Welcome to the inaugural edition of Page One Rewrite, where we’ll examine the littered landscape of abandoned Hollywood screenplays. Specifically, scripts for comic book adaptations that, for some reason or another, never made it to the silver screen.
For our first edition, I thought I’d take a look at a film we were told was so close to happening in 1994; a prospective release date had even been floated publicly. And given the massive success of the two Fox Kids properties that inspired the film, it’s not a surprise 20th Century Fox wanted this movie in theaters as soon as possible.
Yes, the early-1990s X-Men film was said to be inspired by the blockbuster success of the mutants’ Saturday morning animated series … and the only Fox Kids show to score even higher ratings. Those Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
As absurd as this sounds today, there’s at least some logic to it. With millions of kids embracing the live-action, well, action of the Power Rangers TV show, executives felt the series could provide some kind of blueprint for adapting the X-Men to the big screen. The X-Men's world could, conceivably, not look so different from the Power Rangers'.
This screenplay comes from Andrew Kevin Walker. You might recognize Walker as the writer of Seven … and question what he’s doing here. Walker’s script for Seven was going around Hollywood at the time, generating enough buzz for him to land jobs like this. Most believed his incredibly disturbing first draft of Seven, as good as it was, would only be produced with serious changes. (They were wrong). Later, Walker also wrote unused drafts for Silver Surfer and Batman vs. Superman.
The draft for X-Men floating around online is dated June 7, 1994, meaning the X-Men animated series was wrapping up its second highly successful season. Just as the cartoon remained true to much of the canon, Walker's seemingly prioritized faithfulness to the source material. The script opens with an appearance from the villainous mutant all fans were dying to see onscreen. Forearm.
OK, he isn’t called that by name, but he is a homeless, four-armed mutant, rounded up by the National Guard. The Mutant Registration Act has already passed, and the Guard is detaining those who haven’t yet registered.
Meanwhile, Wolverine is introduced as a low-level flunky for a mysterious Canadian crimelord who disguises his identity (I swear I’m not making this up) with a luchador mask. Wolverine has demanded a meeting with the masked Boss Man, whose security guards make the mistake of waving metal-detecting wands over the mutant's body.
Yes, they detect his adamantium skeleton, but also the hidden microphone on his tie clip. It’s actually a cool introductory sequence, as we learn Wolverine is, in fact, a secret agent working for Department H. It’s very James Bond, with Wolverine narrowly escaping a death trap just a few minutes after his introduction.
From there, we have a few scenes of the Brotherhood recruiting its members (Sabretooth, Blob, Toad and Juggernaut, with Magneto treated as their mysterious benefactor for most of the script). The five original X-Men make their debut in the story as they interrupt Juggernaut’s escape from the Vault, presented as an underwater prison beneath Riker's Island.
The X-Men, who have refused to register, are unable to prevent the jailbreak, and are publicly shamed by a Senator Chester, who is later murdered by the Brotherhood when they force his private jet to crash. Why we have a new character in this role instead of Senator Kelly, I don’t know.
Anyway, we return to Wolverine and meet his friend and mentor, James Hudson. The traditional comics origin of Wolverine is presented: Hudson discovered a feral Wolverine in the Canadian wilderness years ago and brought him into Department H. Wolverine’s dealing with haunting glimmers of his forgotten past, which include some flashbacks straight out of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X. Hudson swears he doesn’t know what Wolverine’s talking about.
Wolverine quits. Soon enough, Xavier attempts to recruit him, unsuccessfully. Sabretooth then asks Wolverine to join the Brotherhood. This conversation ends with Wolverine's body being thrown over Niagara Falls. Wolverine next appears at the X-Men’s mansion. Initially, he only wants their help in locating Sabretooth. However, he soon discovers Xavier is sincere in his desire to unlock the mysteries of Wolverine’s past.
That leads to a sequence in which Xavier enters Wolverine’s mind, and is nearly killed by the mindless, feral Wolverine with giant hair from Weapon X. Wolverine proves he isn’t all bad by mentally fighting his previous self and saving Xavier.
