Today’s topic of Pointless Fanboy Speculation: How I want to see the X-Men introduced into the MCU….
I really don’t want a rehash of anything Fox did. Like most superhero films made by other studios, the Fox filmmakers were always faintly embarrassed to be making “comicbook” movies, and worked really hard at trying to convince the audience that the X-Men weren’t anything so juvenile.
Fox’s first mistake was chickening out on the original central concept: The X-Men are kids. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is their home base, and the members are students, not teachers. At least they started that way, and I think that’s probably the smartest way to reboot the movies. Back to basics.
Fox’s second big mistake, as we all saw, was that they escalated the story too quickly. The first film started at the place it took the comic 15 years to reach, with Senator Kelly’s anti-mutant legislation. They jumped ahead to the big battle without having earned it. Suddenly there’s this massive world-threatening conflict involving the mutants whose existence we only just learned of. There should have been a long gradual build-up of the anti-mutant movement, just as our current political protests have been building for a very long time.
Third, they doubled down on stupid in the second film by trying to combine Wolverine’s Weapon-X history, God Loves, Man Kills, and the Dark Phoenix Saga into a single story, which was a disservice to all of them, trying to cram too much in,. Finally they painted themselves into a corner with the third film and had to reboot the whole franchise twice. So we throw it all out and start over.
As part of that starting over, I don’t want to see Wolverine until at least the second or third film. The X-Men need to be the X-Men for a while, not “Wolverine and Friends,” and when he does show up, I really want Wolverine to be more like the guy in the comics: 5-foot-4-inches of nasty, basically a young Harlan Ellison with claws. (If you never met Ellison, read this account of how he stood up to Frank Sinatra and tell me that’s not Wolverine.) In one of the rare instances of internet “fan casting” getting it right, I think Daniel Radcliffe would be a really strong choice.
While we’re at it, let’s not see Mystique for at least two movies either. She was a minor character who got overused, and the film people jumped to feature her because (a) they had figured out morphing effects and wanted an excuse to use them, and (b) they really liked the idea of a nearly-nude supermodel jumping around on screen. Now that CGI can create anything, we don’t have to cater to “gosh wow” effects anymore. Let’s tell a story this time.
We also have to jettison Magneto’s Holocaust origin, unless we’re okay with a 90-year-old villain. I always thought it was a cheap retcon anyway; for his first decade, Magneto was not an antihero trying to save the world, he was a straight-up villain bent on domination. The premise that all of his actions are attempts to prevent another Holocaust doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny anyway; he’s obviously in it entirely for himself, and I’d rather see him portrayed as a megalomaniac Mutant Supremacist than as a somebody lashing out over the injustices he faced 80 years earlier while not actually doing anything about them. If we have to go with the theme of somebody turned malignant by monstrous inhuman atrocity, there have been enough other horrific events in recent years to provide a back-story for him without revisiting WWII. I think it would actually be better to have Magneto be like Hans Gruber in Die Hard; a common criminal pretending to be a terrorist, using his political rants as cover for his crimes. Simon Wiesenthal or Elie Wiesel he ain’t.
So, after listing what I wouldn’t do, what would I do with the MCU X-Men?
Elevator Pitch: It’s the superhero version of Red Dawn. Remember that one? The ’80s movie where a high school football team defeats a Soviet invasion? That’s what I’d do.
MCU X-Men 1: Charles Xavier is running his school, teaching mutants to control and conceal their powers in order to live peacefully among humans. He believes that staying hidden is the best way to avoid any problems that would come if the world knew mutants existed. And just as a BTW, Xavier is a Spanish name, so cast a Latino or Hispanic actor! Hector Elizondo would have been perfect 20 years ago; Antonio Banderas maybe?
One fine day, a group of his high school students are on a field trip in NYC, maybe the Guggenheim, when terrorists attack in the area. Forced to do something, the kids decide, instead of running away, to fight back using the powers they’ve been trying to hide. They win. In the aftermath, one of the younger kids (maybe Bobby) is interviewed on the scene by a TV reporter, and when asked how he could do what he does, he shrugs and says “I was born this way. We all were.” And now the world knows that mutants exist. Prof X has to change his approach. Since they can’t hide anymore, he has to teach mutants to embrace and develop their powers so that they can protect themselves and others and show that they are not a threat.
