Friday, February 21, 2014

The Death of the Fantastic Four

We all know how superheroes are currently all the rage when it comes to Hollywood.  Everytime you turn around there is a new superhero being brought to the bigscreen.  For a huge comic book fan, such as myself, this is a dream come true.  The problem is that for every Batman Begins and The Avengers, there are at least two or three films like Green Lantern and Jonah Hex.  After the reveal of the cast for the new version of the Fantastic Four the other day, I must say that I think this particular superhero film is leaning more and more towards the latter two examples I offered up rather than the former.

As is par for the course with everything in Hollywood these days, 20th Century Fox is rebooting the Fantastic Four for a June 19th release date in the Summer of 2015 being directed by Josh Trank (Chronicle).  With filming set to begin shortly, the reveal of the cast was inevitable, and finally, just the other day many of the rumblings we have been hearing for months were finally confirmed and boy has it left me feeling like I'm in a lurch where this film is concerned.

Playing the role of Mr. Fantastic will be Miles Teller (The Spectacular NowProject X), with Kate Mara (House of Cards) as the Invisible Woman, Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale StationChronicle) as the Human Torch, and Jamie Bell (The Adventures of TintinBilly Elliot) as The Thing.  Here's the thing, I actually like all of these actors individually, but I don't like them for these roles.  I always hope that I'll be proved wrong by the filmmakers, but from what I've heard about the script in rumors and whatnot, I'm not sure that will happen.

The new FF:  Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, and Michael B. Jordan
For those who may not remember who the Fantastic Four are, here's a brief recap.  The Fantastic Four are a group of astronauts, who on a mission into space are hit by a cosmic cloud that forever changes their genetic make-up, giving them super powers.  There is the leader of the group, Mr. Fantastic, aka Reed Richards, a genius scientist who has the ability to stretch his limbs like Stretch Armstrong.  Then there is Reed's girlfriend and eventual wife, the Invisible Woman, aka Sue Storm, who has the ability to create force fields and turn invisible.  As well, there is Sue's hotheaded brother that she half-raised, Johnny Storm, more commonly known as the Human Torch due to his ability to encase his body in flames and fly while spouting out fireballs.  Which finally brings us to Reed's best friend, Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, whose body is encased in rock, granting him super strength and a grumpy attitude that contradicts his soft center.

Now, most people know of the Fantastic Four because of their previous two movies, starring most notably Jessica Alba as Sue Storm and Captain America, Chris Evans, as the Human Torch.  The previous two Fantastic Four films are by no means unwatchable, and in my opinion, the first film does a more than fine job at delivering a fun live action incarnation of these characters, but there is no denying that the films left a lot to be desired for a fan of the FF.  However, this post is not about the previous bigscreen adventures for the FF, but rather is about the reboot, its cast, and how I'm just unable to buy into it yet.

First thing is first, almost all of the actors in the reboot are the same exact age, contradicting much of how the FF have always been represented.  Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell, are all 27, with Kate Mara being the oldest at 30, turning 31 in a week.  Traditionally, Reed Richards and Sue Storm are close in age, with Johnny about ten or more years younger, and Ben about ten or more years older than Reed and Sue.  Not only are many of these actors too young, their age will drastically alter the relational dichotomy amongst the team.

Reed and Sue have always been a bit of a father and mother type figure, where as Johnny has always been like the rambunctious teenager that they have to rein in.  While they can still try and play that, it might feel odd with all of them being the same age, begging the question as to why Johnny should respect Reed and Sue if he's the same age as them, and I haven't even addressed the big elephant in the room.

How will Sue and Johnny be brother and sister?  There is no denying that Michael B. Jordan is African American and Kate Mara is Caucasian.  I'm sure they'll make up a way to explain their relation, such as different fathers or mothers, or they were adopted, but was this the right way to go?  The thing is, Michael B. Jordan is exceptionally charming, charismatic, and funny, and Kate Mara is a talented actress (though she doesn't necessarily exude the warmth I'd want out of Sue Storm), but I think Fox is making a big mistake here.

Personally, I've been hearing that Michael B. Jordan was a lock for the Human Torch role for nearly a year now, and I've been thinking all along that if they were to cast him, they should also change the race of Sue just for it to make more sense.  Alas, no.   I'm all for casting the right person for the parts, but if they really were dead set on Jordan for the role, then they should have cast an African American actress for Sue.  Even with all that said, I think casting Jordan just shows a  disrespect on the behalf of the filmmakers to the source material.

