Monday, November 14, 2016

Rebooting the X-Men

By Phantom Troublemaker

In the world of comic books, the X-Men are second only to Batman to me. I’ve loved Marvel’s (not so) Merry Mutants since 1988. If I had to list my top ten favorite comic book stories, I’d be willing to bet that the X-Men are in eight of them.

The mutant superheroes were showing up in animated form as early as 1981’s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but it wasn’t until the Pryde of the X-Men pilot that they appeared in their own series. Largely considered a failure, the continuity of Pryde was shelved and when the time came to launch an animated series in 1992 a completely different approach was taken.

The early 90s X-Men animated series is a landmark in comic book adaptations. For the time the animation was fantastic. Heck, when compared to some of the stuff on Cartoon Network today it’s still amazing. The voice work was notable for encompassing the drama and storytelling needed for what was an unusually mature series – thematically, not content-wise.

The stories, though, were what sold it to me. In many, if not most, cases the show pulled directly from the comics of the time. I could spend a whole post extoling the virtues of these animated adaptations, but that’s not why I’m here today.

FOX released X-Men in 2000. It wasn’t perfect – very few comic book adaptations are – but it was a fair representation of what a lot of the comics were about. The cast ranged from terrible (Storm) to breathtakingly awesome (Professor X, Magneto) to surprisingly perfect (Wolverine) and everything in between. I didn’t walk out pumping my fist, but I was satisfied.

Side Note: Some claim that this is the movie that kicked off the modern era of comic book films. I say it’s Blade. We can debate it some other time.

Since then we’ve gotten sequels, solo movies, and reboot-ish projects that have ranged from terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) to breathtakingly awesome (First Class) to surprisingly perfect (Deadpool) and everything in between. I could spend a whole post discussing the successes and failures of FOX’s X-Men franchise, but that’s not why I’m here today, either.

I have seen a couple of mentions of FOX rebooting the X-Men franchise. Most of these immediately contradict themselves by saying that FOX is hoping to include Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and James McAvoy. That would not be a reboot.
If you want all of the details, The Hollywood Reporter has a pretty solid post about it.
Deadpool will obviously carry on, though I’m concerned by all of the recent turmoil. It looks like the New Mutants are going to be a thing, which could be incredible or could be fant4stic. And the plans for X-Force seem to be in flux, so who knows what’s going to happen there? At this point I don’t think the Gambit solo film is worth mentioning.

But these aren’t strictly the X-Men. They’re offshoots. I think FOX can and should maintain a core team of mutants.

At this point I’m sure you’re all thinking, “Phantom – what would you do if you were in charge of the X-Men movie franchise…”

I’m glad you asked.

Bryan Singer would be out. His sins against the mutants far outweigh his successes.

Lawrence, Fassbender, and McAvoy would be out. Nothing against them – I love the former two and am fine with McAvoy – but I’m proposing a (mostly) clean slate. While their characters have been solid for three movies now, they’re also tainted by their ties to Singer’s work. And good lord, we don’t need more Charlie/Eric drama. They may be named after Xavier (vain much?), but the X-Men are so much more.

Logan would, indeed be the end for Hugh Jackman. He’s been wonderful as Wolverine, but any overt traces of the last sixteen years of FOX X-Men (except for Deadpool) need to go. Plus, I’m pretty sure he is for-real done this time anyway.

Being that the late 80s are my favorite era of the X-Men, my movie reboot would feature many elements from Claremont’s Uncanny run at the time, though I wouldn’t adhere slavishly to the details.

Step one is building the team. Here I have to take a look at who has been used and how. This is a fresh start that won’t explain its relation to existing movies. It will assume that the audience understands mutants and is aware of the dream of Charles Xavier. Perhaps an opening crawl or narration will lay out the setting:

“In the not-to-distant future humanity has begun to evolve. Homo Sapiens Superior – commonly known as ‘mutants’ – are appearing across the world, displaying abilities beyond those of humans.

