Recently, there’s been some controversial news regarding the upcoming rebooted Fantastic Four movie. Out of deference to those who don’t want to know anything until they go into the theater, let’s put this behind a spoiler tag, shall we?
In specific, the actor playing Doctor Doom has let it slip that his character won’t actually be named “Victor von Doom”; instead, he’s going to be a computer genius named Victor Domashev who calls himself “Doom” as his online handle. (Presumably, the computer genius is involved in securing the same username on each forum, so that he doesn’t have to be “D00M435726918”.) Apart from a few interviews with director Josh Trank where he talked about the film as a more “grounded”, “lo-fi” version of the Fantastic Four, this is pretty much the biggest leak regarding the movie since the cast was announced…a decision that was not without controversy, since it included Michael B. Jordan as an African-American Johnny Storm.
Needless to say, some people aren’t happy with this. In fact, without having seen even a single trailer, the geek consensus is forming around the idea that this movie is going to be terrible, that it’s going to suck rocks and not in a way that will make Ben Grimm happy, and that this is just another case of Hollywood not being able to wrap their collective heads around the idea that you don’t have to avoid being “comic-booky” in your comic book movie. Now, I’m sadly quite certain that at least some of this, from certain quarters, is rooted in opposition to the colorblind casting which is actually really awesome (not the least because I’ve seen ‘Chronicle’, and Michael B. Jordan was one of the best things about it). But I don’t think that all of it is, or even most of it. I think a lot of people are just convinced that a movie that’s not like the comic is a recipe for suck.
And you know…I’m not going to say that it won’t suck. I mean, I haven’t seen anything of it yet either, and even though I really liked this director’s previous work, I said that right before seeing ‘Signs’. But what I will say is that it doesn’t really matter that it sucks, and that it’s great that they’re making a movie that could suck. Because at this point, I think it’s time to let go of the fan-fear that each new superhero movie carries the weight of the genre on its shoulders. There’s no question that it’s definitely going to be a very different interpretation of the Fantastic Four from what we’ve seen in the comics. The director has talked about a “world outside your window” aesthetic, not so much big crazy Kirby sci-fi as the cutting edge of modern, recognizable technology. To a lot of people, that just isn’t what the Fantastic Four are…
But the thing is, the comics themselves have had a lot of fun playing with that aesthetic. We’ve had an Elizabethan Fantastic Four, we’ve had a manga Fantastic Four, we’ve had a zombie apocalypse Fantastic Four, and I’m sure we would have had a film noir Fantastic Four if that particular line of comics hadn’t proven woefully unpopular. (Although frankly if you don’t want to see Sue Storm, private eye tracking down Commie spaceship saboteurs, that’s your problem and not mine.) We’ve had Fantastic Fives, we’ve had evil Reed Richards, we’ve had a young Reed Richards as techno-Harry Potter and his hard-sf Hogwarts (if Warren Ellis won’t kill me for describing ‘Ultimate Fantastic Four’ that way). The central concept is strong enough to survive quite a bit of bending and spring back into shape.
So what we’re getting is Josh Trank’s FF. That’s what he was hired for – to bring his personal vision to the film. That should excite us, that superhero movies are now being taken as legitimate pieces of art that can be interpreted by auteurs the same way that Shakespeare or Arthur Miller can be staged in experimental ways. But instead, the opinion seems to be that we want legitimate auteurs bringing their personal vision to superhero movies only so long as they do it our way. Because if they don’t do it like the comics, they’ll screw it up, and then nobody will come to see it because it sucks and then studio executives will stop greenlighting these and then we’ll never get a good Fantastic Four movie ever ever ever ever! (Sorry. That last bit is usually only spoken internally.)
But the truth is, if this version of the FF sucks, Fox will just reboot the property again. If they decide not to bother, the rights will revert to Marvel and they’ll reboot the property again. If Josh Trank’s vision for the Fantastic Four isn’t worth watching, all that will happen is that we’ll have spent two hours and ten bucks on a substandard movie, and I already did that twice with the Matrix trilogy and survived it. Nothing in particular is riding on this, and it’s really okay that they’re trying something new and different.
Because the alternative bears mentioning as well. It could not suck. It could be really interesting to see Doom as a genius who claws his way up from a nobody with a laptop to the ruler of a technocracy of his own making. It could be interesting to see a Fantastic Four that you could believe lived in your city. It could be wonderful to see an African-American kid with a superhero who looks just like him. It could, in fact, be good because it’s new and different and because it shows us something about the Fantastic Four we’ve never seen before. And that’s a reason to do it right there, not just despite the fact that it’s not what’s been done before but because of it. That’s a big part of art sometimes – trying something that’s never been done before, something you’re not sure about, just to see what happens.
And if it sucks, you can always try again.