The ball has begun rolling on Fox’s upcoming reboot of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. All four of the main cast were announced as a team yesterday in preparation of next month’s start to principal photography for the film. The brains of the operation, Reed Richards, will be played by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now). The Invisible Woman, Sue Storm, will be portrayed by Kate Mara (House of Cards). The role of Johnny Storm will indeed be played by the long-rumored Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, The Wire). The resident tough guy, Ben Grimm better known as The Thing, will be played by Jamie Bell (The Adventures of Tintin) who is rumored to be in the final stages of negotiations.
It is clear that director, Josh Trank (Chronicle), is re-imaging the quartet for a new generation. Since before the early 2000’s, the Fantastic Four at its core, is synonymous with optimism, familial appreciation and teamwork, exploration of space and the overall adventure of an unknown future, that can be tied to its birth in the 1960’s. Many of these themes create the fabric of the comic book.
In recent years Marvel comics has relaunched their “first family” in Ultimate Fantastic Four. In this re-imagining written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, their origin, ages, and overall look was updated for a contemporary audience. It looks like Trank is attempting to cleanse the Four’s cinematic palette in a similar, if not more dynamic fashion.
The decision to cast younger falls in line with Fox studios apparent decision to merge their comic brands, which begins with their former and current X-men casts coming together for this summer’s Days of the Future Past. Then Marvel looks to ultimately bring together the Fantastic Four and X-men casts if Fox’s consultant Mark Millar is to be believed (Mark Millar Addresses Possible Fantastic Four Xmen Crossover). There is precedent for this in the comics as well. In fact, in the dystopian future of Chris Claremont’s Days of the Future Past, Franklin Richards is the son of Reed and Sue Storm and is a mutant. There are a multitude of crossover opportunities to be mined and Avenger-like dollars to be made for the studio. Since these are their two prime Marvel licenses, they are sure to try to maximize its money-making potential over the next few years and beyond.
Two of the most glaring changes to the cosmetics of the team come in the casting of Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan. The classic grey-templed, scientific guru to the Marvel universe will clearly be replaced with the childhood prodigy depiction of the Ultimate Fantastic Four. This characterization shouldn’t be totally unexpected on a closer examination. If the studio intends, and they do, on making a trilogy and many potential crossovers over the course of a decade, it makes fiscal sense to hire up and coming actors who can grow into the mature characters we are more familiar with. It will be interesting to see how Trank and Teller portray the sage wisdom and intelligence that Richards is known for despite the young age.
The casting of the Human Torch, Johnny Storm is of equal note. The defining characteristics of Storm are that he is brash, witty, enjoys the limelight, and is adventurous. None of those are defined by race so the “color-blind” casting should not be of large note. Particularly since every time he is “in costume” he is engulfed in flames which, while colorful, is still racially colorless. However, the fact that Johnny in every incarnation is Sue’s (Kate Mara) younger brother, does give Trank’s team a creative challenge to overcome. Will they be depicted as foster siblings? Do they have different parents? Will Trank simply ignore it? It should be interesting to see how it is handled. As shown in The Wire and Fruitvale Station, Jordan is a gifted actor who will be able to add subtext to his role. Something Trank surely made note of while they made Chronicle together. In any case, it is clear that there is a effort by the production, whether socially or fiscally motivated, to increase the diversity of the family to bring in a wider audience.
Filming begins this spring in Louisiana, so we are still many months away from seeing publicity pictures or a trailer so that we can begin judging the tone and direction of the casting. In any case, it is a bold new step for a franchise that, in its inception, was known for travelling past the known edges of space and parallel dimensions. So travelling or casting outside of standard conventions should feel refreshing in an era where superhero movies are becoming more normative. Taking bold chances like these could infuriate purists, but the opportunity to expand the genre is an even greater goal to strive for. Comic movies like its source material, have the opportunity to continually reinvent themselves. This constant flux is what has kept people coming back to the same characters for decades. It seems that Trank is being bold in his choices at the very least. We will see come 2015 if he was in error or if he is trailblazing new ways to make the superhero genre feel fresh.
Let us know what you think of the casting!