Was it easier being a movie or comic fan before the Internet? Was there some kind of bliss in finding out some unknown kid named Christopher -- Reefs? Reeve? It's Reeve? Ok! -- was cast as the lead in Richard Donner's Superman? Bliss in the sense of you couldn't really talk about it, just wonder, and you had no illusions of being part of a vocal collective who could sway the minds of studio executives? Wasn't it easier to essentially not know these things until the trailer hit?
Maybe. Maybe not. Musty comic shops probably had a few fans who hung around after closing just to complain about how it should have been Steve McQueen, desperate for the kind of community who cared about who donned the cape, sad they had to hang around a comic shop after hours. But then I look at my Twitter feed and it's full of fans who are bitterly exhausted by the First Avenger: Captain America casting rumors -- which have only been going strong for a few weeks -- and I wonder if it's better not to know about the short lists and the screen tests. Hell, even my geeky mom blew off the first round of John Krasinski-led rumors with a "I hate that stuff gets reported. Who cares? Just tell me who is cast."
She's right, of course, and it's silly for me to write a column pointing that out. But I am, and you know why? Because I spent a night Googling the digitally dusty archives to find out fan reactions when The Fantastic Four or Daredevil was cast. I wanted rumors and frenzies. I knew they had happened on a John Krasinski-level in the past. For years, I've been entertained by tales of how furious people were when Michael Keaton (a comedian) was cast in Tim Burton's Batman. I only have dim memories of the frenzy that surrounded The Lord of the Rings and the Dougray Scott / Hugh Jackman switcharoo that was X-Men. (Remember, I had dropped out of that world, and pretended so hard not to notice what Ain't It Cool News discussed that I succeeded, and lost a decade!)
So, what did I find? Nothing. Google remains silent, bringing up commentless casting news from the likes of USA Today. Our fellow movie sites tend to be rusty on the search and archive front. I finally found an AICN story announcing that Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans (current Cap contender), and Michael Chiklis had been cast in Fantastic Four and the comments range from negative to apathy. Even the negativity isn't at the level I expected -- and this from commenters who define hyperbole. Perhaps the most amusingly retro remark of the bunch came from someone declaring Marvel had "lost it." Back in 2004, we had no faith in their filmmaking or casting process, as opposed to the soothing balm of today's mantra: "Trust Marvel. They know what they're doing."
What I had been hoping to find was something to align with Drew McWeeny's recent screed against fandom, and find examples of when fans were right or wrong in their anger or enthusiasm over casting news and rumors. Truthfully, I was hoping to find proof that fans weren't lousy casting directors because I don't believe "Remember when you all hated Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins / Heath Ledger as the Joker / Hugh Jackman as Wolverine" works as an argument. It does as a Pride and Prejudice lesson, of course, but my cynicism says fandom is due to be right in their reactions eventually. There's always a fall from grace, and one sour note in a well planned franchise. Marvel's emergence from the Dark Ages perhaps proves how far they've come, but how quickly they could fall.
In fact, we've enjoyed so many comic bombs over the last decade that I thought I would be able to find some of that justified concern. I wanted some proof that fans hated Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards or Colin Farrell as Bullseye, and ended up being able to say I told you so. Taking that one AICN story on Fantastic Four, I guess there's some documented proof that way. We all have anecdotal stories of how we all complained about Jennifer Garner's Elektra (and I do remember many cries of "She's not even Greek!"), but I wanted physical proof. I'm sure it existed in forums and talkbacks long deactivated, but not even virus-embedded remnants remain. Only the official Daredevil wallpaper pops up on Google, not the initial fan reactions to Affleck in costume. And you thought what you posted on the Internet lasted forever.
Again, it feels incredibly lame to say that we fans are but shadows and dust in the long road of filmmaking, and that the final product is all that will remain. Perhaps in this day and age of social networking, more of those kneejerk reactions I was craving will be preserved to hang over all our heads. But probably not. I imagine by the time First Avenger: Captain America hits theaters, there will be a few titters over "And you thought it should be [Enter Name Here!]", but it will be no more than a few winks and nudges. Hopefully, that will be because the movie is good, and not so lame we don't care about it anymore. (Even The Spirit stands as recent proof of that.)
But that's not to say there's no point in getting worked up about it all. To me, that's the joy of the Internet and conventions, and the reason all our sites exist. We care. We're invested. And that's okay. If anything, it's a sign that Marvel, DC, Warner Bros, and Paramount should be proud of what they've done, because they have created a product that people are personally invested in. Everyone has their own Steve Rogers or Hal Jordan in mind, and while they may end up bitterly disappointed or pleasantly surprised, the point is that they care. While I certainly feel that fandom has become a lot more poisonous and worked up in some respects (I even did an epic column about it which, depending on your point of view, was a negative or positive outlook on it all -- and I had reactions claiming both), I'm not sure the Great Cap Casting is particularly damning. In fact, you could spin it positively as proof we still care about the representation of American symbols, and we don't want just anyone (no matter how likable they were in this role or that) representing us abroad. When I commented in non-geeky company that I'd rather see an Australian or an Englishman take the part over Chace Crawford, the reactions can only be described as pure horror. Cap must be American, crappy casting be damned, and there's something kind of impressive about that loyalty.
And who knows? Perhaps the entire rumor mongering process will go down in filmmaking history, as there's more sites and social networking than there were for previous geek productions. It's possible that Captain America will succeed where Daredevil and Doctor Doom didn't. All the bitter wrangling and debating will be documented in Wikipedia and IMDB links for years to come. So, watch what you post. Just in case.