X-Men: Apocalypse releases in North American theaters in mere days. One might think since I profess the X-Men to be some of my favorite characters in comics, that I would be pretty excited about this. While I will almost definitely go see it, this latest X-movie is failing to inspire the same eager anticipation as Captain America: Civil War, but neither does it provoke the same horrified curiosity as Batman v. Superman. All the X-films are satisfying enough, delivering big superhero action, the requisite angst, and plenty philosophical posturing. When the first film arrived in 2000, it had novelty on its side – superheroes were not yet crowding movie screens, and as a comics fan, it was exciting to see these characters realized in live-action, even if the film was decidedly workmanlike. Subsequent installments variously improved upon the first and bafflingly mishandled the source material, and now, sixteen years since the franchise launched, a new X-Men movie is pretty much routine.
As someone who loves the X-Men comics, no matter how effective a blockbuster the new movie might be, I always feel a twinge of sadness with the release of each film, as every new entry takes the story and the characters further away from their comic book counterparts. The problem, really, is that this franchise is built upon a sorely dated sixteen-year-old movie that wanted to be taken seriously as an action film, and took pains to shed most of its comic book-ish trappings to achieve that. There is something decidedly old-fashioned about Bryan Singer’s filmmaking and storytelling, prompting Jay Edidin (of the Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast) to observe in their review of the new movie, “in 2016, [Bryan Singer]’s still making the best superhero movies of 2002.”
At this point, the franchise really deserves a complete overhaul, starting again from scratch. The mere thought of a brand new cinematic interpretation of the X-Men ignites greater enthusiasm than any trailer for Apocalypse could muster. What, though, would I like this all new, all different X-Men franchise to look like? Thus, not content to let Elle Collins at Comics Alliance have all the fun, I thought I would throw a Cast Party of my own.
This pitch is not for a new series of X-Men films at all. No – the predictable blockbuster structure does a disservice to the X-Men. Sure, X-Men stories can deliver absolutely spectacular action sequences, but most folks stay for the characters and their fraught relationships. While developing a whole ensemble of characters and giving each a meaningful arc is entirely possible in a two-hour-or-so-long film, I think something serial would be much more effective. Both Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones demonstrated that Netflix is a comfortable home for comics adaptations, and I would love to see The Uncanny X-Men get the same treatment. To execute this ambitious adaptation, I would love to draw upon a pair of filmmakers who have already created original content for Netflix: The Wachowskis. Just as Sense8 paired the sisters with J. Michael Straczynski, however, I would love to see another filmmaker collaborate with The Matrix auteurs, and would be delighted to see what Donnie Darko writer/director Richard Kelly could contribute. Kelly, like the Wachowskis, juggles some big ideas, but his handle on characters and dialogue keeps even his weirdest stories (here’s looking at you, Southland Tales!) grounded. This is key in any X-Men story – yes, there might by aliens, time travel, and magic, but we’re here less for the high concepts themselves than how our protagonists interact with those concepts.
As I run through the cast, I will elucidate further upon the premise and storylines upon which this series would be based.
THE ORIGINAL X-MEN
Rooney Mara as Jean Grey/Marvel Girl
Taking a cue from Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie’s graphic novel X-Men: Season One, Jean Grey would serve as this story’s viewpoint character (at least to start). Jean is an enormously significant character going forward and deserves the screentime to allow her growth and development. This story would start with a college-age Jean still concealing her abilities at a time that public fear and paranoia regarding these newly-identified mutants are reaching fever pitch.
Jean knows what everyone is thinking; counter to many depictions in which the character is shown as almost fragile and vulnerable, I think she would actually be almost disconcertingly confident (consider how much insecurity stems from not knowing what others think about you – Jean would have no such worries). Rooney Mara can definitely convey that confidence, but is a tremendous enough actress to take the character to all the complicated places she will go.