MCU X-Men 2: Other mutants appear, and in a backlash against Prof X’s conciliatory stance, declare that they are better than humans and should rule. They are chaotic, disorganized, and essentially useless, the superpowered equivalent of your average homegrown “militia” group, until Magneto shows up to lead them. Wolverine could show up in a cameo as somebody who “punches a Nazi” by taking down an Evil Mutant just because he’s sick of listening to the loudmouth. The X-Men fights against the Brotherhood for all the same reasons that anyone stands up to jerks who think firepower gives them the right to rule others. Nope, nothing political going on around here.
MCU X-Men 3: Even though the X-Men have consistently protected civilians and shown themselves to be good citizens, the mutant issue polarizes the public due to the usual fear and ignorance (manipulated and encouraged by corrupt politicians for personal or “religious” reasons), until the government is forced to take action, which leads to the Sentinel program and other measures. The allegory here is much more about Cold War hysteria, fear of the different and the unknown, with less focus on the obvious and heavy-handed messages of race and identity as found in the Fox films. Stupid people do stupid things because they are afraid and ignorant, and mobs are easily manipulated.
Of course, X-Men 3 would naturally lead into a big X-Men/Avengers crossover film.
One scene I’d love to see: An anti-mutant protestor is confronted by a friend who asks “You love the Avengers, right? But how do you know Spider-Man isn’t a mutant? Or Hulk, or Ant-Man? How can you tell who’s a mutant and who isn’t?”
“What about casting?” I hear you cry. That’s hard to say, because I think the main characters should be 14-18 years old, and if it takes as long as I think it will to get the X-Men on Disney/Marvel’s release calendar, those actors are currently 9-13 years old and may not have even entered showbiz yet.
But what the hell, we’ll pretend they’re making the movie today and see who we can come up with. Since we’re not going to cheat like the 2000 film and have the X-Men be the teachers while the students are background extras, none of the main characters are adults except Xavier. I think I’d use the original five—Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, and Marvel Girl (and yes, I’m calling her that, and I hope and pray we never have to slog through the Phoenix story again)—plus a few of the later additions. Characters can come and go over the course of the film series, so we could see some characters from Generation X, New Mutants, X-Calibur, X-Force, etc. join the team as things progress. But here are my choices to start with.
Cyclops: Scott Summers does not have to be “Mr. Bland, boring, goody-two-shoes,” the stiff with a stick up his butt that he’s usually shown as. I see him as the teenage version of James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven; always calm and cool, completely in control, because he has to be; the one thing he can’t control is his optic blasts, so he tries to control everything else. Levi Miller (Calvin from A Wrinkle in Time) might be interesting as Scott.
Angel: Warren Worthington III is a paradox, simultaneously rebelling against his family and unashamedly enjoying his wealth and status as a member of that family. He’s basically a Kennedy with wings. Blond, handsome (and he knows it), rich, with a famous name, he tries very hard to be “just plain folks” at school, but he’s somewhat oblivious to his privilege and it often shows. He’s a nice guy who doesn’t lord it over anyone, but he sometimes forgets that his friends can’t just jet off to Belize to party with the Kardasshians like he can. Ed Oxenbould, the kid who played Alexander in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, is 19 now and he’d probably be a very good Warren Worthington.
Iceman: Bobby Drake is one of the younger X-Men, a freshman maybe 14 years old, and every bit as goofy and annoying as many 14-year-olds are. He’s that adolescent mix of brash and insecure, compounded by the fact that he’s just starting to figure out that he’s gay. I like Jack Dylan Grazer (Freddy Freeman in Shazam!) as Bobby.
Marvel Girl: Jean Grey is usually quiet and self-effacing, but she can stand up for herself (or more likely, for anyone else she thinks needs defending) and will not hesitate to do so. Almost all the guys in the school are attracted to her, but most are too intimidated to talk to her. She likes Scott, but he’s too controlled to risk a relationship, though they do have this almost-flirtation going on all the time. My current choice for Jean is Sophia Lillis (Sydney in I Am Not Okay With This, young Beverly in It).
Beast: Hank McCoy is a genius in the body of a gorilla. Hank has a habit of using big words and speaking precisely, as if everything he says was written down first as part of a doctoral thesis, primarily because people take one look at him and assume he’s a dumb jock. Aside from his need to demonstrate his intelligence, he also has an absurd surrealist sense of humor in the Robin Williams vein. I’d leave him in his pre-furry state for the first movie, and I wouldn’t make him blue when he goes furry. Originally, Hank wasn’t hairy, and when that later mutation was added, he was gray. They changed him to blue due to the extremely limited color palette available to comic book publishing in the ’70s and the difficulty of maintaining a consistent gray color. (Hulk was changed to green for the same reason.) If he has to be furry, he should be the gray-blue of gunmetal, not the electric blue of the Blue Man Group. I have no idea who the kid is who can play this guy.
