If there is any superhero film on the horizon that has me crossing my fingers at the moment, it’s “Fantastic Four.”
There are other films I am more confident will work because of things I’ve seen or read or heard, but when it comes to “Fantastic Four,” I want them to get it right. I want my kids to have a series of great movies about some of the best Marvel characters that remain undefined so far on film.
No offense to the team that took the first crack at it (I’m not counting Roger Corman’s disastrous tax dodge version), because I think they tried to do a certain version of things, with a particular interpretation of Reed Richards, Sue Storm, her younger brother Johnny, their friend Ben Grimm, and an evil lunatic named Doom, and it’s just plain not for me. The world never felt right. The casting wasn’t right. The way they built their bad guys in both movies was fairly inept. It just… didn’t work.
As with any adaptation, it will come down to execution, and by that, I don’t mean fealty to any particular prior incarnation of the property. I don’t need them to do any storyline I’ve read already in the comics. I don’t automatically demand that it be the Kirby version or Mark Millar’s recent Ultimates version or any other specific version. What I hope they get right is the relationships that exist between Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben.
Ben Grimm is, in my opinion, as great and perfect a creation as Peter Parker in the Marvel Universe. If you get Ben right, you buy yourself so much room to play. If you get the relationship he has with Johnny right, you have this great comedy team. If you get Reed right, he’s Tony Stark but smarter and less arrogant, and if you get Reed and Sue right, they’re a relationship we haven’t seen in any of these movies yet.
Simon Kinberg, who seems like Fox’s go-to guy on superhero films right now, was the latest writer onboard, following Jeremy Slater and Seth Graeme-Smith, and once he turned his final draft in, Fox and director Josh Trank got serious about the screen testing phase of things. Now it appears they’ve found their cast, and it’s interesting… my first reaction is that they’re all really young, but that’s not exactly true. They’re in their mid-to-late 20s, and it seems like they’re a cast that can look younger than they actually are, which is no doubt a good thing in the eyes of Fox just in case this hits and they want to get a long-running series of films out of them. Kinberg and producer Matthew Vaughn are currently finishing work on “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” for the studio, and Fox must like what they’re seeing for them to keep doubling down on this team.
As we’d already heard, Michael B. Jordan is Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, and just watching how excited he is during the flying scenes in “Chronicle” should have been all the screen test he needed. Jordan’s got charisma to spare, and it seems from the outside like they built the ensemble around him. He’s certainly got a history with Miles Teller, who will play Reed Richards. Teller’s coming on strong lately as well, and he’s able to play a sort of boyish goofy charm as well as much heavier stuff, a combination that I hope they’ll take advantage of in this film.
Kate Mara is reported to be the final choice as Sue Storm, who is Johnny’s sister, and I’m sure they’ll dispense quickly with an explanation about their parentage. Mara’s gotten quite a bump from her work on “House Of Cards,” and of course this is her second Marvel appearance after a mystifyingly short walk-on role in “Iron Man 2.”
The biggest surprise for me is Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, who eventually becomes the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. I guess it’s going to be a largely CGI-driven performance, and I’m curious to see if Trank goes full performance capture or if the character will be more animation-oriented with Bell just handling the vocal end of it. I’d heard for a while that Trank liked an unknown for the part, but I’m guessing Fox wanted someone who at least had some name recognition. Bell, of course, also played Tintin for Steven Spielberg in a role that was all performance-capture, and when I talked to him about the process at a Q&A for the film during awards season the year it came out, it was in front of a crowd made up largely of SAG members. Bell had nothing but good things to say about performance capture and the opportunities it opens up for actors, and he also talked about how much he learned from co-starring with Andy Serkis in “Tintin.” Maybe this is Bell’s new career direction. He’s certainly a strong physical performer in the first place, and this seems like a great use of those skills.
While it doesn’t sound like these deals are all closed, The Wrap seems very confident that they’ve got the final cast here, and I’m certainly going to wish them well with it and hope that Trank has something special up his sleeve.
We’ll see when “Fantastic Four” arrives in theaters June 19, 2015.