AMC's Jon Schnepp Says ANNIHILUS is Main Baddie of FANTASTIC FOUR Reboot?

AMC's Jon Schnepp Says ANNIHILUS is Main Baddie of FANTASTIC FOUR Reboot?

Just recently, the panel at AMC Theatres Entertainment Company gave a rather indifferent update on the script for Josh Trank's Fantastic Four reboot, which is reportedly done and casting news should hit the web soon. Come check it out!

But one of their correspondents spilled some very unprecedented information about plot details that hadn't yet been discussed, rumored, or hinted at since the project's inception.

"I'm actually kind of excited, [Josh] Trank has this perspective of doing a realistic version of the Fantastic Four ...[it depends] on how they deal with Annihilus and other aspects of the script." -Jon Schnepp

AMC Movie News correspondent Jon Schnepp is a trusted source for this kind of insight into the comic book filmmaking industry, having mentioned numerous times before how he knows a lot of the special effects artists personally, people who've been working on the project since day one. AMC was reporting Simon Kinberg had finished doctoring the script for Josh Trank's Fantastic Four reboot and we should be hearing the official casting announcements soon enough. While remaining optimistic towards's shortlist of bizarre choices for lead actors, Schnepp nonchalantly chimed in with Annihilus as an aspect of the newly completed script. The remark could've easily gone unnoticed and while it isn't the "studio confirmation" golden standard for news websites who start or perpetuate rumors based on nothing, seeing as this is only news we've heard thus far of a possible villain, the evidence stacks up as its consistent with previous statements made by Ultimate FF writer Mark Millar.

"What I wasn’t expecting actually was just how funny and likable [Trank] could make this as well as getting the more awesome moments on screen – I use awesome in the traditional British sense and not the California sense 'awesome' you know? The Ridley Scott moments, and the Fantastic Four really are jaw-dropping in the same way you feel when you saw Alien for the first time. There’s some moments in this – not to be specific – that are actually gonna be phenomenal on screen and stuff you haven’t seen in a superhero movie before." -Mark Millar

So if Jon Schnepp knew for a fact Annihilus is part of the script, chances are he's either seen what the CGI animation teams are rendering for the Lord of the Negative Zone, or heard about it from someone inside the industry. Because Jon is an animator himself, as the director and character designer of Metalocalypse, maybe he's just very keen to the idea of Marvel's first family battling an alien supervillain who looks like a heavy-metal bat-out-of-hell version of Ultron or a subtle metaphor for nihilism. It's no coincidence that Schnepp is also the director of another [adult swim] cartoon called The Venture Bros. a dark parody of Johnny Quest. The show features a superpowered quartet called The Impossibles who are a dark parody of the Fantastic Four; the elastic professor Richard Impossible, his wife Sally whose epidermis can turn invisible, her retarded cousin Ned who now has three-inch thick skin, and her brother Cody who is constantly on fire and in pain. The director of this show claims to know who the main villain is in the upcoming Fantastic Four, we should take his word for it.

CONFIRMED: The team will fight an Alien threat.

No surprise there! Mark Millar confirms it way back in January 2013, and with five decades of comic source material to pull from, there's no better way to establish FOX's half of the Marvel Cosmic than to have their First Family making first contact. The Fantastic Four have always battled enemies of the extraterrestrial persuasion, their brand was practically designed to introduce new alien races into Marvel comics; the Skrulls, the Kree, the Shi'ar, the Atlanteans, and even the Moloids. While they're not the only superhero team "...united in their fight against interplanetary evil!" as you know, the Avengers famously battled the Chitauri in New York and team-up movies can't live up to that spectacular 3rd act without a plot centered around an alien invasion. Back in early 2012, all speculation pointed towards Annihilus and the Annihilation Wave as main villains in The Avengers, the teaser trailer showed a wormhole to another dimension and an unknown army emerging from the portal. Many were quick to point out that Marvel Studios can't use Annihilus or his army, as the character first appeared Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968) falling under FOX's jurisdiction. Even though the "The Annihilation Wave" is more commonly an enemy of Guardians of the Galaxy in the popular Annihilation crossover story-arc, only one studio is allowed to bring them to the big screen.


