Last week, Fox finally settled on the cast for its new reboot of the Fantastic Four “franchise”. We use the last term lightly since the Tim Story films, while popular, proved less so with fans and film critics. Indeed, fanboy nation has been in a froth since Doctor Doom became something other than his classic comic book counterpart and the Silver Surfer showed up to argue for his need for a stand-alone film (and a better visionary behind the lens). Those who remember the original incarnation of the quartet and their impact on the genre didn’t like the updated Four, and instead, hoped that Fox would remedy the situation this time around. However, the studio once again proved as clueless as others were when making Marvel movies outside the company’s carefully controlled output.
In fact, it can be argued that efforts like Spider-man and Fantastic Four spurred the comic giant to wrestle back artistic and aesthetic power over their product. Sadly, Fox is not participating in the present Marvel Universe scheme, and the hiring of the new actors to play the heroes confirms this. As part of a radical rethinking which sees the Four turning into late 20-somethings, they have hired Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station and Teller’s costar in That Awkward Moment), Kate Mara (House of Cards) and Jamie Bell (that’s right, Billy Elliot himself). They will play Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards, Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm, Sue “Invisible Girl” Storm, and Ben “The Thing” Grimm, respectively and there are already riots among the louder Messageboard Nation membership.
It’s not just the horribly racist comments about a black man being the “brother” of a blond white girl (in the comic, Sue and Johnny—and by correlation, Mara and Jordan—are supposed to be siblings) or the outrage over their “look.” It’s the fact that director Josh Trank, who made the compelling coming-of-age found footage superhero movie Chronicle, seems to be taking the material in an entirely new, and so far, not that compelling direction. While the median age of the actors is 28 (Ms. Mara is the oldest at 30), it seems that the youth factor is flummoxing many… yours truly included. As a fan of the comic book series and the ‘60s animated TV show, I can safely say that this is not how I ever imagined the four (and I have no problem with the race issue - none at all).
Apparently, Christopher Nolan both saved the superhero film and doomed it at the same time. By taking the story of Bruce Wayne, angry and confused child who watched his parents die at the hands of Gotham criminals, and giving him a legitimate real world vigilante equivalent including epic crime drama designs and contemporary psychological underpinning, has made everyone want something similar. Sure, Marvel is out making its own quasi-cartoonish spectacles, but there’s a lot of that very Dark Knight in Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers. DC decided to go in the same direction, tagging Nolan as producer to their proposed Superman reboot. Man of Steel may be miles away from Batman Begins, but they are the same, spiritually. They both want to ground their larger than life characters in everyday realities and argue for their compliment against the world we now know.
Perhaps Trank and Fox are aiming to do the same thing here. The only problem with that? Chronicle. Indeed, the film that landed the director this gig may be the very problem with this update. According to mythos, the Four were astronauts bombarded by cosmic radiation. As a result, they became super human, each one earning advanced skills that they used to fight crime. So, we’re getting an origin story here, perhaps the beginnings of a bigger trilogy or expansion of the entire Fantastic Four concept. Age shouldn’t be a factor, even if the previous cast ranged in years from their very early 20s (Chris Evans and Jessica Alba) to their 30s (Ioan Gruffudd) and 40s (Michael Chiklis). And yet the youthful appearance of the new cast is causing more than a far amount of fervent denouncement.
Of course, this could all be a lot of wwwhot air. Indeed, when Christian Bale suited up as the Dark Knight, he was only 31. But when you see the line-up - as in the image accompanying this piece - you can see what the devoted and obsessed are on about. None of these actors come across as the nuclear scientist/interstellar explorer types, nor do they command the kind of presence that will prepare them for a larger than life battle between the forces of good and evil. Frankly, they come across as kids, and no matter how talented Josh Trank is at capturing the action and attitude of the property, how the audience “feels” about the characters is as important as the blockbuster machinations you put them through. Many felt the 2005 version of the Fantastic Four suffered from the same issues. While appearing older, the Gruffudd/Alba/Evans/Chiklis collective didn’t look like MIT graduates.
On the other hand, the Internet is its own worst enemy. Remember when the late Heath Ledger was pegged to play the beloved criminal mastermind known as The Joker? Fans feuded, online debates unfurled, and everyone HATED the idea. But the end result was an amazing (The Dark Knight) and an Oscar winning effort from the deceased star. Before anyone saw what Ledger would do with the role, comic book “experts” dismissed his casting and complained that Nolan was deviating too much from the Batman basics. They turned out to be very wrong indeed. This may be a case of something similar. Without access to the script, without an idea of how and where Fox is taking this property, the appropriateness/inappropriateness of the actors hired is just specious sour grapes. It stinks of someone’s private collection of actors being nixed for names unknown and/or untested.
With its previous track record (and we didn’t even mention the insane and surreal Roger Corman version), Fox needs to win over as many disgruntled fans as possible. Until we can see where they are going with this new version of the Fantastic Four, we’ll just have the headshots above, and the braying of a bunch of know it all nerds. Just another day in the nu-social-media.