Fox's Gambit film has been in the works for some time - it was originally supposed to be released in October this year! Today, we learned that DC Film has successfully tempted Doug Liman off the project - in a notable win, they've persuaded him to move on to Dark Universe, the Justice League Dark film!
It's another blow to an already troubled film, and - as DC fans celebrate - it's time to ask a difficult question: can Gambit be saved?
Why Gambit is a Strange Project
Fox is attempting to broaden the X-Men franchise, building a mutant-centric cinematic universe to hopefully rival Marvel's own. Deadpool was the first step in Fox's masterplan, and Gambit was to be the second. Unfortunately, right from the get-go, this seemed to be a strange choice.
Where Deadpool is a tremendously popular character, Gambit's popularity peaked in the early 1990s, linked to the success of the X-Men Animated Series. Unfortunately, writers struggled to work out what to do with the Cajun charmer beyond his on-again-off-again relationship with Rogue, and soon Gambit's era had passed. By the early 2000s, he was relegated to a background status, with writers struggling to work out what to do with him. In one infamous arc, he even became a Horseman of Apocalypse, an odd twist that sat uncomfortably with X-Men fans.
In 2013 and 2014, Marvel decided to give Gambit a try once again. He got a new ongoing series, and soon became a major character in Peter David's All-New X-Factor. Both comics were ultimately cancelled because of poor sales. As Peter David reflected:
"It’s [being cancelled] because not enough people are buying it. Which is exactly the reason they cancelled “Gambit” as well, so it’ll probably be a long time before he gets to star in another book."
My point is this: where Deadpool was a successful attempt to bring a Marvel superstar to the big screen, Gambit is an attempt to make a film out of a character who simply isn't successful, even in the comics. It really is a strange decision.
The Script is Problematic
With this lack of solo star-power in his corner, it should come as no surprise that writing a Gambit script proved challenging. In July, Fox head honcho Simon Kinberg was declaring:
"We have a great script on [Gambit] and hope to shoot that movie at the beginning of spring of next year."
By just a couple of weeks later, he was talking about the film's delays being due to the scripting! He explained:
“The character has such a specific voice in the comic in the same way that ‘Deadpool’ has a specific voice in the comic, that we want to make sure that we capture that voice... Really it’s just about getting a screenplay that is worthy of that character, and I think we’re really close right now.
The problem is that Gambit really doesn't stand on his own two feet. His two ongoings - and occasional miniseries - have all firmly established his relationships with the other X-Men, and particularly with Rogue. He's never really had solo adventures, and so that "specific voice" is one that only fits in the broader context of the X-Men. A solo film is an awkward proposition for such a character. As a result, the script keeps needing to be tweaked, and the film keeps being delayed.
Nobody Can Wait Forever
With Gambit in a seemingly perpetual state of postponement, people simply aren't willing to wait it out. Rupert Wyatt became director in June 2015, but had moved on by October due to delays. Doug Liman was recruited in November 2015, and now he's left too!
For Liman, other opportunities have simply proved more interesting. Rather than sit around waiting for a film that may never happen, he's chosen to take on the challenge of DC's Dark Universe. Given the lack of momentum to the Gambit project, I can't blame him.
But this raises some difficult questions. How long is it before Gambit begins to lose cast and crew because of the delays? How long will Léa Seydoux remain free for the role of Belladonna? Will Channing Tatum eventually give up on the project and move on?
I've got to be honest: I view Gambit as one of Fox's strangest decisions. I simply don't see the demand for the character, nor do I see a strong enough comic book presence to translate on to the big screen. All of that has led to some pretty inevitable problems, and the loss of Doug Liman is just the latest indicator that Gambit isn't going to work.
I believe with all my heart that Fox's idea of turning the X-Men into a broader cinematic universe is a good one. From New Mutants to X-Force, the X-Men comics are overflowing with countless ideas that could form the basis for a top-rate film. Sadly, I'm afraid I don't think Gambit is one of those ideas.
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