Wolverine undergoes a "loner joins the squad" arc. He of course runs into conflict with Cyclops (who’s far less passive here than in the Singer films; he even gets into a fistfight with Wolverine), but they end up with two scenes establishing they’re cool with each other.
While all of that occurs, federal agent Henry Gyrich is searching for the X-Men. He’s joined by Bolivar Trask, inventor of the Sentinels. Gyrich’s men eventually abduct the Beast, thanks to an anonymous call from Magneto. Later, Angel's wings are broken during an ambush from the Brotherhood.
From there, we have more training scenes in the Danger Room (only called “The DR” by the X-Men), Gyrich torturing Beast for the X-Men’s location, and some unnecessary drama at Xavier's. The momentum seems to crawl, until Beast escapes custody. However, he realizes too late that an implanted tracking device has led Gyrich straight to the X-Men.
Suddenly, three Sentinels (red, blue and green) attack the mansion. Simultaneously, the Brotherhood launch their attack on Manhattan. Numerous famous landmarks are desecrated, while the team’s distracted by the Sentinels. The eight-foot-tall robots are defeated, with Trask and Gyrich left in a New Jersey parking lot, their memories of the mansion erased.
Now it’s time for the massive third-act battle. There’s a nice scene that has Juggernaut plowing through the subway system, breaking through walls until he floods Manhattan’s underground with the East River. Magneto makes a public statement, declaring Manhattan a haven for mutants. (He offers to pay the mayor what was given to the Manhattan Indians — a chest of beads and trinkets.)
The X-Men, without the injured Angel (who’s forgotten for the rest of the script), show up to fight. Wolverine has his showdown with Sabretooth at the New York Stock Exchange … and another big hero moment when he refuses to kill Magneto at the end. Manhattan is saved, the government gives no credit to the X-Men, and Wolverine says goodbye to the team.
You see, Xavier’s mental exploration revealed one of the Weapon X scientists was none other than Wolverine’s good friend, James Hudson. Wolverine is returning to Canada to deal with him and Department H. But, don’t worry, because he promises he’ll be back, someday.
This certainly reads as something written by a hardcore fan. Making the X-Men, for one, the original five members really only makes sense if you're staying loyal to the canon. There's no ethnic diversity, and many of the later X-Men have flashier powers. So, really, it's not surprising someone coming into the X-Men cold would just pick and choose from a list of every member.
Walker also works in the Wolverine/Jean/Cyclops love triangle. Cyclops has a better showing here than in the 2000 film, but Walker's bias is still in Wolverine's favor. Wolverine and Jean even share a kiss, pleasing ... certain fanboys. (By the way, with the exception of Iceman, all of the original X-Men are written to be 30-ish.)
Other tidbits only hardcore fans would appreciate? The bit from Wolverine #50 where he discovers his memories were faked. Specific references to Cornelius and Hines from the Weapon X project. Magneto's full name given as Erik Magnus Lehnsherr. Xavier revealing he met Magneto as a young man doing relief work in Haifa, Israel. Also, the physical descriptions of the characters match their looks from the comics. Gyrich, for example, is a "stern man in military-issue glasses and a crew cut."
Walker's seemingly anticipated the difficulty of translating Wolverine's hair to live-action. His look is described as “thick black sideburns and spiked hair.” Spiking his hair might be a justifiable way of adapting Wolverine's 'do, really. What's funny is that, even though the actual films so often deviate from the canon, they actually did try to replicate Wolverine's hair.
The comic book costumes that seem to cause Hollywood so many headaches are abandoned by Walker. The heroes and villains both wear "body armor" while in action. Interestingly, when Sabretooth and Toad are introduced in a civilian setting, they're described as wearing suits. I think Walker meant "suit and tie" here, as in Reservoir Dogs.
And, what are mutants? Walker has Xavier give this speech for the audience's benefit:
“What were we expecting? We filled the earth with pollutants. We depleted the ozone…sprayed every chemical imaginable on our food, and now that our progeny begins to show the evolutionary result, we act surprised, as if it were shocking.”
