FANTASTIC FOUR: Brilliance Or Bastardization?
As I was watching the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy for the 284th time, I realized something: If you had asked me 15 years ago if we’d be seeing a comic book movie with a gun-wielding raccoon and an angry tree at the forefront, I’d have laughed in your face. Over the past 20 or so years, we’ve seen comic book movies transition from a wing and a prayer to a full-fledged genre of films and I couldn’t be happier. We’re seeing more than just Superman and Batman. Mutants, super soldiers, hulks, iron men and Norse Gods grace the silver screen and it is glorious. For the most part, these films have stayed fairly faithful to their source material, save for a few updates here and there to ensure the transition from books to screen occurs more seamlessly. But there is an upcoming film that is gearing up to start filming and though they haven’t shot a single frame, so to speak, fans are already setting fire to their torches and gathering the pitch forks.
I speak, of course, of Josh Trank’s upcoming reboot of The Fantastic Four. The main cast members were unofficially revealed last week and it has the fan base scratching their heads. Before I get to that, however, let’s look at a few things that have lead us to this point. For some time now, it’s been rumored that the story would focus on a much younger version of the group, with Reed Richards and Ben Grimm starting out as childhood friends. The duo would likely be working for the government in some fashion. The brother/sister duo of Sue and Johnny Storm would show up at a later time. There have even been rumors that these two characters would be classified as “mutants’ rather than be a part of the traditional back-story we’re familiar with. With Fox looking to expand their film universe, this idea of including mutants in the Fantastic Four world isn’t too far of a stretch. Now, with that being said, the recently revealed cast all but confirms the idea of a younger cast, which, isn’t horrible, but it will certainly be a unique take on the foursome. However, it’s not the age of the cast that has people concerned. Rather, it’s the actors themselves that have people in an uproar.
Miles Teller and Kate Mara, who will be filling the roles of Reed Richards and Sue Storm respectively, are pretty spot on, especially considering the direction they are heading. Both are quite talented and up-and-coming actors who will bring something new and different to their roles. But it’s not these two that have people concerned. For several months now, it’s been rumored that Chronicle star Michael B. Jordan would be playing the hot-headed Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm in the film. To date, we’ve only seen two minor comic book characters played by a different race than their comic book counter parts: Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Idris Elba as Heimdall. One could argue that Jessica Alba playing Sue Storm is a racial change, but that’s an argument for another day. My point is, Jordan filling the role of Johnny Storm will be a huge turning point in comic book films. Needless to say, his casting will certainly change the family dynamic of Johnny and Sue, so we can expect to see some sort of adoption, combined family or some other “modern” take on the family situation. No doubt that Jordan, being the amazing talent he is, will bring nothing be brilliance and respect to the role, but is the world ready for a black Johnny Storm? I guess we’ll find out. I will say this, however: I’d prefer to see film makers stick to the way a character is written, but if a specific actor, regardless of race, can take a character to that proverbial “next level,” I’m more than willing to let it happen.
The other casting that really has people perplexed is the addition of Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm. The character had previously been shown in the comics as a big person, but not a giant hulking man before he is transformed into The Thing. With Trank looking to bring us a younger iteration of the character, it shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise to see him cast someone like Bell. As with the other three actors in the film, it’s clear, at least to this geek, that Trank was going purely after talent here, rather than similarities between the actor and their respective roles. With the technology we have today, specifically motion-capture, they can turn just about anybody into just about anything. Changing Bell into The Thing won’t be too hard of a task.
Finally, if rumors prove to be true, these two head-scratchers may be the least strange character change. A while back, a rumor surfaced that the Fantastic Four’s major foe, Doctor Doom, would be a female in the film. Again, a very different approach to the character, but if the actress they cast (*ahem* Meryl Streep) were to be a good fit, I’m all for seeing what the end result was. Sure, it’d be a major change and another first, but the times, they’re a changin’! Now, Trank did deny this rumor several times, but he’s been denying every rumor that has surfaced, some of which have been revealed as true.
To some things up, yes, Josh Trank is taking the traditional formula of a comic book movie and throwing it out the window, but I think deep down, we all knew it would happen eventually. Hell, Bryan Singer has been riding the fence since he first brought us X-Men in 2000. Trank is just the first person to stop straddling that fence and actually pull the trigger on making some big changes. Whether or not this is brilliance or bastardization has yet to be seen, but I just ask that people calm themselves and actually let him make the film before they pass judgement. Not only that, but keep an open mind to changes. Once the film is in theaters, then an opinion can be made.