Comic books are a visual medium.  You can try for political correctness all day long, but it doesn't change the fact that Johnny has always been Caucasian with blond hair.  Now, let me reiterate that I really like Michael B. Jordan, and there are countless superheroes I'd love to see him play that are African American, but he shouldn't be playing the Human Torch.  Jordan would make a fantastic Static, if WB and DC ever got all their ducks in a row, but the Human Torch just isn't the right part for him.  It would be like if whenever Marvel finally makes a Black Panther movie, they cast a white actor in the role of T'challa, rather than a black actor.  It wouldn't work and people would go ballistic, just as they're going ballistic over this, and the bad thing is that saying anything to this effect makes people call you a racist, but it's stating facts.

Getting out of the realm of fantasy for a moment, imagine someone decided to make a movie about MLK starring George Clooney as MLK.  People would freak, right?  The same goes if Abraham Lincoln was played by Denzel Washington.  Just because the Human Torch is a literary character, it doesn't give filmmakers the right to change them to however they see fit.  That to me is the more terrifying prospect that this represents.  With rumors persisting that they're possibly changing Doctor Doom into a girl, it looks as if the filmmakers aren't done with their insane disrespect to the source material anytime soon.

As for Miles Teller as Mr. Fantastic, he is a very fine actor with a great sense of charisma, but I just can't help but feel his casting means they're going to try and make Reed more hip and cool than he needs to be.  The thing about Reed Richards is that he's about as straight-laced as anyone can get, and he gets more excited by science than he does about anything else.  Teller is awesome in the arena of humor and charm, but that's not who Reed Richards is.

Then Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm?  I made that a question for a reason, because the guy is about my height at 5'7", is super skinny, and he's going to be playing The Thing, one of the few Marvel characters who can stand toe-to-toe with the Hulk in a fight.  Perhaps he'll be doing motion capture work rather than prosthetics to create The Thing, and maybe Bell can ditch his British accent for a Brooklyn one, but I'm not entirely convinced when there were rumors of Bruce Willis and Terry Crews being mentioned at one point or another for Ben Grimm, both far better options on paper.

All in all, I'm just perplexed, and a good bit infuriated by this spate of casting.  Here's the thing, I love the Fantastic Four, they are often called Marvel's first family because they quite literally were.  The Fantastic Four were Stan Lee's first major creation in the early Sixties, before Spider-Man, before Iron Man, and before the Hulk, alongside so many others.  The thing that's really sticking in my craw is that we have never really had a definitive version of the Fantastic Four onscreen before, and rather than trying to make the best, most faithful version of the material possible with this reboot, they're making all sorts of changes that are unnecessary.

I'm beginning to wonder if we ever will see a definitive version of the Fantastic Four up on the bigscreen.  Probably not until Marvel gets the rights back to the Fantastic Four, which is not going to happen anytime in the next decade.  That's the whole reason as to why this ghastly reboot is happening.  In order for 20th Century Fox to retain the rights, they had to make a new FF film.

Back in the Nineties when Marvel was going bankrupt, they sold off all of the film rights to their properties to get back on their feet.  Well, it resulted in their getting the money to start their own studio and get back many of their properties that they had to sell the film rights off to, but 20th Century Fox has still never relinquished the rights of the FF or the X-Men back to Marvel, the same with Sony and Spider-Man, this is why you'll never see these characters fighting alongside the Avengers.  It's all business and politics, and rather than trying to make the best Fantastic Four film that they can, 20th Century Fox is merely seeing it as a bunch of potential dollar signs and they don't care whether or not who they hire to bring the FF to life have respect for the material.

As is always true when I rant like this, if the movie comes out and I love it, I'll eat crow.  Not literally, but you understand the expression.  I mean, I'm wrong a lot of the times.  My knee jerk reaction to Man of Steel was very premature, because the film was different from what I was expecting I didn't give it a fair shake when it was in theaters, but now I love it after having gotten accustomed to its different vision.  Perhaps the same might happen with this reboot of the Fantastic Four, but right now, I am not very confident and all I can do is dream about what I'd do if I could make a Fantastic Four movie.

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