The Arthrosian swarm or "Annihilation Wave" are an insectoid species from the imploded planet Arthos in Sector 17A of the Negative Zone. The spore-bearing protoplanet Arthros was once 9500 km in diameter until Galactus devoured it at some point during the height of alien civilization some millennia ago. Its core shattered across the cosmos forming an asteroid belt, one that has directly synced up with Earth's orbit in our dimension. To make matters worse, the Arthosian population of flying insects that have adapted to the vacuum of space and colonized beehives inside large masses of the floating debris field. Their lord Annihilus has declared war upon our universe in the pursuit of infinite knowledge; Annihilus possesses highly advanced weaponry from a previous hominid race called the Tyannans, an artifact called the "cosmic control rod". The glowing cylindrical device worn around the neck allows whoever wears it to communicate with any sentient life of any dimension, and by that extension, to control the A-Wave using telepathic commands. The warlord bug Annihilus has amassed an exceedingly large armada dubbed the Annihilation Wave, millions of hive-mind soldiers flying in unison and following two simple commands: Extinguish life wherever they find it, and obtain as much human technology as possible, then bring it back to their lord in The Negative Zone to be studied, taken apart, and ultimately for its knowledge to be used as a weapon against humanity.

Annihilation Wave could easily draw comparisons to the 80's military science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, which was recently adapted into the 2013 film Ender's Game. In the story, Earth gets attacked by an insect-like alien species called "Buggers" an advanced space-faring colony similar to ants and bees in societal structure. Though officially known as "Formics", we nicknamed them Buggers due to their insect-like appearance, and because the race is made up of a Hive Queen and her subjects. Queens are only about three meters long but they are the central mind controlling the entire nest telepathically, the workers are barely one meter in length. Since they share a hive-mind, the loss of individual units does not concern them, they've killed several humans in the belief they were simply stopping communications, which led to the Formic-Human war consisting of the First, Second, and Third Invasions. Arthosians are different from Formics in a lot of ways, because Annihilus is male they aren't a matriarchal societal structure and Arthos isn't exactly the technologically-advanced culture Formics are, any of the A-Wave's hi-tech gadgetry has either been scavenged from floating garbage piles in subspace or stolen from other dimensions.

The better comparison to make to the A-Wave, and to give you an idea of how much artistry can be put into designing the Arthosians, is to the main antagonists of the Halo video game series, a military alliance of alien races called the Covenant. The diversified species operates at a rank-and-file conglomerate, certain shield or armor colors indicates the rank of each caste; Grunts, Jackals, Elites, Hunters, Prophets, Drones, Brutes, and Engineers. In particular the Drones who are a race of sentient, flight-capable insectoids whose mastery of antigravity-assisted flight has given them an almost insurmountable strategic advantage in combat. Most are about the size of a human, and covered in a natural chitinous exoskeleton that affords them limited armor protection against human weaponry. They are intelligent engineers capable of repairing and creating advanced Covenant technology far beyond human capabilities, they travel in unorganized swarms and the colored plating of their exoskeletal armor tends to ignore hierarchy. This all sounds very cinematic in concept and spectacle, so why hasn't it been tried on film before?

"I feel like we're going to see a lot more movies that mix documentary style with fiction, more along the lines of 'District 9.'" -Josh Trank

The Director is Influenced by Neill Blomkamp

Latino Review's own El Mayimbe recently claimed to know that Neill Blomkamp will direct the pilot episode of Steven Spielberg's Halo sort of an obvious prediction to make, considering back in 07 Blomkamp directed a trilogy of live-action short films known collectively as Landfall, set in the Halo universe to promote the release of Halo 3. This caught the attention of Peter Jackson who planned to produce a film adaptation based on the Halo video-game franchise which would've been the South African-Canadian animator's directorial debut. But due to a lack of financing, the Halo adaptation was placed on hold, so they discussed pursuing alternative projects, although some concepts Neill would have done with Halo are explored further in movies like Elysium. In 2008, Jackson and Blomkamp eventually chose to produce and direct District 9 a story adapted from Alive in Joburg the 2006 science-fiction short film directed by Neill and produced by Sharlto Copley.