Mankind has resisted the presence of these remarkable beings. Since their first public appearance they have struggled to find acceptance and peace. Some hide amongst us. Some seek to dominate us. Some chose to be something more and swore to protect a world that hates and fears them.

Even after that world turned on them…”

Our team is in hiding in an abandoned mining town in the Australian Outback. Because that is where I have always wanted an X-Men movie to take place.

I would have to disregard how FOX used a lot of the mutants. So many were in throwaway parts that I’m not going to bother worrying about whether or not they showed up. I’m sure I’m not even aware of some that they used as students or in background scenes. I am going to consider the bulk of the cast they used off-limits. I want a fresh start, but I also wouldn’t overtly state that this is an entirely different Earth or continuity. Let the audience decide.

Colossus (Piotr Rasputin) – Organic steel skin that makes him invulnerable and super strong
Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Ellie Phimister) – Generates powerful explosive energy
I’m all for using Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool. My X-Men is going to have a more serious tone than that movie, but there’s no reason those characters can’t work. Colossus is the leader of our group by default. He doesn’t want to be, but the qualities we saw in Deadpool have made him step up and take charge.
NTW is actually Colossus’ enforcer, as odd as that sounds. When someone gets out of line, she’s the one that handles it. Outwardly she’s the snarky, self-involved girl we saw in Deadpool. Inwardly she’s the same, but is also totally devoted to Colossus and to protecting mutants.

Forge (Unknown) – Can build anything, including complicated technology
Forge would also be on the team because I love Forge. He’s the crazy wizard character. He’d be older – no kids in this role. And he’s going to look like Forge. A Native American with cyborg parts.

Dazzler (Alison Blaire) – Converts sound into light – anything from bursts to focused lasers
I want Dazzler in a movie. And she does not get along with Negasonic Teenage Warhead. The setting is grim and the team is in a tough place, but Ali is the bright center of everything. Literally and figuratively.  

Wolverine (Laura Kinney) – Healing factor, enhanced sense, retractable claws
I don’t know what role X23 is going to play in Logan or what future plans may exist (none, probably), but she’d be in my X-Men movie. This would be the late teen version. She needs to be volatile but have some experience. She’s basically the young version of Wolverine because… she’s basically the young version of Wolverine. And yeah – I know she’s a little girl in Logan, which seems to be in the future. Time travel? I dunno.

Gambit (Remy LeBeau) – Transforms potential energy into kinetic energy
Because I don’t think his movie is happening and I need a character with his skills.

Gateway (Unknown) – Mass teleportation
Gateway is a necessary part of the Australian Outback setting, but I would make him more explicitly a mutant and part of the group. He’d still be an old aborigine and keep mostly to himself.

I started to run into trouble after putting these characters together because everyone I wanted to use was a New Mutant at some point and I don’t want to use anyone from that franchise in this one. Because then my fictional speculative piece would be ridiculous! I kept coming back to Sunspot, Moonstar, Cypher, and of course Magik, who is one of my favorite mutants. She’s Colossus’ sister, so at some point I’d like to see her show up, but she’s also problematic thanks to her weird powers and the whole demon thing. If FOX had the ability to just go with it I’d feel better, but it seems to me the likelihood of mutants with more exotic powers or mystical connections showing up is low (Forge’s can be easily overlooked or worked in later).

For my X-Men world, though, we’d set the kind of fantastical tone that would allow for such things. It’s a little hard to explain, but if your film(s) establish the right kind of tone and setting you can get away with anything. But if you insist upon things being overly “gritty”, “real”, and “grounded” you are severely limiting what can be done and what the audience will accept.

So anyway, I’d add a couple more mutants to the main team and have thirty or so as supporting characters that are just on the run and living in the town, trying to do the best they can.

