Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Fantastic Four" cast revealed?

It had been rumoured for a long time, but now Variety reports that the main cast has been pretty much set for 20th Century Fox's upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. The article claims that in addition to long rumoured Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, the film will star Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Susan Storm and Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm.
Slated to open June, 2015, the reboot will be directed by Josh Trank, who previously helmed the found footage superhero film Chronicle, from a script written by Simon Kinberg, who previously penned Sherlock Holmes and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The casting of the film has been a source of controversy ever since Jordan was first linked to the role of Johnny Storm. Storm is a white character in the comics, and some fans complained that the casting of an African-American actor in the role was too far away from the original concept. I was not one of those people. I myself had no problem with Jordan's casting because he's a fantastic actor with a big career ahead of him and I can easily see him playing the role of Johnny Storm as he appears in the comics and just killing it. Johnny's skin colour seems to me in no way important to the character. He's a young, hot-headed lady-killer with an immature sense of humour. I don't see what part of that screams white or black. And such vehemence against his casting on the basis of his skin colour? I can't see how that isn't racist in some way.

Michael B. Jordan
But, now that I see the full cast, and see how young they all are, I find I have huge problem with their age. Of the cast announced, Teller and Jordan are 28, Bell is 29 and Mara is 32. But it's not so much their chronological age as it is their image. These are young actors who have historically played young actor roles. So why does their age, or rather, the idea that these characters are going to be portrayed as younger than their classic versions, irk me and a significant portion of comic fans?

You see, in the comics, Reed Richards is a grown man. He's got grey in his hair. So, I've always seen him as in his mid to late thirties. Ben Grimm is his contemporary, so he must be at or around the same age. Sue Storm must be a bit younger, so let's say mid to late twenties when the FF is formed. That leaves Johnny anywhere from his late teens to his early twenties. Their age and how that informs the characters and their relationships is far more important than skin colour to me.

Miles Teller
Let's talk Teller and Bell, the casting that bothers me the most. The Variety article suggests that Kinberg's script is drawing from the Ultimate Fantastic Four series for inspiration. For those who are unfamiliar with Marvel's Ultimate line of comics, it's a separate line of books from the main Marvel line where characters are re-imagined and re-booted as if they were created in the present day. It was Marvel's attempt to create a line more friendly to new readers who were put off by the long continuities of their main line. In the case of the FF, their origin was altered so that, instead of being adults (Johnny aside) who took a rocket into space and were changed by cosmic rays, they were genius-level kids who were altered during a lab experiment. The Ultimate FF series was mixed at best, eventually going off the rails completely after Reed became a villain, the team disbanded and Johnny left to hang out with Spider-Man while Sue and Ben began dating. It's generally regarded by fandom as a disastrous mess.

All of which makes me wonder why you would take this direction, which didn't resonate with the fan base of the franchise, and base your reboot around it. The Fantastic Four is a tough concept, to be honest, having been created as a reflection of the optimistic hopefulness of the space age of the early 1960s crossed with the emergence of the realization of the dysfunctionality of the nuclear family. It's a concept that still has life in it, but is frankly dated. At this point, the thing that separates it from all other superhero books are that it's a story about a family that is also a group of explorers. I've written about this before.

The Ultimate FF
As a comic book fan, what I want to see when a property is adapted to film is the most resonant version of that property. I have no doubt that there are extreme versions of classic characters that could work as film versions, but if you are attempting to reboot a franchise wouldn't you want to adapt the version that best evokes the most successful interpretation of that character? It's possible you could make a hell of a great Spider-Man film with a fifty year old Peter Parker, but you'd be ignoring the fact that the core concept that has made Spidey resonate for half a century is that his story is the story of the journey into adulthood. The Ultimate version of the FF is a concept that specifically didn't work for fans, so I'm not sure why you'd choose it over the one that's been going for over 50 years.

I think that Mara actually isn't a bad choice for Sue, and I've already said that Jordan would make a great Johnny. But Johnny and Sue are supposed to be brother and sister, so how does that work? Are you now going to have to write in some sort of clunky scene where you explain that one is adopted, or they're half-siblings or something? That could work I suppose, but it begs a larger question. When Jordan was cast, why wasn't this seen as an opportunity to cast both Storms as African-American? It would have been a huge thing for colour-blind casting, and it would have presented an opportunity for depicting a multi-racial romance between Reed and Sue, which doesn't happen all that often in Hollywood films. And are you telling me there's not one African-American actress who could handle the Sue Storm role? Not one? Instead the choice is to now have to make the difference between the two siblings a thing that has to be explained, which needlessly complicates things in my opinion.

Kate Mara
At this point, the fan base for this franchise, which is pretty much the only people you can guarantee will get behind this movie, is not confident in the project. That's pretty bad buzz to start with. And it's too bad, because the FF is a property that could be pretty amazing on the big screen. We've never seen it done properly, to my way of thinking. It's the only comic book franchise aside from Superman that I think could really inspire a sense of wonder. Right now, it seems like Fox is mostly interested in cashing in on box office, and while I hope we see a great FF movie, it looking more and more likely we'll see a superhero movie with a tangential relationship to its source, and a missed opportunity.  

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