Alive in Joburg's depictions of humanity, xenophobia, and social segregation would become Blomkamp's signature style of mixing lo-fi production with seamless CGI; and like District 9 it's shot in a gritty "mockumentary" format, and its about extraterrestrials marooned in Johannesburg. Neill Blomkamp returned to the world explored in his short film, choosing characters, moments and concepts that he found interesting including the documentary style filmmaking, staged interviews, alien designs, alien technology/mecha suits, and the parallels to racial conflict and segregation in South Africa, so he fleshed out these elements for his first feature film. The independent science fiction action/thriller film opened in 2009 to critical acclaim and earned $37 million in its opening weekend. Many saw the film as a sleeper hit for achieving success and popularity during its theatrical run, despite a modest budget and relatively unknown cast. The same praises can be said for the debut of first-time director Josh Trank; Chronicle had success and popularity, despite a modest budget and unknown cast. But however paralleled their debuts may be, the low-budget found-footage Chronicle can't be sorted into the same genre as the blockbuster mockumentary District-9.

"Filmmakers have to really find a unique take on something if they're going to explore an already-explored genre of movies." -Josh Trank

"MOCKUMENTARY is a type of film where fictional events are presented in documentary style to create a parody of either comedic or dramatic effect. These are often used to analyze or comment on current events and issues by using a fictional setting, or to parody the documentary form itself."

"FOUND-FOOTAGE means the film is presented as salvaged video recordings, left behind by missing or dead protagonists, where the on-screen events are seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved. Filming may be done by the actors themselves as they recite their lines off-screen, and shaky camera work and naturalistic acting are often employed."

UNCONFIRMED: So Instead of Found-Footage, the new Fantastic Four is a Mock-Documentary in the Same Vein as District 9?

Found-footage works really well within the horror or monster film genres, and on one special occasion, even the superhero genre. But because going the shaky-cam route can be so visually-restrictive, its better for telling the smaller, more personal stories. Plus the characters and audience are always totally aware of the camera's presence, there's always a need to acknowledge the camera, as opposed to "observational mode" where the viewer is "a fly on the wall." But if Josh Trank were to direct another superhero sci-fi movie shot entirely in found-footage? It wouldn't be able to capture the awe or majesty of a cosmic space opera, or the expansive, epic scope of a Fantastic Four story he plans on doing, but I do think a mockumentary would do just that. District-9 definitely blurs the line between genres, as it attempts an observational story structure, the strong narrative takes over and you don't find yourself questioning how the cameraman videotaped private conversations or shootout-sequences from impossible angles, and "Get that [frick]ing camera out of my face!" isn't said more than a few times.

Like-minded filmmakers can profoundly influence one another, Trank and Blomkamp both knocked-it-outta-the-park on their first try and likewise, both have been entrusted with huge intellectual properties like Halo and Fantastic Four. I'm surprised that District-9 type of films aren't made more often, as it now seems Josh Trank's prediction was wrong. Unless his second movie turns out to be the same sort of observational docu-fiction cinema he was referring to, in which case its a self-fulfilled prophecy. So comparing the FF reboot to District-9 makes sense on multiple levels, and since both movies involve aliens invading, the way Neill Blomkamp gave his alien "Prawns" a neat perspective in the story could definitely impact future alien invasion movies to come. Josh Trank says he wants all of his films to be different, so don't assume he'll always be doing found-footage or always be doing superhero films. However we can judge from his previous statements that doing "big sci-fi epics" will always be his thing.

