Long before Fantastic Four trailers and posters began releasing, and long before production even began on Twentieth Century Fox's reboot of the Marvel Comics property, the project was subject of controversy simply due to its casting choices. A young, critically acclaimed actor, with an impressive filmography was in talks to play the Johnny Storm a.k.a. Human Torch, but that didn't matter for some because he was black.
Michael B. Jordan was one of the first stars making headlines as someone who was joining director Josh Trank's take on Fantastic Four after the pair had worked together on Chronicle, but with every related news headline there was a lot of negative feedback. Even here on Screen Rant we see it in the comments.
Despite every effort of Trank and producer Simon Kinberg explaining that their Fantastic Four is not the same Fantastic Four from Marvel Comics, despite Marvel practically shutting down the Fantastic Four every chance they can (no more FF comics, no merchandise, etc.) and even despite the film's official synopsis describing the new movie as a "contemporary re-imagining" (that's literally in the synopsis!) there exists nonacceptance. And even some awful, racist trolling.
Jordan took to Entertainment Weekly to write about it himself, addressing the "trolls" and finishing his thoughts with a line to critics that they should consider his casting as a "creative choice by the director, Josh Trank, who is in an interracial relationship himself—a reflection of what a modern family looks like today." And that key thought was touched upon again by Trank when he spoke with the LA times about Fantastic Four for a cover story this week.
"I get it. I have a lot of friends who are older than me who are comic fans and it's really hard for them to be on board with a change like that. 'Fantastic Four' has been theirs for longer than I've been alive. It hasn't been mine.
It only speaks to the greatness of any story that has been told for decades or centuries that people still want to tell that story. But you can’t just keep telling it the same way over and over again. And I think it only helps the world to be more honest with young kids, to show them the world that they go walk outside and see."
Casting controversy is sadly the norm with most comic book films and more often than not, it's a reactionary result of real-life actors not looking like, or having the personality of what comic readers have in their head of these fictional characters from what they've read on paper. Even the Oscar-winning performance of Heath Ledger as The Dark Knight's Joker was preceded by outrage in online forums when he was cast. Imagine that. That's the world we're in, and for Fantastic Four, it extends past Jordan's Human Torch to Toby Kebbell's Doctor Doom and even Jamie Bell's Ben Grimm (he's too short they say!) who becomes the rock monster known as The Thing.
Producer Simon Kinberg, the current mastermind behind Fox's own expanding Marvel universe and producer on the studio's X-Men projects as well, spoke about casting a smaller actor to play the very large Thing.
"The change of Jamie as Ben being a smaller guy instead of a bigger guy, for example, was for a purpose. It's more dramatic when that character becomes a huge rock creature – that's a bigger transformation. The notion of a working-class tough guy who's been pushed around by his bigger brothers his whole life seemed like a more interesting character than the guy who started as a football player and just ended up being 4 inches taller."
Interesting characters is the key. Trank and Kinberg went for top undeniable talent who can perform drama, bring real chemistry to relationships on screen with a touch of humor, and more importantly, they're each perfect for the characters this story is about. And in this story, the Storm family is a mixed family (family is a big theme in this take). It's not the story or world of the '60s. What matters is if the movie fan make the Fantastic Four into something that's relevant, something that's worthy of being a franchise alongside the X-Men and dozens of other comic book films coming in the near future. Kinberg:
"I think it’s true for a lot of movies that you can take license with adapting the underlying material and you will be forgiven for it if it’s good – and you will not be if it’s bad. If you look at Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, everybody was upset at first that Wolverine was tall and now nobody can imagine anybody else other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine."
Despite being turned into a "punching bag" of sorts by some online, Trank accepts and takes opinions and concerns to heart and is using it as motivation to make the best possible movie.
Josh Trank directs Fantastic four from a screenplay by Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg and himself. It’s produced by Matthew Vaughn, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Robert Kulzar, Gregory Goodman and stars Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell.
Fantastic Four opens August 7, 2015, Deadpool on February 12, 2016, X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016, Gambit is coming October 7, 2016, The Wolverine 3 (not the official title) on March 3, 2017, Fantastic Four 2 on June 2, 2017, and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13th, 2018.
Sources: LA Times