald Glover as Johnny. Either Annie or Britta could work for Sue (their takes would of course be different, I’m not suggesting they’re interchangeable). And Chang for the Thing. He’s already played a Jewish Asian in Community. It… works better than it has any real right to, frankly.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I actually have something for us,” Reed says from the doorway.

Now, for this sequence, I’d probably do a Sinister 5 kind of thing; Spider-Man’s bench continues to be impressive enough that I think that could work. I’d stay away from characters we’re using in Sinister 7, which does limit us somewhat.

Spider-Man is fighting a team led by Kraven featuring Lady Octopus, Rhino, Electro & Sandman. At first he’s quipping, doing okay… but they’re wearing him down, just too many villains, especially now that Kraven has pegged that all they have to do to make him act recklessly is threaten civilians. Lady Octopus knocks Spider-Man back with her metal arm, and Kraven catches him, ready with a ceremonial dagger. He plunges it down, but it hits an invisible forcefield.

The Fantastic Four arrive, and make short work of the villains, who expected a 5-on-1, not a fair fight, and Spider-Man rallies. As part of the fight, Sue ends up in the water, and uses an invisible forcefield to make an air bubble around her.

After the fight, Spider-Man is apologetic. “I’m so sorry,” he says, as they watch from a rooftop while the cops cart the bad guys away. “I wanted to handle it myself. I should have called the Avengers- would have…”

“But they don’t remember you,” Reed says. “Well we do, Peter.”

“Uh…”

“Magic is just science we don’t understand. Well… I’m working to understand it. So we know who you are. And just as importantly, we want to help. You’re practically a kid. You shouldn’t be taking this kind of weight onto your shoulders. Not alone. We don’t have a lot. But what we have is yours.”

“Reed, did you… read?” Sue asks. “Like the whole email? Because what we have just got a lot more substantial. Tony Stark didn’t just ask you to look after Peter. He gave you a grant of millions of dollars to do it.”

“We should probably talk to someone about that.”

We smash cut to a legal office (you’ll see what I did there in a second). My preference is always for She-Hulk, because I like the character more, but Matt Murdock is all but certainly cheaper. She explains, “The money is coming out of a fund Starkset up for philanthropic enterprises, nominally overseen by Pepper Potts. Her administration has been largely hands-off, because Stark set up automatic triggers using his Friday A.I. to watch out for certain circumstances. Like this one. The money is yours if you agree to watch out for a Peter Parker’s well-being. There isn’t a lot of detail as to what that entails.”

“I have some thoughts,” Reed says. “But one thing I did want to check in on… does it say the funds can only be used to see to the well-being of Parker… or can they be used more expansively.”

“As I read it, you have a wide degree of latitude. It’s always possible Ms. Potts or the foundation could ask how the funds are being used, or even seek an injunction if they feel they aren’t being used wisely, but even in that scenario, I’m not certain there’s even the possibility of a clawback, since there doesn’t seem to be an enumerated mechanism.”

Now, this idea basically builds off the one that I mentioned in the Iron Man 4 pitch; I’m going to both assume, for our purposes, that happened, but also like it was a blip, and didn’t create any kind of permanent infrastructure, that this is basically an attempt to codify that and make it lasting.

We do a quick build-up montage, as Fury’s dingy hideout is turned into a state of the art laboratory. Peter enters. “This is amazing.”

“I’ve always been partial to fantastic,” Reed says, “but it’s all thanks to you.”

“All I did was get found by Mr. Stark.”

“You impressed Tony- and not many did. Tony wanted to provide for your future. I’m… trying to build on that idea. And before anyone else arrived, I wanted to thank you. Plenty of people in your situation would want to, what’s the phrase, take the money and run?”

“I’ve learned the hard way that it shouldn’t be about me. The world is bigger and better than just me. And I’m excited to meet it.” Here’s where it gets fun.