"Chronicle, if you think about it, was similar to Fantastic Four in that it was a bunch of people who were transformed into something more than human – that turned out almost be his calling card to come and do something like Fantastic Four." -Mark Millar

"I don’t think you could do Fantastic Four and try and make it grim and gritty," -Mark Millar

The cinematic style of presenting fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras in a clever mockumentary format could be easily implemented into the lives of four super-powered celebrities. Since the Fantastic Four are supposed to be world-famous superheroes, its reasonable to assume that whatever events may transpire during their adventures would be well-documented by zealous fans, paparazzi, or non-fiction documentary filmmakers within the story itself. Other plot points have yet to be revealed, but we know there's some kind of accident where four people get bombarded with cosmic rays, and seeing this on the big screen in a realistic, docu-fiction format would be jaw-dropping regardless of whether its the classic 616 space-ship origin or the new Ultimate version with the teleporter accident. Let's not forget Annihilus is somewhere in the mix so it's also a documentary about making first contact with an interdimensional alien, and possibly not finding out soon enough that this bug is insane in the membrane (insane in the brain) and tries to kill everybody. But it won't be just a dark sci-fi story, even D-9 had its moments of levity in between heights of tension and Fantastic Four comics are full of that "family sitcom" type of comic relief. Ben getting pranked by Johnny could actually be one of the funnier highlights, if its anything like the pranks seen in Chronicle.

You can tell from Chronicle that it was a new way of looking at superheroes, and I think he’s going to apply that same slightly skewed way of looking at heroes to the Fantastic Four, but do it in a way that feels incredibly reverential to the [Jack] Kirby and [Stan] Lee stuff," -Mark Millar

UNCONFIRMED: "Fantastic Four in the Negative Zone"

The Negative Zone is an antimatter universe depicted in Marvel publications created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, it first appeared in Fantastic Four #51 circa 1966. It is essentially a parallel dimension to our own, because it has all the same fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism and nuclear energies plus the capacity to sustain life. But all matter in the Negative Zone is negatively charged, meaning an antimatter breach to our universe would cause a mutual particle annihilation in its wake, scientists have to take extreme caution to prevent this phenomenon from happening when they open portals to study the realm.

Discovery: When Galactus first appeared on Earth, the smartest man in the world Reed Richards became obsessed with finding a means to stop such a cosmic menace from ever threatening his planet again. The first step was to break the same faster-than-light barrier that these cosmic beings could use to traverse space-time. Reed invented a machine to do just that-- a dimensional entrance into sub-space, he rushed in to explore with the help of the Thing, finding himself in the so-called "Crossroads of Infinity, the junction to everywhere." Unable to control his movements, Mister Fantastic was tossed into another dimension, one where all matter was negatively charged rather than positively charged. At the vortex where these two dimensions aligned is the Distortion Area, where if the matter from the two oppositely-charged dimensions collided, it would result in a catastrophic explosion. Richards called the dimension "the Negative Zone" and created a portal to it inside his laboratory, throughout the teams history he would often lead the Fantastic Four to explore this new world. In the early days of its exploration, Reed Richards spent a fair amount of time studying it through probes and determined that it was largely unpopulated. The government often used the Negative Zone to imprison supervillains, but after irrevocable evidence that the Zone is in fact inhabited by violent insects, such practices were abandoned and its no longer use it to dispose of villains or dangerous mutants.

Civilization: The earliest Negative Zone cultures had never been fully documented, but rough estimates place its height of science and art over 1.5 million years ago, nearly coinciding with the rise of the Skrull and Kree empires. It is believed around that time the Negative Zone began its "Big Crunch" ceasing expansive progress and contracting to a central nexus. Some of the most powerful and influential races faced destruction at the universe's edge and sought to preserve their lives before the event horizon consumed their homeworlds. One of the more aggressive races at this time were the Tyannans, lion-like bipeds explored much of the Negative Zone and eventually began to seed many of its planets, including Baluur home of Blasstaar, with their "spores of life." Their final seeding mission, however, went awry...