Henry Hopper as Scott Summers/Cyclops
The team is not assembled when this series starts, allowing a glimpse into the heartbreaking backstory of Scott Summers. The requisite flashback will show the plane crash that leaves him orphaned (offering a brief look at Elias Koteas as his father, Christopher Summers, poised to play a more substantial role in season three), and we will meet him, trying to make a life for himself on his own after leaving the orphanage in which he came-of-age.
Scott is a complicated character, and is frequently not likable, but is nevertheless the leader of the X-Men when that time comes. He relates poorly to most people (a fact that is instrumental in his rare emotional connection to Jean Grey), viewing his teammates less as people than as skillsets to deploy to their tactical advantage. It is essential that whoever plays him can give such a difficult character plenty of pathos, and though Henry Hopper doesn’t have an extensive list of credits, his arresting performance in Gus Van Sant’s Restless demonstrated that he can play that right combination of social awkwardness, self-seriousness, keen intelligence, and absolute failure to express or understand feelings.
Rich Sommer as Hank McCoy/Beast
Hank is the smartest guy in any given room, and while he’s nice about it, he does know it. That combination of smarts, arrogance, and amiability is one which Rich Sommer demonstrated throughout his Mad Men run, and would serve well in Hank’s role here, as a graduate student in college, studying mutation all while trying to keep his own mutation secret. As his research gains notice from some powerful folks, Hank gets positioned between his academic ambitions and his own conscience, when he realizes how those powerful folks might use his research.
John Karna as Bobby Drake/Iceman
Bobby Drake is the heart and soul of the X-Men, motivated by intense loyalty to his friends. He interjects much-needed levity amidst the angst of his teammates, and while each of the other X-Men is preoccupied with their various melodramas, he remains a delightfully self-aware constant upon which they can all depend.
John Karna played a similar role within a group dynamic in Scream: The TV Series, and I think he could also contribute some nuance to the role of Bobby Drake, who is both gay and a mutant. Though Bobby won’t come out for quite awhile, I would love to see a version of the character who must contend with two identifiers that will wholly change how people treat him, thus recontextualizing his humor as deflection. That plurality (being mutant and gay, mutant and black, etc.) is one that I would love to see played with more, in both the comics and their adaptations.
Armie Hammer as Warren Worthington III/Angel
Firstly, Armie Hammer is already Warren Worthington III – the second line of his IMDb bio reads, “His great-grandfather, Armand Hammer, was a prominent tycoon and philanthropist who ran the company Occidental Petroleum for many decades.” Both are astoundingly attractive sons of enormous privilege, and though Hollywood tries repeatedly to make Hammer a leading man (see: The Lone Ranger or The Man From UNCLE remakes), he just seems to lack the charisma to carry a film on his own. Thus, not only would a role in an ensemble likely suit him better, he could put that lack of charisma to good use as the X-Men’s decidedly uncharismatic pretty-boy, Angel.
Colin Salmon as Charles Xavier/Professor X
Patrick Stewart is a hard act to follow, and few would disagree that his casting as Xavier was pretty much perfect. In trying to think of another actor who could convey a similar paternal gravitas and commanding timbre, while decisively moving the character out from under Stewart’s shadow, I could think only of Colin Salmon (Arrow‘s Walter Steele).
Though the original Silver Age comics came emblazoned with a mission statement (“fighting to protect a world which hates and fears them“) the stories themselves offered little to reflect that. Even the existing film franchise does little to answer the question: “Why does the world need the X-Men?” In this version, I would like to make that point clear, and naturally, Xavier is crucial to that. As a black man, this Xavier is someone who has fought an uphill battle against racism both overt and systemic for every opportunity he is given and, seeing mutants as the subject of much fear and paranoia, is motivated to make life easier for mutants in a way which was never available to him. As I discussed in relation to Iceman, this gives another good opportunity to examine the intersection of being “mutant” and being part of a different marginalized population as well.
Check back tomorrow for part two, in which we delve into the premise of this hypothetical reboot’s first season, and cast its supporting roles!