K&M Commentary : Questionable Casting

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Over the past few weeks several bits of big blockbuster casting news has made headlines and stirred up a great deal of discussion. One of the last commentaries I posted looked at movies and the books they are based on (you can find that post HERE). I talked about creative license and the space that should be given to a filmmaker when adapting a novel, comic series, etc. But I also talked about what I feel is the filmmaker’s responsibility to respect the source material and its spirit. These two particularly bits of casting news has me questioning just how much respect there is for the comic series’ they are based on.

Jesse Eisenburg as Lex Luthor

JESSEThe Superman/Batman film has ran the spectrum of fan reaction. I started off absolutely thrilled with the idea behind the project. I was also just fine with the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman. But since then there have been little comments here and there, especially from Zack Snyder, that has me a bit worried. Then came the news that the iconic villain Lex Luthor had been cast. He would be played by Jesse Eisenburg – a good actor who mainly excels in specific types of roles. While I can see him playing Lex in a Smallville type project, I have a hard time seeing him embodying what has made Lex Luthor such a classic DC Comics villain.

What is more worrisome are statements made by Snyder surrounding Eisenberg’s casting such as taking the character in “unexpected directions”. Then there were the rumors (and I do emphasis rumors) of the character being a streetwise young man. Lex Luthor is an accomplished corporate tyrant and was never the geeky neurotic type that Eisenburg is good at playing. Snyder has hinted at completely changing up the character and his origin which doesn’t seem a bit necessary. I’m still anxious to see this picture but a hint of skepticism has certainly surfaced.

Michael B. Jordan & Kate Mara as Johnny & Sue Storm

Michael B. JordanThe other casting news surrounded 20th Century Fox’s reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise. Let me be honest, none of the four who were announced excite me at all. But there is one glaring problem that seems to stand out beyond the others. It’s the casting of Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara as Johnny and Sue Storm. Now some will automatically assume that any criticism over this will either be normal fanboy rage or it will be because of race. To no surprise I’ve already read countless defenders of the casting pointing racially judgmental fingers at those of us who think the casting is bad.

maraSo what are my problems with the casting? First off I’ve never fully understood changing the race of a known character who is being borrowed from the original creator. That being said, if there is a better actor or actress who can strengthen the role on screen then race doesn’t matter at all. But in the Fantastic Four its quite different. Johnny and Sue are brother and sister with a rich background. By casting Jordan and Mara together the filmmakers are tossing that history aside to create their own. It’s a pointless and unnecessary change.

Between the two, Jordan intrigues me a lot more than Mara. So why not cast one of several talented black actresses to play Sue Storm and keep that defined brother/sister connection as a key part of their story? Look, I know there is adoption and biracial families which can explain away the differences. But frankly, I won’t be watching the Fantastic Four reboot for its deep and intellectual social and family commentary. This seems like a silly and unneeded move as well as a missed opportunity.

Obviously these are just first impressions. The filmmakers do know the story they are telling and maybe it will work out fine. But both of these castings look to be taking mammoth-sized creative liberties that really seem unnecessary. Are there attention-getting motivations behind them or are the filmmakers throwing aside the source material that made these characters worthy of big screen treatment. Time will certainly tell and regardless of my hesitation maybe these choices will work out.


21 thoughts on “K&M Commentary : Questionable Casting

  1. I will personally reserve judgment on all casting news until the movie has been released.

    I will say I don’t know anything about the Fantastic Four. Didn’t see the original movies and never read the comics. I will also say I think it very possible an interracial tandem could easily have a strong brother/sister dynamic – like most things, it depends on execution. We’ll see how it turns out.

    Incidentally, you asked for my email recently. I left it on Zoe’s blog as well, but it’s jjames36000 at gmail dot com.

    • I would agree that a good story may be possible, but why not create your own characters for that? These characters have a great history with plenty of material that would make for great cinema. This just sounds like a stretch for a movie that is also going to need all the help it can get.

      But I think you bring up a good point. I have a connection to these characters and it does matter to me. But those who don’t may not see this as a big deal at all.

  2. I’ve already talked about Eisenberg’s casting in last week’s five for the fifth, yeah, Snyder’s comments worry me too Keith. I sure hope it won’t end up becoming a disaster but man, DC has a lot of catching up to do to even equal Marvel’s strategy.

