Kate Mara Rises From the Ashes of Fantastic Four

Give her an Oscar now.

The abysmal Fantastic Four reboot continues to dominate movie blogs and industry trades due to its resoundingly bad reception. Behind-the-scenes brawls between director and studio, extensive script rewrites, and last minute attempts at re-shoots (easily detected thanks to the wig of its leading lady) all contributed to its inevitable downfall. With such a misfire of catastrophic proportions now on their hands, will Fox nix the sequel? Apparently they’re operating under the influence as the powers that be believe another outing for this boring foursome is a worthwhile endeavor. Even if they outline plans to lure their four stars back — possibly with the promise of a hefty backend points paybump — it’s unlikely that Kate Mara will subject herself to more green screen theatrics.

Especially when she could be doing fun skits like this:

The Fantastic Four team squandered the chance to make the most of her performance skills honed during a stint on House of Cards. Sure, she rose to the occasion in a handful of above-average movies here and there and made the most of a first season role in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story and as a computer whiz in 24. But it was Zoe Barnes, the feisty reporter who shagged her source, got her story, and then was pushed to her gory death by said source, that gave her a meaty bone to gnaw on. She’s not quite at the level of movie aristocracy as Ian McKellen or Patrick Stewart, but when that pair were cast as a couple of bickering mutants in Fox’s X-Men: they were given actual substance to work with.

Nevertheless, Mara’s on her way up. She’s risen from the ashes of a movie that gave her practically nothing to do except react to the actions of her male co-stars.

Between now and the end of the year that looks set to change. Three movies open in September and October, placing Mara in a raft of scenarios where the dramatic stakes are… well, there’s dramatic stakes. Captive is based on a true story. So it might not come as a surprise that it looks like a Lifetime movie given an effects budget and a cast upgrade. Now we’ve got that out of the way, Mara plays a former addict single mother who’s taken hostage by a recently-released convict. The upside to this albeit run-of-the-mill thriller is who’s playing the criminal: David Oleyowo. It probably won’t win any Oscars but Mara’s lank mop, sweats and Chuck Taylors suggest that she’ll dress down (or like a freelance writer) and forgo makeup to bag the coveted accolade one day.

She’s also staying put in the science-fiction realm for her next scheduled pic, under the control of seasoned filmmaker Ridley Scott. He’s had several misfires over the years and so The Martian promises a return to form for the sci-fi auteur, who cast Mara as one of the crew who leaves Matt Damon’s verbose astronaut Mark Watney stranded on Mars. She’s not packing quite the same prolific clout as Jessica Chastain and Kristen Wiig, who both nabbed two of the bigger female roles. Still, playing the laconic Beth Johanssen means there’s a chance for her to wrestle with tons and tons of science jargon.

Three days later, Man Down opens in U.S. theaters. She plays Shia Labeouf’s wife. In the film she survives some sort of apocalypse (it’s not entirely clear what instigates it) and being married to an actor who makes Nic Cage’s bat-eating hijinks seem boring. She’s surrounded by a mixed bag of fellow thesps, with Gary Oldman a clear highlight and Jai Courtney’s involvement a total headscratcher. By the meagre synopsis scraps circulating, LaBeouf’s Afghanistan war vet returns home to find his wife and son gone and embarks on a mission to find them. Let’s hope that she’s sauntered off on a quest for fire and undergoes a transformation into a Furiosa-type warrior.

With this triple-whammy of releases landing in quick succession, it’ll be interesting to witness how each of them fare, and — more importantly — how her performances are received. There’s something to be said for Mara’s ability to juggle her public profile with her onscreen work. She’s not too big of a star to deny audiences the suspension of belief yet big enough to land commitments like The Martian and onto parts in the likes of Moonbeam City — an animated comedy co-starring Elizabeth Banks, Will Forte, Rob Lowe — and Morgan.

The latter marks the directorial debut of Ridley Scott’s son Luke, sending Mara on another trip into the near-future as a risk management consultant tasked with assessing the lives of artificially-created beings. Proof that the Fantastic Four backlash hasn’t soured her opinion of the little genre that could. She’s surfing that current sci-fi wave like a champ, throwing in just enough dramas, thrillers, and action pieces to keep her in contention for weightier stuff. Only last week she signed up for Oscar-bait drama Megan Leavey, a real-life tale about a Marine who bonded with her K-9 colleague during the Iraqi conflict. Dogs, war, and a real world origin? May as well forgo the formality of making the movie and hand her the damn statuette now.