It’s time to admit Fox’s Gambit just may be cursed. In development since 2014, but publicly discussed before that, the planned X-Men spinoff has been dealt setback after setback, resulting in its initial October 2016 release date being pushed back first to February 2019, then to June 2019, and now to … well, it’s unclear. The loss last month of the film’s third director, Gore Verbinski, means principal photography won’t begin in March after all, making a premiere next summer increasingly unlikely.
Throughout those travails, which include scrapping the script last year and starting over from scratch, Channing Tatum has remained, apparently hell-bent on fulfilling his destiny to play Marvel Comics’ smoothing-talking Cajun mutant. Denied that opportunity in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and then in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the charismatic actor won’t be denied again. But are Tatum’s determination and charm reason enough for Fox to trudge forward with Gambit, or for audiences to fill theaters to watch the result?
Created in 1990 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee, Gambit has been a divisive character, virtually from the start. You’ll find strong opinions among X-Men comics fans about Remy LeBeau, the devil-may-care thief known for his super-charged playing cards and painfully exaggerated accent: They absolutely love him or they absolutely hate him; there’s no Switzerland in this debate, mon ami.
A quintessential ’90s character, trench coat and all, Gambit possessed a shadowy past — raised in the New Orleans Thieves’ Guild, then employed by the villain Minister Sinister — that, in grand X-Men tradition, became far less interesting, and coherent, once exposed to light (see also: Wolverine). A “ladies’ man” with a lengthy on-again, off-again romance with Rogue (another point of division among fans), Gambit proved popular enough over the years to headline his own comics series and miniseries, but seldom for long. He’s a supporting player within the larger X-brand, and not necessarily a star in his own right.
Gambit isn’t likely to be mistaken, by anyone, for one of the crown jewels within the massive library of X-Men characters at Fox’s disposal since 1994. (Those rights will return to Marvel within the next couple of years, if government regulators approve Disney’s acquisition of key 21 Century Fox assets). Yet, somewhat inexplicably, studio executives, and the producers of the blockbuster X-Men franchise, have long been enamored of Remy LeBeau. Director Bryan Singer initially envisioned introducing Gambit in a cameo in 2003’s X2 before giving him an expanded role in its sequel. That didn’t pan out, of course, as the filmmaker left X-Men: The Last Stand in favor of Warner Bros.’ Superman Returns. However, Gambit lingered a while longer, with Tatum selected for the role, only for the ragin’ Cajun to be cut from the screenplay.
The character finally made his live-action debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, only this time played Taylor Kitsch — then best known as a star of NBC’s Friday Night Lights — because Tatum was busy with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The 2009 X-Men spinoff was not only intended to provide a showcase for Hugh Jackman’s breakout character, but also lay the groundwork for a franchise expansion. The announced X-Men Origins: Magneto was soon relegated to development hell, but other signs of Fox’s intentions could be found in the inclusion of Gambit (Kitsch was reportedly signed to a three-picture deal), and Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, which finally placed the actor on his long, circuitous path to the 2016 blockbuster Deadpool.
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