Planet Arthros: Before the Arthrosian spores evolved into an insect swarm, the Tyannans were the only indigenous intelligent lifeform in the extra-dimensional realm, they explored the Negative Zone to its utmost limits, mapping out worlds that seemed capable of supporting life. Tyannan space explorers built huge factories to produce "the seeds of life" living spores sealed in gold to survive their journey across the cosmos. However, the last remaining Tyannan fleet was destroyed by a meteor collision, their seeding vessels careened off-course and fell into the desolate planet of Arthros, marooning the crew on its volcanic surface. With the ship's engines dead and food processors destroyed, the Tyannan captain ordered the release of life-spores far and wide, then recorded the missions' final moments as his crew starved to death. Soon after, the multitude of spores began to rapidly evolve on the planet's surface and sentient life would eventually dominate the low-gravity barren environments of Arthros.

"Star Wars is one of those unique movies that a two-year-old can watch, understand, enjoy and appreciate because there's a very clear-cut good vs. evil, you know who the good guy is, you know who the bad guy is, there's a real innocence to it." -Josh Trank

Annihilus is the physical embodiment of nihilism, a paranoid creature dwelling in the red realm of death. If there wasn't already a popular depiction of Mephisto and the Underworld in Marvel Comics, then Annihilus and the Negative Zone would be its sci-fi counterpart. Like all insects, Arthrosians don't often live past a few weeks because of their adult arthropod physiology combined with the harsh conditions of outer space. So in that respect, Annihilus is genetically no better than his lesser brethren, all who were born from the same dying aliens' spores. But what makes Annihilus so different is his quest for knowledge and how it lead him to the crashed-landing site of a Tyannan starship. Within the derelict space vessel he uncovered from the wreckage some highly-advanced technology including; spiked body-armor, a knowledge transference helmet (see below) and a universal translator device called The Cosmic Control Rod. The ancient artifact that provides immortality to its wearer by slowing cellular degeneration rate (of the normally short-lived insect) it also wards off disease and reverses the effects of heat, cold, and radiation. Annihilus was able to extend his lifespan beyond its insectoid limits and soon reached an 8-foot stature, 17-foot wingspan and with an ever-increasing IQ, his mutated intelligence level is by far the most dangerous trait of the inexorable villain.

The Cosmic Control Rod: is the last remaining relic of the Tyannan people, an alien translator in the form of a glowing cylindrical pendant worn around the neck. Whoever wears it is able to speak and understand any spoken language, including the ability to command the innate vibratory communication of flying insects, in other words, to direct flight patterns of the Annihilation Wave. Bodily contact with the CCR is met with an overwhelming sensation of hallucinatory effects, which is only a result of its language-barrier dissolution feature. Your entire field-of-vision gets flooded with images of floating words and abstract meanings, written language becomes a holographic 3-D projection of symbolic alien cuneiform, and just hearing a foreign language is like an instant Rosetta Stone software download to your brain. This incalculably powerful alien relic was buried deep within the Tyannan spore-bearing vessels' stardrive, but Annihilus was quick to scavenge it and to master the other hi-tech science equipment that lay before him. He donned the Tyannan transference-helmet aboard the ship and with it he was bestowed every piece of knowledge needed to dominate and subjugate all other forms of life.

Annihilus will undergo a brand new design to differ significantly from the comics; making him appear less humanoid, less robotic, and more insectoid. In order to distance itself from any inevitable comparisons to Joss Whedon's cyborg baddie Ultron, the purpose of re-designing Annihilus is to render a character as visually frightening as possible. The design can be made iconic and memorable simply by borrowing pieces of scary imagery from the likes of; Nosferatu, the Jersey Devil, and Xenomorphs, of course Ridley Scott's endoparasitoid organisms are horror icons, and a strong Alien-influence could mean some of the dripping, leathery, fetishist design aspects of HR Geiger. With more emphasis put on bug-like qualities, Annihilus could really become a villain for the ages. Just like Doctor Doom there's so much implied menace in the name, with the Latin roots "nihil" meaning "nothing" or Annihilate "to make into nothing" his name almost sounds like "nihilist" or "someone who rejects all theories of morality and religious belief." Like Doctor Doom and many of the supervillains to emerge from Fantastic Four comics, Annihilus is considered a "megavillain" known to battle other Marvel teams in crossover events. Annihilus has gone up against nearly every Guardians of the Galaxy character and has even fought and defeated Marvel's God of Thunder on his home turf Asgard. Although only ranked No. 94 on IGN's Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time list, the character is by no means a D-list Marvel nuisance scraped from the bottom of any barrel.

