Who Can Play the X-Men Now?
This weekend, 20th Century Fox's almost 20-year X-Men saga comes to an end with Dark Phoenix. Following Disney's acquisition of Fox, the X-Men will soon be rebooted as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While a number of Marvel die-hards are opting for a revisionist history that surmises Fox failed the property, there's no denying that the X-Men franchise holds an important place within superhero cinema and that the MCU would not exist without it. While these films often strayed far from the source material, and largely limited their interest to certain characters, they managed to take Marvel's most convoluted property and streamline it for general audiences.
But the need to streamline comic book properties has largely fallen by the wayside, and this age of cinematic universes, multiverses and comic book deities has set the stage for a very different iteration of mutant kind when they rear their heads within the MCU. Avengers: Endgame screenwriter Christopher Markus previously told The Hollywood Reporter that however Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige introduces the X-Men, "It won't be how you think it's going to happen."
Heat Vision breakdown
Back in March, I hypothesized about a storyline that could introduce the X-Men through a means we haven't seen before — a take on the 1986 X-Men and Morlocks storyline Mutant Massacre. With that in mind, and with respect for the irreplaceable nature of the performances of the characters that have come before, I've dreamed up the cast for the MCU's Uncanny X-Men.
THE ORIGINAL X-MEN
Xavier is gone. Magneto is gone. The teenagers of Xavier's institute, who were once shielded from the public through Xavier's telepathy are now adults and have disbanded and gone their separate ways after the defeat of Magneto. But with the world having changed after Thanos' decimation, Xavier's class of mutants, now in their 40s, find themselves drawn together once more as old relationships and new rivalries are reignited.
Cyclops – Scoot McNairy
None of the X-Men films have fully captured the complexity of Scott Summers. While he's a leader, he's also insecure and often struggles to find the correct path. He has abandonment issues and has at times been the abandoner. Cyclops needs an actor who can capture both a sense of heroism and a purposelessness when unguided. This version of Cyclops is a man who has traveled the world in search of himself and has yet to find it. Scoot McNairy (Monsters, Destroyer) feels perfectly cut out to live up to Cyclops' insecurities and nickname, "Slim."
Jean Grey - Kelly Reilly
Jean exhibits a profound sense of strength and compassion. And while the Phoenix Force has often been used to present her as a character who's broken, she's also more than her attachment to a cosmic entity. Jean, not yet Phoenix in this world, has learned to master her abilities and gain a semblance of control over her life. In many ways, she's the opposite of Cyclops. Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake, Calvary) has a calm assuredness that mutants can rally behind, and it will make her inevitable turn into the emotional Phoenix and then Dark Phoenix all the more powerful.
Beast - Colin Hanks
An intellectual who also revels in being a hero, Hank McCoy has learned to become comfortable with his mutation and is the character most likely to form bonds between the X-Men and other heroes. In some ways he's the spokesperson of the team, and the relationship builder. It'd be interesting to see him coupled with Jean within this new iteration, something that plays on a storyline introduced in All-New X-Men, but also furthers Scott's insecurities. Beast is confident, without being cocky, and that kind of genuine good-natured demeanor makes Colin Hanks (Life in Pieces, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) the perfect choice for the big blue guy.
Iceman - Jonathan Groff
The youngest of the original X-Men and the most jovial, Bobby Drake could be the world's most powerful mutant. But he never fully applied himself as his attentions were always divided. In this reboot, the adult Iceman will have largely given up on honing his powers and has instead dedicated himself to LGBTQIA+ rights. As a gay mutant, Bobby has felt the sting of prejudice from all sides and isn't sure if rejoining the X-Men will have as positive an outcome as his activism. Jonathan Groff (Mindhunter, Frozen) feels primed to handle a character who has forced himself to become an intensely focused realist.
Angel - Michael Ealy
Charismatic and seemingly the most cut out for the superhero business, Warren Worthington was the guy everyone wanted to be around. If Xavier's School for Gifted Children had a class president, it would be him. But his charisma masked something darker, a proclivity toward self-harm and depression. Angel is the missing original X-Man, one whose reemergence will alert the team to darker machinations. Experienced in playing both disarmingly good guys and villains with ulterior motives, Michael Ealy (The Following, The Intruder) could provide interesting psychological insight into the team's fallen hero.
No X-Men team would be complete without new members, established to eventually become the next generation of X-Men. These trainees, brought together under the tutelage of Jean Grey, would provide a sense of hope to the older generation of X-Men.
Storm - Teyonah Parris
Always one of the X-Men's most popular characters, Ororo Munroe has been a goddess, superhero and queen. In this reboot, she's powerful but has not yet reached the peak of her abilities. But already she exhibits leadership skills that place her above the other new recruits. She's a quick learner and her time as a reserve will be a short one. Teyonah Parris (Chi-Raq, If Beale Street Could Talk) possesses a sense of strength, fierceness and maturity that would allow Storm to stand out even among a crowd of older team members.
Armor - Fumi Nikaido
A relatively recent addition to the X-Men mythos, the Japanese mutant Hisako Ichiki has the power to create a psychic exoskeleton that gives her super-strength and invulnerability. The other team members are fiercely protective of Hisako, the little sister of the team, though she's perfectly capable of holding her own. Fumi Nikaido (The World of Kanako, Why Don't You Play in Hell?) would certainly be up to the task of serving as the unexpected tank of the new team.