Amadeus Cho (Note: this comes after Incredible Hercules), Riri Williams, Moongirl, Prodigy and any other child geniuses/prodigies we can think of enter the room. “Welcome to the Future Foundation,” Reed says. “The minds in this room are some of the greatest of your generation. You will build a future that will make men like Tony Stark, Hank Pym and myself pale in comparison. You have the opportunity to build something beautiful and utopian, solutions to problems that don’t devolve into punching. Spider-Man here is our example; what he did to help people some would have written off as villains speaks well to his character, and well of those who raised him.”

“I’m just… Peter. That’s already enough pressure. I guess, I’ve seen enough people who just wanted to provide for their family, or right an injustice, who ended up on the wrong side of things… I don’t like people getting hurt, when what they really need is help.”

We pull back, and see that Sue is feeling left out already. We hear Johnny before we see him, “I can’t believe you’re jealous of his test-tube babies.”

“I used to be his test-tube baby,” Sue says sadly.

“Gross.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I was worried my sister might be sitting sullenly in a lab somewhere being gross.”

“You are such a dork.”

“Did you know dork means whale dong? The internet is awesome.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on wikipedia.”

“That sounds like what you’d name an encyclopedia of micropenises.”

“Then you’d be all over it,” Ben says as he enters.

“Hot foot,” Johnny says, setting Ben’s foot on fire. Ben hops on one foot as he smothers it with his hands.

“Real mature.”

Sue sighs. “This was weeks in the making,” she says. “When it started, we were partners. But every day, he’s gotten a little more distant. This is such a great thing we were doing… and now it’s a great thing he’s doing, while I watch from the sidelines.”

“So,” Ben says, “why don’t you get off the sidelines?”

We follow her into the room. “Ah, Susan,” Reed starts. “You all know Susan. Most of you spoke to her on the phone. I would posit myself as the brain of this operation, but the heart, the soul, the hands- the rest, really- is her. I have been known to disappear into my puzzles and problems, but if you ever need something, she’s the person who can help. I hope I’m not signing you up for more than you want, dear.”

She smiles, awkwardly. This story is, in part, about Sue feeling unseen and neglected, and I absolutely want to display the emotional truth of that… but it’s also a balancing act, because it won’t have the depth, either, if we don’t show the moments of true and genuine affection between them, too.

Later, Sue is sitting with the geniuses. “So,” Amadeus leans forward, “what are you hoping to accomplish, here?” She’s confused. “I guess I assumed we’re like a think tank, right? So we’re here to solve a particular problem.”

“Yes, and no,” Sue responds. “You’re here to solve the future. Reed, if he hadn’t been ripped out of our own place in space-time, likely would have single-handedly advanced human technology twenty years. But he sees the same possibility in all of those here. You have all, already, single-handedly created math and technology that could change the world- should change the world. Ms. Walters has already put us in touch with a good patent attorney. What we’d like to do is, with your individual permission, of course, file those patents under your names, but place royalties accrued into a general fund that can be used to continue the Future Foundation indefinitely. No funds or fees will go to any of the adults here. But if you’d prefer, we can set aside all or some of those funds for your family or your personal use, as well. You’ll be provided an opportunity to speak to Ms. Walters or Mr. Murdock individually- while we will be compensating them for their time from Tony Stark’s grant, in these matters they are your representatives- to help you understand whatever elections you make, and of course any selections will require, for those of you under 18, parental signature, as well.”

“What about rent? Or food?” Peter asks.

“The stipend we have from the Stark foundation should be enough to pay room and board and cover the cost of this facility for this inaugural class. After that, it all depends on contributions, and how quickly Reed’s patents and any others become profitable.”

At first Sue does get to be involved, but what she complained about continues to happen. Quickly, what looks like the A story, about the Foundation, is going to become the B, as Sue spends time at the harbor, trying to deal with her melancholy and loneliness.

It comes to a head when Sue, on one of her sabbaticals, misses a mission with the other 4. Spider-Man subs in, and she arrives home to see their triumphant return. She watches, invisible, as they celebrate, as she feels more and more like a fifth wheel as they celebrate one another.

