Casting the Fantastic Four – he who casts the first Storm

Feature Andrew Blair 21 Feb 2014 - 06:16

Casting announcements for superhero movies always cause a lot of uproar, but maybe we should wait for the film itself...

The main cast of The Fantastic Four has been announced as Miles Teller (Reed Richards), Kate Mara (Sue Storm), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm) and Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm). Initial reaction has not been favourable, however, initial reaction has arguably not been thoughtful either. The movie is already being assigned disaster status by some after only a debunked synopsis and initial casting.

The more pithily astute have observed that Kate Mara and Michael B Jordan are playing characters who are sister and brother in the comics, but are not of the same ethnic background. But surely the important words here are 'in the comics'. This is not the comic, it is a movie based on the comics. Can anyone honestly say that it makes any important, insurmountable difference to their existing relationship if one of them is adopted? Or from a second marriage? It changes absolutely nothing other than someone's skin colour, yet this still makes a statement.

Casting wise, putting a black man into an all-white American superhero line-up is a step forward. They're damned if they do and if they don't. Another white-liberal-on-white-neo-con-(untintentionally-homo-erotic)-action fest draws criticisms from equal rights campaigners, as does introducing only one non-white character when they have the chance for two. This is a fairer point, though it's not necessarily the 'one step forward, two steps back' token gesture people are making it out to be. Narratively, it's very easy to resolve, and it's better than no progress at all. It will depend on whether Johnny Storm's skin colour is treated as a big deal in the film.

It also, obviously, conflicts with the innate conservatism of some comic book fans, the kind who feel that young white men are under-represented in the superhero genre. Change is upsetting to this subset, as if any movie adaptation has to consist of a slavish but heartless recreation of the comic book on screen (there's a whole other debate to be had about Watchmen) or else it isn't pure and faithful, a way that things are or must be. This also involves a degree of projecting one's subjective opinion as being an objective one. My ideal Fantastic Four film is going to be different to everyone else's, and film-makers have to try to appeal to as wide an audience as possible – millions of different ideals. Obviously they will fail to some extent.

Also, relatively speaking, it's just some of the casting. It's not like they've released a synopsis saying they're going to be fighting Hans Moleman from The Simpsons, or a publicity image showing Doctor Doom riding a clockwork Pikachu into Stan Lee's nostril (though that film would doubtless find its audience).

Despite the mistaken outcries over Heath Ledger's casting as the Joker, or Daniel Craig as Bond, we keep birthing mini-Batflecks (savour that mental image). One thing that gets overlooked is that everyone involved in this cast is an actor. Actors, according to a passing street urchin I frequently consult, pretend to be other people who are not them. Auditions are involved. Any criticism that they don't look right (except that they kind of do), begs the question of how like The Thing people want apparently whiskerless youth Jamie Bell to be.

Regarding age, and the criticism that the cast are 'a bunch of kids' (to quote one Facebook commentator), the average age of the actors cast as the new Fantastic Four is almost 28.

In the original comics, Reed Richards was in his mid-20s when he became Mister Fantastic, with Ben being slightly older, and Sue and Johnny younger still (although, over the years, the chronology has become increasingly strained). So, actually, most of the cast are older than their original comic counterparts, with only Bell (he of the 14 years of acting experience in a variety of interesting roles) being potentially – not definitely - a few years shy of Ben Grimm's actual age. That's before you factor in the Ultimate Fantastic Four versions, who are younger still.

Variety has reported that the new film will be based on Ultimate Fantastic Four. If anything, the criticism should be that the cast are too old then, though that would still be nonsense.

Cinema is another medium of storytelling, which does not and should not exactly replicate comics. How could it? Consider the word 'adaptation', how it also has meaning in the context of evolution, how it necessitates change. Just because something takes liberties with its source material does not automatically mean it's going to be bad.

Some sager reactions have been that the film will live and die by its script, although that's always true for any movie. You could have your ideal cast in place but that doesn't matter if they're reading an Ed Wood script. Witness (or don't, ideally) I, Frankenstein – a film whose dialogue is sixty percent exposition – which has a good cast and special effects wasted on cack-handed crayon scribblings.

At the moment, we don't know the script or plot. So far all the synopses – even the rubbish sounding ones - are unconfirmed. Yes, The Fantastic Four reboot might be awful, and people will doubtless run screaming from the cinema crying tears of blood, but it also might be very good, perhaps a fun family film, or merely a bit shit. You simply can't tell at this stage.

Given all of this, is it really worth unleashing vitriol and assuming the worst?

You wouldn't glance at a gammy-looking baby and start flaming the youngling, based on an assumed adulthood you've invented for it, would you?

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