The villains would be the Reavers. I know they’re being used in Logan, but that’s the future and possibly even an alternate reality. So whatever. I was deeply disturbed by the Reavers when I was a kid. The idea that these humans had robotic parts horrified me. I would definitely want to get across the body horror aspect of the Reavers in the film. That will play heavily into their story, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Donald Pierce is the force behind the Reavers. He’s an industrialist who produces arms and technology for the US government (yes, that old gem).

The backstory between Forge and Pierce would be the foundation of the plot of the movie.
Forge is a former US soldier that went to work for Pierce after serving. He doesn’t realize just how much Pierce relied on his work or everything that Pierce is up to. Eventually Forge discovers that Pierce has been recruiting wounded and disabled veterans from veterans’ hospitals – men without hope or money. They are then experimented on and enhanced and by the time Pierce-Consolidated is done with them they are essentially slaves in Pierce’s private paramilitary force. Forge’s breakthroughs in cybernetics have been used on these men without his knowledge. But when he does find out, he is enraged.

Important note – Forge does not do the dumb thing where he goes and confronts Pierce and tells him to stop. He recognizes that Pierce is a bad guy at this point. Instead, he starts putting together information to expose what’s been going on and gets caught. During his attempt to escape from Pierce-Consolidated he is shot multiple times before being imprisoned deep inside the facility. Rather than having his surgeons operate to remove the bullets, Pierce has them amputate Forge’s hand and leg, telling the mutant that he only needs his mind, not his body.

I know this sounds grisly and horrifying, but there’s a way to shoot it without it being Saw.
It’s going to be tough to explain how Pierce keeps Forge captive for however long he does, and as soon as Hollywood is paying my salary I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, Forge builds himself a new hand and leg. I’d love to have a montage of Forge over the years of his captivity improving and replacing his own implants and have it reflect the visual changes we saw in the comics over the years.

Okay, so how does the movie go?

The movie opens with a black screen and the sound of Gateway’s bullroarer. Then there’s a flash and the visual of a bright portal with shadowy figures exiting. Then blackness again.
From there Colossus, NTW, Gambit, Dazzler, and Wolverine break into Pierce-Consolidated and rescue Forge.

You might wonder why they do this and how they know Forge is there or even that he exists.
In the comics, the Australian town that the X-Men inhabit sits on top of the Reavers’ headquarters. In this movie, there isn’t an entire HQ but only one room, buried deep beneath the town. Only Colossus knows about it and it’s where he receives his directions. It won’t happen in this movie, but eventually we reveal that he’s taking orders from a hybrid of Cerebro and Professor X’s consciousness.

Of course, even more eventually we’ll learn that it’s really Cassandra Nova.

The point is that these X-Men are in hiding and proactive. They have goals and missions. They aren’t just waiting to respond to the next disaster.

Pierce is furious at the loss of his only source of innovation and terrified of being exposed for the monster he is. Naturally he is able to trace Forge’s own cybernetics to the Outback. Unless I can come up with a better way for Pierce to be able to track the X-Men. Again – waiting for that Hollywood money.

Over the course of the movie we will have gotten to know the Reavers a bit. Not as much as our X-Men, but there’s been enough development to know names and personality types and that some of them have grown to accept and even enjoy working for Pierce and some have not. Edward Marks (if you get that reference then you know we wouldn’t be able to use that name in all likelihood) is one of the Reavers that isn’t satisfied with the situation. But he is a soldier and he is glad that Pierce’s work has given him some kind of life after being exposed to a gas that crippled his respiratory system.

The most savage Reavers are Skullbuster, Pretty Boy, Cylla, and their leader, Bonecrusher.
When the Reavers converge on the X-Men’s town a massive battle ensues. Marks sees that the mutants are trying to protect weaker, innocent people and turns on the other Reavers. Pierce – watching from afar – activates a self-destruct in Marks’ implants, but he has already helped the X-Men drive the Reavers away.

Two key scenes here – the X-Men recognizing that Marks helped them and the Reavers returning to their transport looking utterly torn apart.