She leaves, but on this walk, she’s approached by a strange man. He’s handsome, and offers to walk with her. As they hit the waterfront, he invites her to his place out on the water. He takes her to the dock, and she asks where his boat is. He says where they’re going, they don’t need boats, and jumps in the water. His clothes go floating up behind him, and she says “You’re insane if you thinks I’m skinny-dipping with a man I just met… “she drops off as he climbs out of the water, his moist skin glistening in the moonlight. “Okay, that might be the single greatest possible argument for skinny-dipping with a man in the moonlight I’ve only just met…” He assures her she doesn’t need to remove her clothes, but she will need to her own supply of air, which he’s seen her create before. “You were there,” she says, putting together that he saw their fight with the Frightful Five.

“I was. And I was instantly enchanted, so much so that I scarcely remembered to intervene. But please. Come with me. We both know I could scarcely touch you if you didn’t allow it, and I would lay my life down at your feet before I allowed harm to come to you- even from myself.”

She pulls away from him. “But why? Why me? Why like this? When not just call it a night, and get coffee tomorrow?”

“Because I know you’d go back to him, and that would break my heart. Not for myself, but because you deserve a man who adores you like I do. You deserve to be treasured, and cherished. And he doesn’t. He won’t. I doubt that he can. Even if it’s just to spend a night away, even if you never allow me the touch of your skin, I plead that you not return, just this one night. After that, if you still want to go back, I won’t seek to stop you, and you won’t have to wonder if you’re stuck, staying with him in a rut because he’s convenient and there.”

Sue texts Reed to tell him not to wait up, that she got a room near the pier, and a glass of wine and just needs an evening away. His phone buzzes on the laboratory table; he doesn’t notice it.

I think it’s Amadeus who brings it up to the kid geniuses. “So, this is weird, right… but my equations are incredibly predictive. I knew Reed Richards was going to start the Future Foundation likely before he did, and guessed his initial line-up with 93% certainty. It’s not a brag it’s just… behavioral modeling. And… my modeling predicts something bad is going to happen?”

“Should I start polishing my helmet?” Riri asks.

“Uh…” he really wants to make the dirty joke on the tip of his tongue, but Moongirl is super young and he’s hoping he can stall long enough for the temptation to pass.

“It gets dents and scuffs I have to polish out- never mind. Is it a helmet kind of problem, is the salient question?”

“I’m not sure. Sue’s unhappy. Reed’s been spending more of his time with us, and she’s feeling left out, and unfulfilled. Missing out on an emergency situation just, it makes that worse.”

“You can really predict what’s going to happen?” Peter asks.

“Not what. That. I can predict that something will happen. Sue’s not coming back tonight. Maybe she meets somebody. Maybe she gets mugged in the park. Bad things happen tonight.”

“Helpful,” Moongirl says.

“Actually… knowing that something will happen is half the battle,” Riri says, wearing her helmet. She holds out her gauntlet, and projects some camera footage of Sue going into the water with a stranger. “From there it’s just a matter of tracking her phone to the docks, and pulling up a camera when her phone stopped moving.”

“Um… is anyone else worried she’s not coming up for air?” Peter asks.

“With him? I’m not sure I can blame her not wanting to come up for air,” Riri says. “What? Like I haven’t seen the way either of you look at Sue.”

“Fair enough,” Amadeus shrugs. “But then the question becomes… what do we do with it?”

“We shouldn’t tell Reed,” Peter says. “If it’s nothing, if it’s innocent, then we’re inserting ourselves in their relationship in a way that isn’t healthy for them or us.”

“And if it’s not?” Riri asks.

“Then it’s probably better it come from family.”

Ben and Johnny investigate, Ben in his hat and trenchcoat. It’s a relatively quick scene, since the video mostly tells the tale. But they find some lockers nearby, with her phone inside, and her keys and wallet. There’s no sign of a struggle. They reason one of two things have happened, that either she went willingly, or there’s some kind of coersion. And they can’t verify which without Reed.

Spider-Man is with them when they tell Reed, who is largely nonchalant. His posture is mostly, “I don’t want Susan to feel obligated, not to me, not to us, not to the Foundation.”

