Since rumors and reports first revealed that director Josh Trank was looking at a non-white actor to play Johnny Storm a.k.a. Human Torch in Twentieth Century Fox's reboot of Fantastic Four, the project - which already had a stiff uphill climb against expectations - has unavoidably been a subject of controversy. It didn't help skeptical fans that the FF marketing campaign didn't begin until a few weeks ago (with good reason though - see why here).
Josh Trank began early Fantastic Four development even before his first feature Chronicle (which got him the FF director's chair) opened in theaters, and his original ideas for a modern take on the FF and casting remain largely intact. The plan was always to reboot the franchise by using the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics as a source of inspiration, especially when it comes to the younger team dynamic and science fiction aspects of it. The other part of the plan was to cast Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan as Mr. Fantastic and Human Torch, respectively.
Teller (Whiplash) was someone Trank met with about Chronicle, someone he was a fan of and someone he knew early on would be the perfect actor to play his version of Reed Richards a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic. Michael B. Jordan (The Wire) was a similar story and after working with him on Chronicle, Trank knew Jordan was the perfect fit to play his Johnny Storm in what 's being labeled a "coming of age story."
Unfortunately, some detractors simply cannot accept or wrap their head around the skin color of a live-action re-imagining of an out-of-date comic book property, one that doesn't sell well, one that Marvel Comics canceled (again) and one that failed to hold a sustainable film franchise previously. You can look at the near-800 comments on our article where Jordan responds to criticisms of his Fantastic Four casting and read more in our post on Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) defending the choice to see what we mean. It's extreme.
If it wasn't clear enough before - and if you haven't read our explanation of the truth about superhero casting - Trank's FF is a "contemporary re-imagining" (actual words from the official plot synopsis) of the Fantastic Four and there are specific reasons as to why each of the four heroic leads are being adapted in a specific way. Below is what Josh Trank has to say about each character and why they've been adapted the way they have been, compiled from a recent entire with Empire magazine and previous interviews since the first Fantastic Four trailer released. Consider this a followup to our explanation on the character and reboot differences...
“I told [Stan Lee] why I wanted to do the Fantastic Four and he just genuinely loved the idea that somebody would be taking the Fantastic Four seriously like that and putting them into a modern space.”
In speaking with Empire Trank explains how embracing a mixed race family is a core pillar in representing modern society:
"I have mixed family. When I go home for Christmas, you'll see white people and black people. That's normal to me. I wanted a Storm family that represented 21st century families."
He told Collider previously:
"I really started working on this when I was in post on Chronicle at the end of 2011. I had just come off working with Michael B. Jordan and his character, Steve, in Chronicle had a lot of similar characteristics to Johnny Storm. And I thought it would be interesting to take the family dynamic of the Storms, which is brother and sister, and bring that more into the 21st century in terms of what we consider the norm. I have mixed family in my own family and it’s something that isn't out of the ordinary anymore but we don’t really see it portrayed in the casual reality of the movies. That’s something I felt that would be interesting and challenging, to have mixed siblings."
Skin color is not a key character trait of a 2015 Human Torch. In the '60s, let's just say things were different. For similar reasons, the FF reboot isn't embracing a space-travel origin story because the race to the moon isn't a thing in modern society.
"There have always been two categories of Sue - the slutty secretary version, and this brilliant scientist version. This is a really, really smart Sue, and one that is dignified and has integrity."
From Trank's and Kate Mara's words about the character, and knowing that this Fantastic Four is taking inspiration from the Ultimate Marvel Comics universe, it seems increasingly clear that Sue Storm will take on more of a genius, tactical leadership role. It is not assumed that Reed Richards is the de facto leader.
"Ben is supposed to be a smaller guy in terms of height. That idea of Ben being Reeds best friend in the archetypical way, you want that character to have warmth and strength, qualities Jamie has."
From the trailer and stills, we see Jamie Bell's Ben Grimm become transformed like the other characters, but his is of course more physically drastic. He comes out of a rock-like cocoon, or "transformation cocoon" as Trank puts it, and is the classic, large and strong Thing we know from Marvel Comics. Outside of Bell's eyes, everything about The Thing will be motion captured and CGI'd - a major change up from the suit used in Fox's previous Fantastic Four movies.
Of the Four, we surprisingly know the least about Reed Richards and it could be because he's the least different from the previous movies or the comics. He's young, he's smart and while the trailer doesn't explicitly show it, he does stretch in the above scene.
"I really wanted to tell the story of a young Reed Richards."
We do get to see a young Richards tinkering in his garage as a kid so we can expect him to be the character audiences go on this journey with, but like most of the movie's plot elements, Fox is holding back on the reveals and spoilers in the marketing.
And here's a previous quote which nails the most important element of the casting when it comes to delivering a great movie first. And that is the most important thing.
"I don’t think we could possibly find four better actors to portray these characters in this version of the story. We wanted [the movie] to be grounded and dramatic and we went for the four most dramatic actors."
Has any of what you've seen or heard about Fantastic Four altered your expectations? Still waiting for more? Is casting still an issue for you? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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.