Toad's real name is given as “Mortise Toynbee” instead of Mortimer Toynbee. Also, Juggernaut is portrayed as a mutant, something even some comics writers screw up. We also have the original X-Men well into adulthood, but only now facing Magneto. (Xavier has kept Magneto's existence a secret from them.)
But the most fundamental change to a character is done to James Hudson. I believe there was an Alpha Flight storyline that teased Hudson might have been involved with Weapon X, but he was cleared by the end of the arc. Making Hudson someone who'd go along with Weapon X's torture, and would then lie to his friend about it, does fundamentally change who he is. It's hard to imagine him as the heroic leader of Alpha Flight if that's true, certainly.
I LOVE THE '90s
Xavier discovers Wolverine's existence by scouring that new technological marvel we're still adjusting to ... the Internet. “The final C.S.S. UNIX code was nearly impossible, but I broke through,” he boasts.
Wolverine's reaction to the hi-tech war room of the X-Men is also fantastic: “I hope you don’t expect me to learn WordPerfect.”
This is, unapologetically, the world of the X-Men. Walker tells his story without twisting (most) characters to fit his needs. Sabretooth is a redneck serial killer, not a mindless brute. Wolverine, meanwhile, also has his folksy, backwoods speech pattern. And the Beast quotes philosophers and historical facts.
In terms of spectacle, with the proper budget, this version would've made a real impression. Walker's beating Independence Day's gimmick of destroying famous landmarks by a few years.
All that said, this is a bland script. The broad speech patterns are right, but practically every line needs to be punched up. We're talking 1996 X-Men Unlimited back-up story quality dialogue here. The only memorable bit of dialogue comes from Xavier, after Magneto's overtaken Manhattan: “Don’t promise utopia while leading us all to the slaughter.”
The build-up to the climax also needs work. Wolverine demanding a team vote as Magneto has overtaken a major metropolitan area is simply dumb. And the mental image of the team writing down on their votes on tiny scraps of paper before handing them to Xavier just makes me laugh for some reason.
THAT’S JUST WEIRD
How do Xavier and Beast deal with getting pulled over by the police? Simple! Just have Xavier mentally replace Beast with the face of 1994's hottest movie star. That's right ... it looks like they honestly thought Mel Gibson would make a cameo.
PULLED FROM THE SCRAPS
I don't know if this draft was consulted for the 2000 film, but some ideas did make it through. Toad can now spit slime, a bit that was not comics canon at the time. The idea of Magneto's main attack occurring over Manhattan is also here, along with a scene set atop the Statue of Liberty. Both scripts also end with Wolverine leaving to investigate his past.
Another interesting bit: Xavier's school is called "The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning" here. The comics won't adopt that name until the fall of 1994.
DID WE DODGE A BULLET?
What are the typical issues cited with adapting the X-Men to film? Too many characters. Too many special effects. This script does not address those issues. It's maybe five or six X-Men movies all shoved into one script. And as an X-fan, I'd love to see a movie like this. Realistically, though, if this film were produced ... it would look like a Power Rangers episode.
All of those dramatic sequences of the Brotherhood destroying Manhattan landmarks? They'd be made of Styrofoam. The rampaging Sentinels? They'd just be guys in suits. And heaven only knows what everyone's "body armor" would've looked like.
Although it's severely lacking in fan service, 2000's X-Men is a better introduction to the concept. Pairing Wolverine with Rogue, allowing the audience to see his compassionate side earlier, is a much smarter move. And even though this Magneto is also clearly a villian, there's some nuance to Ian McKellen's performance. The Magneto in Walker's script is more of a mustache-twirler.
I strongly suspect, were this produced, there's no way the era's special effects would do the concept justice. And while kids would have loved it, adults would walk away dismissing the X-Men as just that. Kid's stuff. The official X-Men film has issues, but possesses a seriousness and sophistication this script lacks. It's hard to imagine 20 years of a comics-to-film revolution following this movie.
So that’s all for now. I've begun a new review series on Chris Claremont's 2000 return to the X-Men on my blog! You can also check out my Kindle Worlds novels for free over at Smashwords.