Colossus: Like the version in the Deadpool franchise, Pyotr is a Russian farm boy; unlike that character, he’s only 17 here. I think you’re looking for somebody evocative of a very young Vincent D’Onofrio, the way he was in Adventures in Babysitting. Just a big, burly, corn-fed hick from Eastern Europe, naive and trusting, a gentle artistic soul who can turn into solid steel. I’d probably look for a Russian teenage weightlifter who can act.
Shadowcat: Kitty Pryde is about the same age as Bobby, a freshman who can walk through walls. Her powers only recently emerged and she’s still a little freaked by them, but she’s more resilient than she thinks and can keep a cool head. She’s thin, with long curly brown hair, big eyes, and a wide smile. I’ll go with Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa in Jojo Rabbit).
Jubilee: Jubilation Lee is Chinese-American, short, and though she’s two years older than Kitty, you’d never know it. She is obsessed with style and pop culture, a complete fangirl, but she’s also fearless and a little reckless, especially considering that her power is pretty much a fireworks show, though it can be explosive. I’m sure there’s a Chinese girl on some Disney or Nickelodeon show who’d be great at this, but I don’t watch those channels.
Storm: Ororo Monroe is an American raised in Africa, and probably ought to still have traces of an accent. She’s got to be both an imposing presence and a warm personality. I kind of like the appropriately-named Storm Reid (Meg in A Wrinkle in Time) for the role.
Like Wolverine and Mystique, I think Nightcrawler and Rogue need to take a break to let the Fox films fade from memory a bit.
If ever a character has been bungled and mishandled, it’s Nightcrawler. In 1982, after seven years in the X-Men, Nightcrawler referenced religion for the first time, in one single panel:
When the X-Men fought Dracula, Kurt wielded a cross to drive off the vampire. And that one panel was all it took to provoke years of hack stories that turned Kurt Wagner from a typical Catholic to a religious extremist bound for the priesthood. Bryan Singer turned that up to 11, making my favorite X-Man into a self-torturing lunatic for no reason. Yeah, we get it, he’s a Christian who looks like the devil; irony, yeah… but do you have to make him insane? I think the kid who played him in the later films did a pretty good job, and they managed to not drag the clumsy religious theme back in, but I still think he needs to sit this one out. When he does show up, I’d rather see an actual German actor play the role instead of hearing a Hogan’s Heroes accent.
I’d sideline Rogue because as soon as she’s mentioned, some idiot will suggest that they have to do her fight with Captain Marvel, which I think is the one story the MCU must never do. (Which of course means that’s exactly what they are going to do, if the rumors about Captain Marvel 2 are to be believed. I hope the rumors are wrong.) That story was a mistake. Chris Claremont had been setting up a story in Ms. Marvel since #18, introducing Mystique and putting her in play, building her up to be a primary opponent in a slowly-unfolding story, which would have introduced Rogue in issue 24. That story would most likely have resolved with everything going back to the status quo within a few issues, but the book got canceled with #23.
Then David Michelenie and Jim Shooter (who now tries to minimize his involvement) decided to destroy Ms. Marvel in their awful “Carol Danvers gets raped and likes it” story in Avengers #200. Claremont then dusted off his dangling plot from Ms. Marvel and built Avengers Annual #10 around it; he introduced Rogue, using her attack on Carol as an entry point for a salvage operation to address the mess Michelenie and Shooter had made. Since nullifying the rape plot was his priority, restoring Carol’s mind and powers would have to wait; she was left depowered and damaged, a patient at Professor Xavier’s, which left the door open for the next thirty years of trying to figure out what to do with her. Most of the missing story that would have been in Ms. Marvel #24-25 finally ended up in Marvel Super-Heroes #10-11 some 13 years later. Neither Carol Danvers or Rogue ever totally recovered from the damage inflicted by Avengers #200 and Avengers Annual #10.
Given that the mind-wipe part of this story has already been done in the Captain Marvel film, there is no point in doing it again, and all of that crap needs to be kept far from the film universe. Carol doesn’t need the trauma and Rogue doesn’t need the baggage. Dragging this story back into the daylight will do nothing but damage both the Captain Marvel and X-Men franchises. No good can come of it. Please, Feige, leave it alone.
So that’s what I’d do with the X-Men. If you have a better idea, scroll on down to the comment section and let’s talk about it.