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'Fantastic Four's' message for comic fans who hate the new cast

Director Josh Trank on 'Fantastic Four' casting controversy: 'I knew it was going to get ugly'

Josh Trank knew that when he announced the cast for his upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot, some die-hard comic book fans would declare it clobberin' time.

"I knew it was going to get ugly," the director said in a recent interview for an upcoming cover story on "Fantastic Four" in Hero Complex magazine.

In casting Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, Trank changed the race of an iconic comic book character who dates back to 1961 – a move that was bound to stir up controversy. And the debate wouldn't stop there; many fans also questioned the choice of the relatively small, 5-foot-7 Jamie Bell to play one of the comic world’s great behemoths, Ben Grimm/The Thing.

Some of the Internet push-back over Jordan’s casting has carried nasty racial overtones, which Jordan himself tackled head-on in a recent Entertainment Weekly essay addressed to "the trolls on the Internet."

Still, the 31-year-old Trank – who had worked with Jordan on his previous film, 2012's "Chronicle" – says he is sympathetic to fans who want to preserve the image of "Marvel's First Family" as they’ve always known it.

"I get it," he said. "I have a lot of friends who are older than me who are comic fans and it's really hard for them to be on board with a change like that. 'Fantastic Four' has been theirs for longer than I've been alive. It hasn't been mine."

But Trank argues that comic fans, creators and filmmakers alike should remain open to fresh interpretations and be willing to stretch and bend, Mister Fantastic-style, with changing times.

"It only speaks to the greatness of any story that has been told for decades or centuries that people still want to tell that story," he said. "But you can’t just keep telling it the same way over and over again. And I think it only helps the world to be more honest with young kids, to show them the world that they go walk outside and see." 

Simon Kinberg, a co-writer and producer on "Fantastic Four," who has also worked on several films in the "X-Men" franchise, says there were well-thought-out artistic reasons behind all of the film’s casting decisions. 

"The change of Jamie as Ben being a smaller guy instead of a bigger guy, for example, was for a purpose," he said. "It's more dramatic when that character becomes a huge rock creature – that's a bigger transformation. The notion of a working-class tough guy who's been pushed around by his bigger brothers his whole life seemed like a more interesting character than the guy who started as a football player and just ended up being 4 inches taller."

Kinberg says fans should reserve judgment on the unconventional casting choices until they have a chance to see the finished film when it opens on Aug. 7.

"I think it’s true for a lot of movies that you can take license with adapting the underlying material and you will be forgiven for it if it’s good – and you will not be if it’s bad," he said. "If you look at Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, everybody was upset at first that Wolverine was tall and now nobody can imagine anybody else other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine."

While Trank has been taken aback by the ferocity of some of the Internet negativity directed at him and the film over the past year ("I've been turned into a punching bag"), he said he welcomes the debate.

“I want to hear opinions – it’s good to know what people are questioning. I think maybe there’s a part of me that needs adversity from the rest of the world in order to feel motivated to want to prove people wrong. I need people to be like, 'What is this weirdo doing?' " 

Stay tuned for more from Trank and "Fantastic Four" in the upcoming summer issue of Hero Complex magazine.

Twitter: @joshrottenberg 

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