Tuesday, January 6, 2015
So we have a some casting news, and not the kind that makes people jump for joy. A lot of Gambit fans had their fears realized when it was confirmed that Channing Tatum would be filling that role, while some fans of Anime film Ghost in the Shell have been beside themselves with the announcement that Scarlett Johansson would be starring in an American adaptation. Now the consternation with each one is for different reasons. With Gambit, the problem seems to be that Tatum isn't considered the right type of actor to play the role; Tatum's best stuff has a comedic bent to it so what is likely to be a serious action film with maybe a little snarky humor doesn't look like a good fit. That an the absolute zero confidence anyone has in his ability to pull of the pronounced Cajun accent that the character had on the beloved X-Men cartoon from the 1990s. I understand the bit about the accent, but other than that....not really. He's an actor, people. If the script is good and the directing is good, it should be fine.
It is pretty remarkable that the Gambit character is drawing that much concern. I didn't really know anything about him until I watched the cartoon, and his profile and popularity is very much a result of that show versus the comic book. In print he's not high enough on the X-Men totem pole to warrant a solo film ahead of Storm, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, or several others. There was even a hit piece written on a fictional character here. But hey, it is what it is. The movie's being made, and is scheduled to drop in 2016. I'll probably end up seeing it and I'll give it a chance to be good before I dump all over it. And you should, too, unless you're still holding out hope for a X-Men-based film that doesn't take major deviations from the source material. Fox's X-universe does that and will likely continue doing it. If you've accepted that then you should be able to ride with this.
Now as far as the Johansson casting, well.........that one is much more worthy of disgust. Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese anime production so casting Johansson in the lead role means that one of two things is going to happen here, either a full blown Americanization of the story or a dropping in of a decidedly American actress to a story where the other important characters are Japanese, and changing her character from being Japanese like the others to a Westerner of some kind. There's a shorter way to describe that; it's called whitewashing. If you're the studio, why do risk that kind of backlash? Money, of course. Johansson carried last year's Lucy to a pretty big windfall, so for the time being if you have an female-led action movie that isn't well known to the masses but has the potential to do good business if things break right, she's an obvious choice. Does that warrant changing a whole movie around and risking a backlash from said movie's more ardent supporters? They're gambling that it will.
If you like ScarJo, and like her in action roles, then unless you're a Ghost-devotee you're going to at least think about checking this out. I'm not an Anime guy so I got no dog in the fight here. Race-bending already created roles is always a tough topic and is guaranteed to offend people on all sides of it. My take is that sometimes it's ok and sometimes it isn't, but that it's best to leave things as they were originally written. I talked about it here, and here. The studio is doing this for financial reasons and little else; there are Asian-American actresses who could play the title role, but they clearly don't believe in the ability of any of them to sell the movie. ScarJo gets you some mainstream press during production and close to the premiere date and will get you some box office on opening weekend. I don't run a studio so I don't have to make those calculations, but I'm willing to bet that their number crunching is correct on this one.