“Sure,” Johnny says, “and I get that. But what if she was threatened. There are any number of ways she could have been coerced. If she’s okay, we can leave her alone. The bigger issue is going after her.”

“Best we could come up with was having you stretch into a diving bell,” Ben says.

“Depending on how far down, I don’t know that I could hold a bell shape indefinitely. We might be better off figuring something else out.”

“I… might have a solution.” Peter is… weird about bringing it up. “But none of you can ever say anything. To anyone. Ever. Not even to me.” Quieter. “Especially not to me.”

They go to Stark Tower. There’s a secret elevator that goes down. “Did Tony have Iron Man diving suits?” Reed asks, his curiosity clearly peaked.

“It’s just better if you see it for yourselves.” Peter shows them an undersea bachelor pad. It is just as Love Motel as you might initially assume. Johnny is enamored. “One time, when Mr. Stark had a martini, he told me about this place. Before he and Ms. Potts started dating, he’d bring women down here to, seal the deal. Apparently bringing women underwater, or taking them for a ride on his private submarine, was sometimes what it took.”

“What I think the kid is saying is this whole place is six degrees from Tony’s undercarriage,” Ben says.

“Likely less,” Reed remarks.

We go back to Sue. Namor’s underwater palace is phenomenal, beautiful, but also exotic. And he really is into her, in all of the ways that Reed just hasn’t been able to be. So she’s legitimately torn. Namor seems like he really values her, and Reed… doesn’t need her. He’s found his calling, his people, his place. I think that is what makes this arc work- it feels like a tragic ending to their love affair…

And then she finds out that Namor, while absolutely adoring her, is going to completely screw up the world. He was there to begin with doing reconnaissance for his entrance to the United Nations. He was going to demand they recognize Atlantis as a nation, and then the ceding of all bodies of water connected to the oceans to him- that humanity had proven themselves bad stewards, and he was going to take over where they had proven incapable. That would mean no more territorial waters for countries, that instead the beaches would become shared territorial property. He is fanatical in his description; refusing to hear that no country would yield to his demand, let alone all of them, that what he’s demanding would at best make him a rogue state, but likely a global ecoterrorist.

She argues for another solution, that his problem is exactly the kind of thing she and Reed built the Future Foundation to solve- that they can solve pollution and garbage and make the oceans clean and habitable again. But he doesn’t trust humans. Even if Reed manages a solution, humans can’t even get ahead of climate change, even as disasters ramp up and kill increasingly more of the population. That is why they aren’t right for one another- Sue’s is ultimately a hopeful view of the future, and Namor’s isn’t (and maybe can’t be, because he’s responsible for so many sea lives that hang in the balance).

It’s then that Reed arrives, having heard enough of Namor’s rant to know the score. Namor’s sad, and when Sue looks like she wants to go, says, “I won’t stop you.”

But she turns, and squares to him. “I’m afraid I have to stop you.” They have a big old fight, culminating in the destruction of Namor’s palace. He’s essentially too strong for them, especially in the open sea, but Sue makes sure that he knows he’d have to destroy her to get to them- that he relents, and departs.

I’m in a weird mood today (or maybe I’m just incensed by the misogynist fury pointed undeservedly at the actress), so I’m going to suggest Amber Heard as Sue Storm. And I’d wave just so much money at Jason Momoa to be Namor, because it would be hilarious (and because he has, thus far, actually been a stand-up dude and supportive of Heard). Come on, think about it. Ridiculous, trolling casting. Otherwise, any dude who can rock a tiny pair of green trunks will do.

Back in the lab, Reed confronts Susan about her betrayal; Reed, for all his aloofness, is genuinely hurt to find that Sue went with Namor willingly. “I don’t understand, Susan. I know I can be an imperfect partner, immensely flawed, even. But even in your disappointment, I don’t see how you could choose to treat me this way.”

“I didn’t think you’d notice I’d gone,” she says, then quieter, “I didn’t think you’d care.”