Marks wakes up in a makeshift lab. Maybe this is where we get Forge’s backstory with Pierce. Also, he has realized that Pierce tracked his parts and has built new ones.
Forge has repaired Marks and Marks basically joins the team. My favorite X-Men teams always have an anomalous non-mutant like Longshot or Warlock.

Marks and Negasonic insist that the team needs to attack Pierce and finish things. Colossus wants to move from the town. Forge isn’t sure what the right move is, but tells the others that Pierce won’t give up as long as he knows Forge is alive. But Colossus is boss, so he delivers a speech to the rest of the town about change and safety and tells them to pack up. They will find a new home.

This doesn’t sit well with Negasonic. She gets with Marks and Gambit and they decide that a small strike team can take out Pierce. They approach Dazzler, but she won’t go against the boss. She won’t tell him, either, though.

Gateway sends the trio directly to Pierce’s home, where we get the reveal that he’s a cyborg, too! And that all of the Reavers have gotten upgrades and that NTW, Marks, and Gambit are screwed.

Then, of course, Colossus, Wolverine, Dazzler, Forge, and Deadpool (!) show up to save the day because Dazzler totally lied about not telling Colossus.
Big, climactic battle ensues.

At the end, Pierce is handed over to the military and the rest of the Reavers are put in high security special care hospitals. Or something. The point is that the X-Men don’t murder everyone and that the bad guys are given an opportunity to reform.

Marks joins the X-Men and they return to the town.

Two after-credits scenes – one is the first visual reveal of Colossus’ computer. It is speaking in an Xavier-esque voice and telling Piotr about the next mutant they have to rescue.

The second is a shot of a wide, open space in the Outback. It holds for some time before a fiery, Phoenix-shaped entity crashes violently to Earth from outer space. (this is Rachel, not Jean – maybe I’ll get to my sequel someday; would you guys be interested?)


The movie would be shot old-school. No shaky cams and very few extreme close-ups of characters talking. Lots of wide, panoramic shots of the Outback. I’m picturing something very much like old Westerns.

I know I left out a lot of character stuff. I’d fill that in if I was getting paid. But it is very important. I want audiences to leave the movie knowing every characters’ names, powers, and motivations. I want each character to be memorable and important. I want people to have different favorite characters. I want them to be identifiable.

Dazzler would get a little story focus, as I want her to dream of being a rock star and for Colossus to insist that she stay hidden.

Wolverine spends a lot of time with Gateway “because he doesn’t talk as much as you people”. I realize that this attribute might be more Logan than Laura, but I’m picturing her as the stand-offish badass.

Gambit needs something, but I don’t know what.

Everyone wears uniforms like Negasonic’s when they’re on a mission. Only she and Colossus wear them in the town. They all share the same basic design with some differences:

*Wolverine has the cowl and no sleeves

*Dazzler has altered hers to be a little more glamorous – some sparkly bits, a skirt, whatever the kids are wearing; she wears headphones always for her powers

*Gambit has his weird boots and his overcoat – NO HEAD SOCK

*Once Forge puts on the uniform he adds a bunch of belts with pouches full of parts to build stuff and also giant guns; Negasonic tells him he’s very 90s

*When Deadpool shows up his costume is in the X-Men colors
For added fun, the next Deadpool movie could include the final battel at the opening, but from Deadpool’s POV – talking to the camera and making fun of everything.

I want to start fresh and leave everything behind, but unfortunately FOX’s X-Men movies burned through characters like crazy, leaving very little untouched while still only putting effort into a small group of mutants. What I’ve presented above feels like a good start to me. I just hate it that the cinematic world of the X-Men is such a mess and has never had a conscientious caretaker. It makes it difficult to visualize something new without literally going back to the beginning and starting all over again. And the last thing we need is another Charles Xavier origin movie. As I said above – there’s so much more to the X-Men than that.

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