…but it’s not because the studio has hired Michael B. Jordan, a Black man, to play Johnny Storm/The Human Torch.
First of all, I was never a particularly huge fan of the Fantastic Four, anyway. My earliest memories of them were of the old cartoon TV series, which didn’t even have the Human Torch as a character on it, he was replaced with that flying robot, Herbie. Even though I read comic-books, I didn’t buy the Fantastic Four regularly until 1996, when the title was revamped by Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studio as part of the “Heroes Reborn” crossover. So I bought all 13 issues of that series. After that, the next time I bought a Fantastic Four title on a regular basis was about 10 years later, when Mark Millar took over writing the Ultimate Fantastic Four series, for 12 regular issues plus one annual. I was still a big fan of Millar’s at the time, so that’s why I bought it. I later bought Dwayne McDuffie’s run on the mainstream title, when The Black Panther and Storm temporarily replaced Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman on the team. And then when Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch took over the mainstream title I bought the first and last arcs of that, but I wasn’t that impressed with it. The point is that I’m not a hardcore fan of the group, so I’m not as emotionally involved in how a live-action movie turns out. I thought both of the last two movies sucked, particularly because of the way they portrayed Doctor Doom, just getting him all wrong.
But with this new rebooted movie in the works, the rumors of Jordan’s casting as Johnny, who has always been portrayed in comics and cartoons as blond White male, has been spread for months now. And, predictably, a vocal contingent of (White) fanboys have been reacting with shock and mock-outrage over this choice (all the while swearing up and down that they’re “not racist”, of course). I don’t have any problem with the idea of a Black actor playing this character, although I’m not a huge proponent of so-called colorblind casting in general, and if I were making this film I would keep the team all-White. But, really, that’s largely irrelevant to me, as long as they get the essence of the characters right. As anyone who read my online rants against Man of Steel knows, I thought the makers of that film got the casting perfect, but the way they wrote the character, by having him kill Zod, was all wrong. You could hire 4 Asian women to play the Fantastic Four, for all I care, as long as it’s well-acted, with a good story.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but you get my point, right?
The thing that bugs the heck out of me, is that ever since Jordan was rumored and now that he’s been confirmed for this role, people, including those who claim to be fine with Jordan being cast, keep acting like Johnny being Black is such a dramatic change for the character and will require some major addition to the story in order to explain how he and Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman are brother and sister. Does this change the family dynamic of the group? How will they explain this so that the audience won’t be confused?!?
Really? In America, in 2014, people still think this is so confusing? What’s the big deal? A couple of throwaway lines of dialog could clear that up. Daddy Storm married a White woman who gave birth to Sue, then that woman died or they got divorced and he remarried a Black woman who had Johnny. Or maybe the Storms had Sue and then adopted Johnny. Or adopted both of them. Whatever. It’s really not that inexplicable. Hello, look at our current President, who has many siblings of different ethnicities. Heck, I kinda hope they don’t bother explaining it in the film. Never show the parents. Just have Sue and Johnny in the film, referring to each other as “my brother” and “my sister”, and have no one even blink at the idea. Just move on with the story, I’m sure the audience won’t have trouble going along with it, if it’s a good movie.
And that’s the bigger problem, I don’t think it will be a good movie, but not because of Mr. Jordan. The ironic thing is that I think he’s actually the best actor they’ve cast. I can see him as Johnny a lot easier than I can see those other actors, Kate Mara, Miles Teller and Jamie Bell as Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and Reed Richards. Mara, at age 30, is actually the oldest actor in the cast, with the three men each being 27. That’s not right. Apparently this film is being based primarily on the Ultimate Fantastic Four version, and while I mostly enjoyed Mark Millar’s take on the team there, it’s not the version I would use for a film. I would stick with the classic version, where Reed is the eldest, in his 40’s, with graying temples. Ben, Reed’s childhood best friend, should be close to his age, with Sue at least a decade younger, and then Johnny the youngest. The core to the Fantastic Four is that they are a “family.” Reed and Sue are, essentially, the parents, Johnny is the child, and Ben is alternately the gruff Uncle, or the older brother (particularly in his interactions with Johnny, as they are always good-naturedly teasing each other). The family aspect gives them a universal appeal that I don’t think works as well in the Ultimate version, where they’re just a group of child prodigies.
Technically, I guess Teller could be fine in his role, depending on how soon he is transformed into the Thing in this film. Presumably the majority of the film he’ll either be in rocky make-up, or preferably just providing a voice while The Thing is a CGI creation, like The Hulk was in The Avengers film. But Bell is too young to play Reed Richards. And as for Kate Mara, well, I’m trying to be as diplomatic as possible, but I’ll say that Sue Storm should be much more attractive than her. But I know that’s strictly a personal opinion.
So with 3/4th’s of this cast, plus the premise of the film being based on an inferior alternative interpretation, I just don’t have much faith in this film at all. Maybe I’ll end up being pleasantly surprised, but I doubt it.