20th Century Fox
Kate Mara doesn’t read comic books, doesn’t want to read comic books and won’t need to read comic books in order to play The Invisible Woman in Fox’s upcoming The Fantastic Four. That’s because director Josh Trank told the cast they should avoid reading the comic books since the new movie won’t be based on anything that’s already down on ink and paper.
This might be the best news possible for the genre. It’s unsurprising, though, because comic book movies have largely outgrown their paged counterparts over the last decade even as productions remain near-slavish to stories we’ve read before, villains we already know and imagery that’s taken directly from the source.
Why is this great news? Because we’re having our culture happily fed back to us as we ask for seconds and thirds, and that’s a problem. It amazes me that some people rail against the unoriginality of remakes while cheering when the latest superhero movie announces that it’ll be using That Storyline People Liked From The 80s as the basis for its script.
Part of me understands that dichotomy. It falls in line with a default thinking that cinema is the final stage in artistic evolution — the same thinking that propels endless lists of what books should be adapted while hardly anyone gives a second thought to movie novelizations. Things get turned into movies, not the other way around. (Well, they do, but we pretty much ignore it.)
It also explains why we’re mostly happy to see a printed story retold on the screen, but unhappy to see a screen story retold on the screen.
And, yes, some comic book movies have done wonderful things bending old tales into new adventures, but if the genre is ever going to evolve and establish itself more firmly in film, it’s going to have to untether itself by crafting stories not born from comic book pages. This is an obvious necessity, both because comic book movies will need to define themselves independently and because there’s a finite amount of interesting characters and scenarios to borrow.
There’s also no safer ground to experiment on than The Fantastic Four because no one should care about this thing getting made. If you do, you’ve got heart, and my hat’s off to you, but the idea of returning to this team is oppressively boring unless they do something different with it. The casting was an eyebrow-raising first step in the right direction, and now the news that they aren’t cannibalizing a plot from the comic books should encourage everyone to take notice.
If you’ve ripped your hair out at this wonderful prospect, take some heart medication and consider that, as long as the movie features a stretchy guy, a woman you can’t see, a guy who flies around while on fire, a rock monster, and the script stays true to their characters (whatever that means after decades of personality shifts in multiple comic book runs), then The Fantastic Four will be a Fantastic Four movie.
If you’re Kate Mara, continue not reading comic books if you have no interest. If you test drove a few, you might find some you like, or you might not. Either way, it’s not essential to you grounding this particular character and making her interesting beyond the page. And the craziest thing is that no one — not even the most passionate comic book aficionados — will care about your reading habits if the movie turns out to be great.