Multiple Man - Joe Keery
Able to split himself into copies, Jamie Madrox has a knack for getting himself into trouble. A delinquent with a good heart and a need for direction, Multiple Man is a prankster. He also fancies himself a ladies' man, but his fellow new recruits aren't taking the bait. His powers are immensely handy, and Beast could help him test the limits of his abilities. Joe Keery (Stranger Things, Slice) has a talent for making audiences fall in love with his characters, and the challenge of playing multiple personas of the same character could be the next big step for this rising talent.
Kitty Pryde - Olivia Cooke
Quick, sharp-tongued and never one to back down from a fight, Kitty Pryde has become one of Marvel's most popular mutants over the years. A student at Midtown, and classmate of Peter Parker, Kitty Pryde will just be discovering her mutant ability to phase through objects. She herself was swept up in the X-Men's crusade by accident, and will be a new recruit by the film's end. Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel, Ready Player One) has quickly become one of Hollywood's most sought-after young actresses and it's not hard to believe that she could capture Pryde's spark.
A group of mutants living in the sewers, the Morlocks vehemently disagree with Xavier's dream that mutants have a place among humans, especially when so many of them can't pass as such. Their sewers lair is not the grungy hole from the comics, but a cozy dwelling that reflects the communal society of a people who built comfort with their own hands. The serial murders of Morlocks will bring the X-Men and Morlocks into conflict while a shadowy figure pulls the strings.
Callisto – Eva Longoria
Not much is known about the leader of the Morlocks' past. What little Callisto has revealed about herself is that she was once beautiful and her scarred visage and missing eye are the result of trying to live among humans. Not a villain but a worthy adversary to the X-Men, she has just as much pull in terms of recruiting young mutants as the X-Men do. Callisto provides an opportunity for an actress to change up her look and public persona as the hardened Callisto and Eva Longoria (Overboard, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) seems like an actress who would have fun playing with expectations.
Nightcrawler - Adrien Brody
The teleporting mutant has been a stalwart member of the X-Men, but for this reboot he's reimagined as Callisto's second-in-command. There are few mutants more experienced with having to hide their looks than Nightcrawler. This version of Nightcrawler would bring back the Errol Flynn nature of the character, complete with a sword. Though Nightcrawler believes in the Morlocks, the film would find him drawn to the idealism of the X-Men and a new avenue for his faith. Adrien Brody (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Peaky Blinders) has long been my pick for the role as he can bring both sensitivity and swagger to the swashbuckling mutant.
Sabertooth - Travis Fimmel
Savage, manipulative, cruel and the central visible threat of the Mutant Massacre, Sabertooth for this reboot should be moved away from the big dumb brute he's evolved into and return to the cold serial killer he was in the '80s. He's smart, calculating and yet not immediately recognizable as a villain. He has made a home among the Morlocks and forged relationships, but he's also the killer in their midst. Imagine him as a cross between Ted Bundy and Judas. Travis Fimmel (Vikings, Warcraft) seems born to play the character who fancies himself a hunter.
Neither X-Men nor Morlocks, these characters provide the connective tissue to the larger MCU and set up future threats.
Forge – Zahn McClarnon
A war veteran with the ability to create any machine he dreams up, Forge was a supplier for SHIELD. The MCU version would find him in the same position, keeping his mutant abilities secret and providing SHIELD's tech now that Stark is gone. But when he realizes SHIELD is using his creations to track mutants, he finds himself coming to the X-Men and eventually designing their Blackbird jet. Zahn McClarnon (Fargo, Westworld) could bring the complicated motives of Forge, a man both loyal to his country and weary of it, to life.
Mister Sinister - Jonathan Rhys Meyers
The man pulling all the strings. With the previous X-Men series fully utilizing Magneto, the X-Men need a new big bad. And there are none more evil than geneticist Mister Sinister, who organizes the Mutant Massacre. In the MCU, he will be pushing mutant-kind toward its necessary birthright, an evolution of society, while taking specific interest in Scott Summers and Jean Grey. A man who has been alive for centuries, Nathaniel Essex possesses a sense of nobility and a lack of morality that is truly chilling. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors, Vikings) is able to perfectly capture the cool sociopathy befitting the character.
Wolverine - Wyatt Russell
He of course needs no introduction. Not only the most popular X-Man, but one of Marvel's most popular characters. Hugh Jackman left a permanent stamp on the character, and to try to replicate it would simply be a disservice to the actor following in his footsteps. Logan needs a fresh take, a new energy, that while still gruff is not so tied to what we've seen before. This Logan has the same powers, but he hasn't been around as long. His first war was Vietnam and he's clung to the notion of being a soldier ever since. But left without a war to fight, he finds himself, at the behest of SHIELD, caught up in a mutant plight he wanted no part of. He's not a social animal, but as a soldier he understands the need for camaraderie and teamwork. This is a Wolverine who has served as a spy for SHIELD for many years, infiltrated governments and is on a first-name basis with Nick Fury. He's a part of the world, rather than a wild animal. For this reinvention of Wolverine, Wyatt Russell (Overlord, Cold in July) could bring something interesting to the role that would allow him to grow into the grizzled world-weariness of the comic character.
We've had a good run of X-Men movies for the past 20 years, and the promise of something new that captures the spirit of the comics, while not being beholden to it, is an exciting possibility. The new genesis of the X-Men is upon us, and no doubt the casting choices will create a richer, more diverse MCU.
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