Kate Mara, cast as Sue Storm/Invisible Woman in Fox’s upcoming rights-retaining reboot of Fantastic Four, recently did an interview with Esquire México which has caught the ire of some internet fanboys (it is, after all, the job of internet fanboys to cause ire.) And I specifically categorize the commenters here as fanboys rather than simply “fans” because of Esquire’s bro-tastic core audience (and the fact that the interview is clearly aimed at straight, cisgendered men). The key moment in the interview that has been picked up by various geek sites deals with her preparation of the film role:
Q: How do you feel being the new Invisible Woman? It’s a big responsibility.
A: I don’t feel more responsibility with this role that I’ve felt with others. I understand that there are many fans of Fantastic Four and I guess they expect a lot from me, but I prefer not to be pressured by that. We are also trying to create a new way of seeing these superheroes, I’m focusing on making her (Susan Storm) as real as possible.
Q: Do you like comics?
A: I’ve never been a fan of comics, I’ve never actually read one. I was going to for this movie but the director said it wasn’t necessary. Well, actually he told us that we shouldn’t do it because the plot won’t be based on any history of anything already published. So I chose to follow his instructions. The one fact is I am a fan of comic book movies, so it’s very exciting to be part of a movie like this.
(Note: this translation was provided by King Patel of ComicBookMovie.com and, by his own admission, generated through Google translate, so I’ll allow that something has been lost in translation).
Kate, my dear, you’re doing it wrong. Let’s consider for a moment why you are even in a new Fantastic Four movie — that Fox’s previous franchise failed and they’re attempting a reboot (in an obvious-to-anyone attempt to retain the rights to the characters, which Disney/Marvel would love to have back in a New York Baxter Building Minute).
There are many reasons why that earlier version didn’t grab moviegoers like, say, the X-Men franchise or Marvel’s crazily successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. One obvious reason is that it focused on the “comic” side of “comic book” (in opposition to the MCU’s grand epic focus that includes, but does not rely on, comic relief) or even Warner/DCCU’s “we’re not comic, we’re so serious” takes on their properties. But another key reason the first Fantastic Four franchise flopped was the failure to focus on fans.
Who do you think is going to rush to see the film on opening day (or, more importantly, at midnight the night before)? Who is going to lean over to their friends to explain the relationship between the Richards and Dr. Doom? Who is going to be clamoring for a strong cinematic female super hero representation of the character that is arguably one of the most powerful heroes in the [Marvel] Universe? Comic Fans. Fantastic Four Fans. And you really don’t get many shots with winning their favor (hence this reboot), so you’d do well to approach them with some respect.
The prime example of fan respect and engagement goes to director Peter Jackson. In the late 1990s, as the so-called Web 2.0 was just breaking the Internet, Jackson announced that he would be adapting Tolkien’s masterwork, The Lord of the Rings into multiple films. Now, comics book fandom is one thing, but Tolkien fans are something else altogether. They had suffered through the late-70s Rankin-Bass and Ralph Bakshi adaptations of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King and were understandably wary of a new attempt at filming the epic. Jackson, being a fan himself, knew this and did something unprecedented. He engaged his fellow fans. In 1998, he sent a statement to Harry Knowles’ Ain’t It Cool News website (which had been the leading source for fan outrage) that directly addressed fan concerns over the adaptation. Jackson knew that in order for the massive film to be successful, he had to win the hearts of long-time fans and didn’t skirt the issue by speaking through the marketing department or a publicist, but spoke directly to the fans themselves. He brought the conversation to them and said, in effect, “Look, I am one of you and I don’t want to see this messed up, so I’m not going to mess this up.” History shows us that the strategy worked: the trilogy was well-received by fans and non-fans alike and was wildly successful with both audiences and critics.
Need a more modern example of web-based fan outreach? Look no further than the CW’s Arrow star Stephen Amell. His Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter feed are not only updated often (sometimes several times a day from set), but they’re updated not by an assistant or publicity office, but by the actor himself (who clearly has a healthy sense of humor about himself, his fans and his importance in the promotion of the show, the network, the studio and DC Comics itself).
He loves his fans and reaches out to them. In turn, they send the love back and get more viewers for him and, by extension, his show. He doesn’t dismiss the fans or dismiss the history of the character he’s playing. All this work is not lost on the studio or the network.
And Stephen Amell won Comic-Con 2014, Kate. HE. WON. IT. You and your Fantastic Four cast didn’t even show up. Do you expect fans to return that favor when the movie opens next year?
Why are Fox, your director, Josh Trank, and you missing this simple point? Secrecy of plot may be important if a film is to not give everything away months (or sometimes years) before release, but the secrecy around the FF movie (which, by recent reports, has just wrapped-with a Selfie) has been hurting, not helping, its buzz. The studio seems to be almost actively taunting fans with press like your Esquire interview, Michael B. (Human Torch) Jordan’s description of the Fantastic Four as “a bunch of kids that had an accident and we have disabilities now” added to the absolute lack of any appearance at last week’s San Diego Comic-Con, the final Comic-Con before the film is expected to hit theatres next summer on June 19, 2015. And we geeks don’t like to be taunted. This is a film that we know so little about, the movie going public is starting to lose interest and the creators of the film have not courted the comic contingent to sway them back (as Marvel did when they marketed this past weekend’s Guardians of the Galaxy. And, you know, that worked out pretty well for them). Kate, Michael, Josh and Fox — learn to embrace and respect your fans. Unless you want Ms. Mara to have a lot of Invisible company next summer.