    Speaking of which, I’m not really into Fantastic Four so I don’t really care one way or the other about the casting.

    • We are definitely on the same page about Snyder’s comments and DC’s long hill to climb to catch up to Marvel. I do have a history with the Fantastic Four source material so seeing how this one is looking is unfortunate.

  3. I’m with you on both counts here Keith. I’m getting less and less interested about the Superman/Batman film now. Eisenberg might be good, I think he’s a decent actor, but this just doesn’t feel right to me. I felt the same about Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn to be honest.
    The Fantastic Four one is odd too, especially considering they’re brother and sister. I can only imagine they’re abandoning that, or maybe making them adoptive brother and sister or something.

    • I think it comes down to whether or not you’ve had any past connections to the material. If not than none of this casting will matter at all. I grew up on a lot of these characters so I really do.

      • I can see that for sure.

        I like Batman, and wasn’t opposed to Affleck being cast, as I like him, but after the amazing trilogy that Nolan came up with, I was actually disappointed to see Batman will now be chucked in with Superman as well. He deserves films to himself in my opinion. But then, like I said, I’m not a comic book fan.

      • Nolan really took that genre to new heights and I don’t see anything on the horizon that will match what he did. He showed that superhero films could be more than just genre flicks. Huge fan if the trilogy!

  4. I have little faith left in Superman/Batman at this point, and it’s almost entirely due to the hints of writing from Snyder. But I’ll admit Eisenberg is another potential negative for me. Not that he was bad in The Social Network, but he still just seems too babyfaced for Lex Luthor.

    With Jordan & Mara as the Storms, I agree it seems a little weird going the biracial route. I think Jordan is a great young actor, but this feels more like stunt casting (or possibly hand-holding for the relatively novice director by casting a friend) than a case of “we think he’d be perfect.” I also tend to think that a character should be cast to look like the character, though in some cases it doesn’t matter (Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White, or Alicia Masters in the first F4 film), and in other cases race isn’t the primary way in which the character’s look needs to be preserved — there was nobody in Hollywood who would have been as good a Kingpin as Michael Clarke Duncan. He needed to be simultaneously mammoth and mannered more than he needed to be white. In the case of the Human Torch, though, it’s a bit striking since he was always colored for “flame” in the first place; that wild blonde hair was almost certainly a deliberate design choice. Still, the split is the bigger issue. Yes, it can happen with adoption or biracial couples (especially if both parents are biracial), but the problem with justification is that one is automatically acknowledging the need to justify…

    I will say this for Michael B. Jordan as a person, as well as my previous praise of his acting: When he heard about the controversy, he didn’t leap to “they’re just racist” the way some of the preemptive fans have. His statement in an interview was that it was a matter of continuity, and that matters to some fans. He got the crux of the complaint for most fans. And then he said he was still enthusiastic to do the role, which is exactly the right attitude to have. I don’t have high hopes for the film — truthfully just the fact that it’s still Fox makes me deeply skeptical — but I have little doubt that if there are any problems with it, it won’t be Jordan’s fault. He’ll do a good job; the only question is whether the writers, director, and producers do a good job around him.

    • Fantastic comments that I think are spot-on. Jordan has won me over as an actor although his couple of lame raunchy comedy choices weren’t that impressive. I do believe there is a level of stunt casting involved there. I think Jordan has the chops and charisma to play Johnny Storm, but if you’re going to do that why cast Kate Mara? It just seems like an unnecessary step.

  5. I think this whole racial diversity is going a tad far, especially that I see the same people who defended Jordan casting (and these are people of color) whining about Mara being cast as Tiger Lily.

    They really can’t have it both ways. Those complaints about not being enough of black people in movies now being applied to the characters that are based on comic books or novels and were created as white are becoming ridiculous.

    And that fear of being accused of being racist leads to something like this – casting a black guy and a white girl as siblings. I don’t know what the casting people wanted to achieve, but one thing was achieved for sure – confusion.

    • I too think it has gone too far. I don’t say that as someone opposed to actors being cast strictly due to their race. But this is an example of a casting that doesn’t make any sense. Personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Johnny Storm being white especially since he is an existing created character. But if they are confident in Jordan why cast Mara and fool around with the brother/sister dynamic? There is no real reason for it unless they are just trying to draw attention.

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