By Arturo R. García
After months of speculation, Thursday night brought confirmation: Michael B. Jordan will play Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in 20th Century Fox’s newest attempt to build a Fantastic Four film franchise. And while some geeks reacted as badly as you might expect, this iteration of Marvel’s First Family is worth keeping an eye on for far more interesting reasons.
So, yes, it didn’t take long for folks to catch feelings about the casting. Take this nitwit from the fine community at Comic Book Resources:
There are also people freaking out over the prospect of Jordan playing a sibling to Kate Mara’s Susan Storm/Invisible Woman. It’s quite possible these people haven’t heard of James and Daniel Kelly:
The two teenage boys sitting on the sofa opposite are different in almost every way. On the left is James: he’s black, he’s gay, he’s gregarious, and he’s academic. He’s taking three A-levels next summer, and wants to go to university. Daniel, sitting beside him, is white. He’s straight, he’s shy, and he didn’t enjoy school at all. He left after taking GCSEs, and hopes that his next move will be an apprenticeship in engineering.
So, given that they are diametrically opposed, there is one truly surprising thing about James and Daniel. They are twins. They were born on 27 March 1993, the sons of Alyson and Errol Kelly, who live in south-east London. And from the start, it was obvious to everyone that they were the complete flipside of identical. “They were chalk and cheese, right from the word go,” says Alyson. “It was hard to believe they were even brothers, let alone twins.”
The story of the Kelly twins is fascinating enough on its own, and one that, as a source of inspiration, could add some depth to a characterization of the Storm family:
Primary school passed without colour being an issue: but, says Alyson, everything changed when they went to secondary school. And at this point the boys, too, add their voices: because the racism they encountered there had a huge effect on them, and on what happened to them next.
It all started well, says Alyson. “The school was almost all-white, so James was unusual. But it wasn’t a problem for James – it was a problem for Daniel.
“The boys were in different classes, so for a while no one realised they were related. Then someone found out, and the story went round that this white boy, Daniel, was actually black, and the evidence was that he had a black twin brother, James, who was right here in the school. And then Daniel started being picked on and it got really ugly and racist, and there were lots of physical attacks. Daniel was only a little kid, and he was being called names and being beaten up by much older children – it was really horrible. We even called the police.”
“I was really bullied,” cuts in Daniel, his face hardening at the memory. “People couldn’t believe James and I were brothers, and they didn’t like the fact that I looked white, but was – as they saw it – black.”
Even in a flashback, it wouldn’t hurt for this new FF film to at least mention that the Storms overcame some of the same challenges that the British brothers faced. A multiracial family background could do as much for Jordan and Mara’s characters than the adoption explanation most are expecting right now. More importantly, how great will it be to see a multiracial sibling pair of superheroes?
But besides the race issue, there’s also been some questions surrounding the age of this core cast. Jordan, Miles Teller (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic) and Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm/The Thing) are all 27 years old. Mara is the oldest member of the ensemble at age 30. Also, given Jordan’s critical momentum from Fruitvale Station and Mara’s for the American House of Cards remake — no spoilers for that here, please — it’s the Storms who are packing most of the confirmed star power here.
The only legit stiking point here appears to be on Jordan’s end: with this film taking its cue from the Ultimate Fantastic Four series, Bell, Keller and Mara are within striking distance of their characters’ early twenties age. Maybe the thinking here is that Jordan can shave and play it really young, since Johnny Storm is a teenager when we meet him, informing his “hothead” sensibility.
But as ever, the story will be the key, and in this case, that means a shared universe’s worth of pressure on Simon Kinberg, who is writing not only this movie, but the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. If this new Fantastic Four movie isn’t up to snuff, regardless of ethnocentric geek complaints, it could pose serious damage to Fox’s bid to build a link between both films to keep up with Marvel Entertainment’s multi-property juggernaut.
In light of this casting, seeing Jordan and Mara’s Storms eventually share the screen with Ororo Monroe, or maybe a film version of Warpath and the rest of Marvel’s mutants really is something to root for, just for the multiple layers that could add to a conflict (and ensuing collaboration) between the FF — whose exploits speak to a particular kind of privilege in heroics — and the X-Men, who protect our world despite suspecting they’ll never gain that sort of acceptance. Suddenly, we’re on the verge of seeing a whole new version of diversity in the superhero genre, much to the chagrin of the kinds of fans fandom was better off losing decades ago.