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'Fantastic Four': Can these four young dramatic actors pull a superhero movie?

'Fantastic Four': Can these four young dramatic actors pull a superhero movie?
Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan in "Fantastic Four." (21st Century Fox)

The fate of the world is not the only thing at stake in "Fantastic Four," Fox's big-screen reboot of the superhero quartet known as Marvel Comics' first family.

Just eight years after the second of two previous "Fantastic" movies — both of which performed decently at the box office but left moviegoers and critics unmoved — the studio is looking to overhaul the franchise.

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To do that, it'll need its upstart director (Josh Trank) and, particularly, its cast of rising stars, to pull through. And therein lies the big question.

Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell play the titular quartet. They represent the most intriguing, and risky, element of the new "Fantastic Four." All four young actors — Jordan as pyrokinetic Johnny Storm, Teller as stretchy genius Reed Richards, Mara as invisibility-wielding Sue Storm and Bell as craggy bruiser Ben Grimm — have garnered critical acclaim for one or more signature roles. But none has yet anchored a big commercial movie.

Teller is best known for playing an obsessed jazz drummer in "Whiplash" and a charismatic but rudderless teen in "The Spectacular Now." (Though he's involved in the YA-oriented "Divergent" series, he's a supporting player there, as he was in the "Footloose" reboot.)

Jordan first came to notice on HBO's "The Wire" and starred in the Sundance hit "Fruitvale Station," Ryan Coogler's fact-based drama about the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant. "F4" promises to be Jordan's highest-profile movie to date.

Bell has appeared in his share of studio films — "Jumper," "King Kong," "The Adventures of Tintin" — but remains known for his breakthrough role in the British dance drama "Billy Elliot." As for Mara, she made her mark not on the big screen, but on the Netflix series "House of Cards" and a scattering of supporting roles.

In the realm of superhero movies, the "F4" reboot's combination of youth (the four are between 28 and 32) and acting cred is somewhat rare. Several "Avengers" are into their 40s, for example, and are far more established. Even the earlier "Fantastic 4," though it featured some young stars, had a bit more name-brand value in the form of Jessica Alba and Michael Chiklis.

The decision to go with young bona fides instead of box-office drawing power is a fraught one: It can give the movie a next-new-thing vibe, but it could just as easily send the movie into the shadows, especially given Tom Cruise and other big-name competition out there in the summer. And that's assuming they pull off the acting part.

In that way, "F4" invites comparison to a fellow superhero reboot that arrived just 10 years after a predecessor and with some rising young stars: 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man." That didn't work out so well in the long run.

For the moment, "Fantastic Four" looks to be facing an uphill battle. Early reviews have been mostly negative for the film, which reportedly cost $122 million to make and has been shrouded in bad buzz amid rumors of a troubled production. Trank's casting of Jordan, a black actor, as a character who is white in the comics also sparked some controversy. (Trank has defended both his on-set comportment and casting choices.)

Should the new "F4" find an audience, it would not only solidify the foundation for future films (a 2017 sequel is already on the calendar) but also help Fox keep up with rival studios like Warner Bros. and Disney in the superhero-movie arms race. It would  do it with style and youth. But it's far from certain, when it comes to superhero films, whether the children can lead them.

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