Fantastic Four Has Its Cast and It Is Fantastic

After months of rumors, we finally have the cast list for director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot.  They are Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm and Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm.

For years, my favorite Marvel comic book property has been The Fantastic Four.  It was better than Spiderman, better than The Avengers, better than Captain America (well, until Ed Brubaker started writing Cap). I fell in love with the team during Mark Waid’s run on the comic and stuck with it through the years, even following the alternative dimension book Ultimate Fantastic Four.

moviesThere’s some things to unpack in the casting that are obvious.  First, it seems clear based on the age of the actors that they are following the Ultimate team (assuming they are following anything from the comics at all).  Second, Sue and Johnny obviously will not be blood relatives (yes, Michael B. Jordan is black; everybody freak out).  Finally, Trank and the studio decided to go with actors as opposed to, you know, Jessica Alba.

All of this is for the good. All of it.

Marvel purists will hate that this isn’t the traditional line up with a middle aged Reed, a maternal looking Sue, and (sigh) a white Johnny.  That last one will make for some hilarious comments on message boards as people twist themselves in knots complaining about the casting while insisting it has nothing to do with race.  Seriously, it will make for some amazing reading over the next few days.

I have one huge concern and one huge hope for the project and they both involve Joss Whedon and The Avengers.

My concern is that Fox is going to use this clearing-the-decks reboot to completely change Fantastic Four into The Avengers-Lite.  If you are a studio chief, it is the easiest, basest instinct to follow.  Make them a team of superheroes who don’t get along, but have to unite for the common good.  Marvel is making gobs of money and “me, too!” is the default setting for Hollywood when they see something do well at the box office.

I pray that Fantastic Four does not go that root.  Amongst comic book properties, it is special to me.  It is a book about family.  It’s a hopeful comic about exploration and adventure.  For Fox and Trank, it’s an opportunity to tear up the superhero playbook and stretch a bit (pun intended).

Which brings me to my hope and that’s Joss Whedon.

If you want a template for how to do a modern Fantastic Four, look at every non-Avenger’s thing Whedon has done.  Buffy. Angel. Firefly. What are they about? Family.

In the case of those shows, Whedon always focused on the family we find as opposed to the one we are born with.  Blood be damned, Xander was Buffy’s big brother and Giles was her dad.

The Fantastic Four reboot can explore the central theme of family without having any family relationships in it.  Johnny doesn’t even have to be an adoptive brother.  He can just act like Sue’s brother.  We will get it.  Audiences are smarter than they get credit for.

So the big concern comes down to the script.  They need a writer who gets the core of the Fantastic Four.  Who gets that Reed’s superpower isn’t stretching; it’s that he’s the smartest guy in the room (and not in an absent-minded way). Who writes a Sue that is both caring and fiercely protective. A Johnny who is completely reckless and utterly devoted. A Ben whose melancholy is only surpassed by his loyalty.

Give me a team of explorers who have each others’ back no matter the odds, and I will follow you to the edges of the Negative Zone.

I have a concern with calling out the stars involved with the 2005 Fantastic Four not actors. For all its flaws (I honestly neither hated nor liked the movie), I could easily look at the cast and tell who was playing who in the film… they were instantly recognizable. Save for Jessica Alba, the cast of that movie was the ONLY good thing about the movie…

Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans had their character portrayals pitch-perfect and the dynamic just as surprisingly better.

In this case, I cannot take the actors seriously. Save for the obvious Sue Storm, if I were not told who was playing who, I would have to make a wild guess.

Don’t get me wrong. Save for Miles Teller (who is riding on the coattails of an overrated The Spectacular Now), we have a very talented cast. But they’re too young. And whether or not FOX is basing their casting on the Ultimate Fantastic Four (which is like assuming Gabe Newell can count to three – this largely feels like left field casting for the sake of left field casting), let’s be frank…

Save for X-Men (which fell out of grace anyway after the first few volumes) and Spider-Man, NONE of the Ultimate comic runs were really that good…

I’m not dismissing the movie yet, for obvious reasons, but I’m not looking forward to it neither and this casting announcement is not promising.

I was disappointed with the casting for the new Fantastic Four, as well. It is also my favorite of the Marvel properties and one that my son and I have spent a lot of time on together reading the original run of the comics together. I haven’t shown him anything on the new cast yet because I fear his reaction will be the same as mine.

I love the casting choices, especially Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan. A lot of people are complaining, but I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised when it comes down to it. And if the film fails, it probably won’t be because of the cast.