The pain in her voice absolutely melts him. “Susan…” his voice catches. “That’s my fault. I get so caught up, in trying to fix things, things that are my fault, things that happened because I wasn’t where I should have been, or who… and I neglect the most important people in the world to me. I don’t want to pursue invention for invention’s sake, or to make a better world in the abstract. I want to make a better world for you, for us, for our family, for our children… but I recognize that a single-minded pursuit of that cannot come at the expense of our relationship, cannot come at the cost of me neglecting you, neglecting to tell you that, Susan… I would be lost without you. And I don’t mean in the sense that you compensate for my faults, and make me a better man that I otherwise would be- though you do. I mean that without you I am far from fantastic; I’m not even a man, clanging tools together in a cave. I can imagine a life without limbs, without my intellect, but a life without you? Blackness. Bleakness. Empty. And it should not take a fishman in a tight bathing suit to prompt me to tell you that you are my world, and I am truly sorry for that.”

“That fishman did fill out his bathing suit,” she teases. “But I’m sorry, too. This is not how you should find out I’m unhappy, or feeling alone. You might not always be the partner I want… but I still have a responsibility to be the partner you deserve, too. And, nicely though he filled out his bathing suit, Namor is not the kind of man I could ever fall in love with, because he lacks the quality I need most in my life: hope. Hope that the future can be better than today, and that we can get there, together, if we work hard enough to build it. Which means I’m stuck with you.” He wraps an arm around her.

We pull back, and can see that the future geniuses have been watching. To make it cute, silly, and marketable, they’re watching through a Spider-Bot (as seen at a Disney Theme Park near you). “We did a good thing, guys,” Riri says.

“And ladies,” Moongirl adds.

The girls leave, and we linger with Peter and Amadeus. “Want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Peter hedges.

“Well, if you ever need-

We go to high-speed nervous rambling Peter, “So I think I had what they have but then she forgot because of a magical spell and I thought at the time it was best to leave her alone so she didn’t have to worry about being attacked for knowing me but seeing them work through things makes me miss her and wish, well, wonder, if maybe I made a mistake, if it should have been a love conquers all moment instead of me sacrificing my happiness to protect her, and now I’m sort of seeing this other person who’s really neat and sweet and I feel like my heart and my head are clacking like those weird little silver ball desk things constantly.”

“You understand I’m the only person in the world who could keep up with that, right? I am… not well-versed in women and adjacent issues. But what I can say is this: what happened in there happened in part because you are one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met. I think you listen to the Peter in here,” he points at Peter’s chest, “that you’ll know what you want, and what’s right, and how to navigate the differences between those two things.”

“Could your equations tell me what to do?”

“No. They might be able to tell me what you will do, but figuring out what you should do… that’s something only you can figure out.”

We start credits. Mid-credits scene. Lawyers and repossessors exit the elevator just behind Peter and Amadeus. The lawyers hand Amadeus paperwork, as the repossessors begin to box everything up.

“What the hell?” Peter asks.

“It seems Victor Von Doom, which apparently is his real, legal name, somehow, sued Reed for damages done to his face. And won. The entirety of the grant and all assets procured therewith are being seized. Dr. Doom just beat the Fantastic Four without lifing a finger.” More credits.

End-credits scene. The elevator opens again, this time it’s She-Hulk. “You’re to cease and desist all seizure,” she says, handing the paperwork to the overseeing lawyer. The FF arrive from the other room. As the repossesors and layers leave.

“What’s going on?” Sue asks.

“Doom seized the grant. Apparently they served illegal notice, but managed to force a trial anyway. Matt and I did our best to fight it when we found out, but… he’s taking all of the money Tony gave you. But, Reed’s patent for unstable molecules has already been approved, and a licensing deal struck with several chemical-producing conglomerates. Licensing fees alone are going to keep the lights on in this place for the foreseeable future, as well as cover the cost of any equipment already purchased with Tony’s funds. Wisely, the unstable molecule patents were all filed under the Foundation’s name, so Doom can’t access them. So the Future Foundation is here to stay.”

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