Are audiences willing to forgive past failures?
There's not a lot of hype surrounding the new Fantastic Four movie. Set to be released in a little over a week, the actors have been making talk show appearances, and the film's social media account is sharing extra footage. But audiences don't sound too enthusiastic. From the initial criticism of casting Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch (a role recently played by Chris Evans), to the distraction brought on by Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and the exciting announcements made by DC at Comic-Con, the response to this film has been lukewarm.
This isn't the first time we've seen these characters. In 2005, Fox released a Fantastic Four movie that did well at the box office, but was panned by critics. A sequel was released in 2007, with similar results. Great box office, mixed reviews, leaning towards the negative.
It was an impressive success. The film was competing with Batman Begins and Star Wars Episode III in 2005. In 2007, they were up against Spider Man III and Pirated of the Caribbean: At World's End. With that much competition, it doesn't seem like a film that was almost universally panned by critics should have has so much success, so they must have been doing something right. However, the film industry is even less forgiving now. There are a lot of superhero movies, and Fox is going to have to raise the bar if they want to compete with Marvel Studios and Warner Bros.
Are they taking a risk?
Studios have been very hesitant to racebend white characters. Frankly, they've been hesitant to include any nonwhite characters at all, and are just now taking steps to create a more diverse community of superheroes. This is despite the fact that, statistically speaking, movies with more diverse representation generally do better than those that don't. So casting a nonwhite actor in the role of the Human Torch, which is traditionally a white character, seems like an effort on the part of the studio to make progress that Warner Bros and Marvel Studios have not.
There's been backlash though.
Stan Lee, the co-creator of the characters and front-man of Marvel, attributes the negative response to the casting choice as an aversion to change on the part of the fans.
“They’re outraged because they hate to see any change made on a series and characters they had gotten familiar with. In Spider-Man, when they got a new actor, that bothered them, even though it was a white actor. I don’t think it had to do with racial prejudice as much as they don’t like things changed. But I think they’re gonna get to love this character. So I’m not the least bit worried about it. I always tried to pepper these groups with as much racial diversity as possible because that’s the way the world is.”
Whether you agree with him or not, this seems like a small step in the right direction. If studios are hesitating to be as progressive as Lee was decades ago when he was creating characters like The Falcon and Black Panther, maybe they're underestimating their audiences after all. Which means that Fox might be onto something with this choice, despite some naysayers.
But will it actually be good?
That's what it comes down to, ultimately. Sure, people are willing to see bad movies. Plenty of people enjoy them. But there's bad and then there's boring. And one thing audiences are not willing to suffer is boredom. We've seen these characters before, we've seen other superhero teams this summer, will the hero fatigue doom this film before the similarly-named villain even shows up onscreen?
Unlike other films this summer, the studio isn't allowing any reviews until two days before its release. Some people think this suggests either a surprise twist ending, or a lack of confidence on the part of the studio. Since this is a reboot of a very recent film, one which got a very negative critical response, the latter makes a lot of sense. But if they really lack confidence, why make the film at all? Are they so determined to keep the film rights to the characters that they're willing to churn out films that will damage their reputation?
We'll only know for sure once we see the movie.
Fantastic Four will be released on August 7th. Will you see it?