I like Michael B. Jordan. But I’ve found myself conflicted over his casting as Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch) in the reboot of the Fantastic Four movie franchise. Not for the reasons many people will automatically assume, though. I’m not at all invested in the Fantastic Four franchise (although I did read the comics sometimes when I was a kid). Honestly, I couldn’t give a damn whether they put a black actor in the role of the character of Johnny Storm. I think that if anything offends me about Jordan’s casting, it’s that this is such an obvious, calculated marketing decision.
The Fantastic Four franchise, after two largely failed movies, was withering on the vine. Now, by simply casting a black actor in the role and making a big deal about it, the people making this movie have manipulated the Internet into talking about the movie (and providing them with a boat-load of free publicity). Jordan’s casting has portrayed the franchise in a new light that is helpful in regard to shaking off the malaise surrounding the previous franchise canon. That comes in handy when you’re trying to reboot something the public has generally lost interest in. But really, that’s all there was to it. It’s marketing. It’s only been 10 years since the first Fantastic Four movie. Do we really need a re-boot?
I dunno. Jordan’s confrontational statement hit me wrong, for some reason. No, it’s not because (as people automatically assume if you dare question his casting) I’m a racist with special KKK edition sheets in my closet. It’s mostly because now anyone who has an issue with his casting in the role will, as I just referenced, be branded a racist and driven out of the dialogue. Sadly, that’s changed the way I view the project. So… now if I have a problem with Jordan’s casting, we can’t talk about it, because I’m a racist if I question it? That’s not helpful. I didn’t have a position on his casting before he made his statements. Now I do, and it turns out it’s not favorable.
This is actually brilliant marketing if you think about it. No one will be allowed to criticize this movie without sounding like a racist. If the movie ultimately flops, it’ll be further proof of the inherent racism in American culture and that mainstream America doesn’t like black people in positions of power (not that a movie was done badly or failed on its own merits). We don’t need a superhero movie to tell us there are real, bona fide issues of racism in the country that we need to deal with. Pretending this is anything more than another would-be blockbuster that’ll make a lot of money for white studio executives and shareholders is, at best, pollyannic.
I guess that’s the part that annoys me. Something that should be nothing more than another Hollywood superhero movie has suddenly taken on the shimmering sheen of a Civil Rights issue, and has been elevated above criticism. Michael B. Jordan is not just an actor in a role, but somehow carries on the torch for Dr. King. From a marketing standpoint, that’s brilliant. But let’s not kid ourselves. This was a marketing decision. You don’t replace one the most iconic characters in the Marvel comic book universe (a character who was white for over 50 years) without thinking that through to its conclusion, or without knowing exactly what you’re doing in regard to manipulating the public.
In the end, it’s that overt and blatant manipulation which offends me. I like Michael B. Jordan, and look forward to seeing him in this movie, and whatever projects he’s part of in the future. But I think the hand-wringing over this movie and his part in it is misplaced. This is NOT where the real battle lies. This is Fantastic Four III, not Selma.