In the comics however, you'll find Annihilus is often portrayed as a rather 1-dimensional foe. His motivations are basic: he's scared of death and obsessed with his own survival, paranoia drove the creature mad as he sought to destroy any other lifeforms seen as possible threats to his existence. But "fearing his own death" is an aspect that should be removed, as it blatantly contradicts with one of the core principles of nihilism; the belief that all life (including one's own) is inherently meaningless. He'd often accuse the FF of trying to steal his Cosmic Control Rod, even when they originally had no intentions of doing so, so much for being an intelligent villain. Nefarious intentions can come in all shapes & sizes; ranging from a path of revenge, to spreading hate or fear, mass corruption, get-rich-quick schemes, to just wanting to rule the world, but having paranoid delusions? As a writer, when you analyze what the villain wants/needs you may find no matter how visually-interesting or compelling of a backstory your bad guy has, if his wants & needs don't neatly contrast with what the hero wants & needs, then you're not creating any real drama or dramatic tension. Simon Kinberg was brought on board to upgrade the script because Annihilus had to be given a better motivation and more of a realistic perspective in the story. In origin stories especially, the villain's motivation is often way more important than your heroes motivation, because the initial act of villainy is usually what calls your heroes into action. "I just want to keep learning." -Simon Kinberg

This is how the big-screen movie adaption of Annihilus will differ from the comics, with the same backstory kept intact, they'll be adding a whole new dimension to the character by setting him on a never-ending quest to attain infinite knowledge. The heroes of our story are a group of international scientists called Future Foundation, on a similar journey of scientific discovery but "for the good of all mankind" rather than for selfish reasons. Annihilus fancies himself a scientist, one who believes that knowledge is power, information is wealth, and intelligence is next to Godliness. His personal philosophy is inherently flawed and nihilistic, but it's juxtaposed neatly against humanity's optimism, emphasizing the importance of life over the value of information. The endgame for Annihilus is to achieve the total omnipresence of a God through science; a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe; as the key to attaining omniscience. Simply put: it's a very basic humans vs. aliens story, but the classical thematic element of OPTIMISM vs. NIHILISM will be made very clear-cut, black & white, good vs. evil. Whereas a movie like Chronicle explored the gray area of philosophy and morality, a true-to-form superhero movie would opt for a more childlike Disney-fied representation of right and wrong, but to a greater effect and a broader audience.

"Most superheroes are painted with a specific moral objective that makes them who they are. And that moral objective influences everything they do, so there's an expectation for what you're going to see out of a certain character." -Josh Trank

"Above all, Fantastic Four is ... the story of optimism. It packs in more ideas than any other comic: Every issue takes us somewhere new and amazing: outer space, under ground, foreign lands, deep in the ocean, other species hiding among us, the microscopic world, time travel, the antimatter universe, and beyond! They are forever expanding horizons, discovering new worlds, challenging old ideas, and expanding the mind. The message is inspiring and uplifting: family values plus science can accomplish anything! It's the story of America at its most optimistic. ." -Chris Tolworthy, ">

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to hear more {EXCLUSIVE} insight into the new Fantastic Four cinematic universe, make sure you hit that "thumbs up" like-button and leave a friendly comment below, follow on Twitter and "Like" us on Facebook for the quickest updates on all your most anticipated favorite movies! Consider this your {OFFICIAL} source on any and all reasonable speculations towards upcoming Marvel or DC projects whose plot details have hitherto been shrouded in mystery and suppressed by "amorphous casting wishlists" from tabloid websites too preoccupied by celebrity-worship to do any background research on the intellectual properties they're supposedly reporting on. My next article will provide full disclosure on the casting process, but until then take care, have a wonderful day, and as always: stay classy my dudes!
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