'Fear the Beast' Could Have Been 'The Incredible Hulk' of 'X-Men' Films
Was it worth making into a movie?
In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, composer/editor John Ottman revealed that, toward the end of X-Men: Apocalypse's production, his assistant Byron Burton tried pitching the idea of a spin-off focused on Hank McCoy. Titled X-Men: Fear the Beast, the script was written by Burton in a span of two weeks, and was then tweaked by Ottman. Since the script featured such characters as Beast, Professor X, and Wolverine, the spin-off had to be given the go-ahead by Simon Kinberg as he was working on Dark Phoenix. That film would feature Beast and Professor X, and Kinberg was tinkering with the idea of bringing Wolverine back. Not wanting to be influenced in regards to handling Wolverine, he declined to read the script. With Dark Phoenix marking the end of the latest onscreen iteration of the X-Men, the writers are sharing their 100-page script online for people to see. It can be read here:
In Fear the Beast, Mystique, Cyclops, Jean, Jubilee, and Storm are fighting the Friends of Humanity's attack-bots. Interestingly, it almost seems as though Mystique will be killed off very early in the film. But of course, this scene turns out to be a simulation in the Danger Room. Even though this might feel like a nice thematic segue from the Danger Room ending of X-Men: Apocalypse, it feels like an eye-roller of an opening scene. X-Men: The Last Stand already tried this fakeout before, so it probably would have felt old hat.
During this simulation, it appears that Beast is struggling with his more animalistic side. When he's in his human form, he has more stubble than usual. And surprisingly, he calls Mystique "a reformed traitor who thinks she's better than anyone." It is difficult to imagine this series' Hank McCoy, who has been so enamored with Raven, to use such harsh words. But this emphasizes just how much he is changing. He has even grown distant from Charles Xavier despite still being in the X-Mansion. Given Hank's current state, the X-Men team is sent on a mission without him.
Hank has been corresponding with Paul Cartier (described as a James Spader type), a scientist who has been using Hank's serum to treat his own beastly mutation, initially triggered by the trauma of a car accident that he and his wife experienced. Realizing that something has gone wrong, Hank travels to Alberta in Canada to check up on him. Along the way, he meets a 37-year-old Inuit mother named Ahnah (who seems to be a bit of a telepath), and her eight-year-old daughter, Bunkei. A month prior, Bunkei saw her 18-year-old brother Seelah fall victim to what she believes to be the Wendigo, a man-eating creature. And of course, it turns out that Cartier is this Wendigo, and Charles Xavier cannot read his mind using Cerebro.
As Hank struggles against the Wendigo, Charles uses Cerebro to contact Logan. Once he is brought up to speed on how he knows Charles and Hank (via the events that took place in X-Men: Days of Future Past), he fulfills Charles' request to help Hank. Wolverine arrives in his classic yellow and brown costume, and Hank injects himself with a serum that turns him into... Mega-Beast! A cheesy name to be sure, but he becomes darker and doubles in size. Together, he and Wolverine fight the Wendigo, culminating in a sequence that takes place in a sawmill, where Paul falls into a wood chipper.
After these events, the X-Men (Nightcrawler included) arrive to pick up Hank. There is a brief love triangle moment between Cyclops, Jean, and Wolverine, with the latter saying he might swing by the mansion in a few years. (It is a bit strange that neither Jean, Scott, nor Kurt mention their encounter with Wolverine at the Weapon X facility in X-Men: Apocalypse, but perhaps a mention would have been added after further revisions.) Charles then uses his powers to alter Bunkei's memory of her brother's death, making her believe that he left to join the military. Feeling grateful, Ahnah bids them farewell. A scarred man who had appeared earlier in the script watches as the X-Men take off in the Blackbird. The script ends with a bang: "The Scarred Man smirks, exposing his jagged teeth as his facial scars disappear—he is MR. SINISTER."
An Over-Arching Villain
In the comics, Mr. Sinister (also known as Nathaniel Essex) is a supervillain who manipulates events behind the scenes. Burton and Ottman wrote an outline for an Omega Red film set in the late 1980s, which would have played with the idea of Mr. Sinister testing the X-Men. These ideas would have tied in well with the post-credit scene of X-Men: Apocalypse, in which members of Essex Corps arrives at the Weapon X facility to retrieve vials of blood. An orphanage called Essex Home for Mutant Rehabilitation also appeared in 2018's Deadpool 2. But apart from that, there has been no reference to Mr. Sinister in Logan or Dark Phoenix, despite reports and speculation. Last year, The Tracking Board reported that the upcoming spin-off film, The New Mutants was originally supposed to include a post-credit scene with Jon Hamm playing Mr. Sinister.
It seems that Fox has been having trouble figuring out what to do with the character. Ever since the release of Apocalypse three years ago, the post-credit scene has felt irrelevant. Almost a non sequitur. Compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the X-Men film series has felt like it has lacked a long-term plan. The end of First Class teases a film with Magneto leading a 1960s iteration of the Hellfire Club, but he and Mystique are the only survivors in Days of Future Past. The end of Days of Future Past teases the coming of Apocalypse, but he comes and goes very quickly as a villain of the week. The end Apocalypse teases Mr. Sinister, and he is nowhere to be seen in Dark Phoenix.
I believe that had this Fear the Beast spin-off been greenlit and released between Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, it might have felt a little more like this film series had a plan. Maybe not to the extent of the MCU, but a plan nonetheless. But with the inevitable Disney/Fox merger, a long game of having Mr. Sinister as a recurring villain might not have been able to live up to its full potential.
Would a Film Have Worked?
Fear the Beast had potential. It might have been able to bring in horror elements prior to The New Mutants attempt at somewhat of a superhero horror film. And, as I said before, I find stories about people dealing with their dark sides to be compelling if done well. I would not say that I would rather have had this made than Dark Phoenix. As I have said in my Dark Phoenix review, that film had a great tone, but most of the younger X-Men lacked character development. They did not have as many team moments as Apocalypse teased, but they did get more screentime than they would have had in Fear the Beast. Well, except Jubilee, who is absent from Dark Phoenix. I have to wonder whether Lana Condor's schedule would have allowed her to return for Fear the Beast.
I am not sure whether there would have been an ideal time to release Fear the Beast, and whether it would have performed any better than Dark Phoenix is currently doing. In light of the recent Disney/Fox merger, many moviegoers appear to be less inclined to show their support for any Fox-Marvel X-Men films that are not connected to the MCU. And while Logan received critical acclaim, some fans have felt unenthusiastic about the prospects of solo movies in this series, such as the cancelled Gambit film that would have starred Channing Tatum. But would the inclusion of Wolverine clad in the iconic yellow and brown suit have been enough to draw in audiences? Perhaps. But another thing to consider is that Hugh Jackman wanted Logan to be his swan song as Wolverine. Recasting might have had to take place, and it is unknown how audiences would have reacted to this. Frankly, I do not think Fear the Beast would have appealed to me as much without Wolverine in the mix. That is not to say that there should not be X-Men films without Wolverine. I just believe that he would have fit in really well for this type of story. (As a sidenote, the 20-something-year-old motel receptionist in this script is named Kayla, and I do wonder whether this is meant to be Kayla Silverfox, who appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But there is no indication that this is the case, as far as I can tell.)
Speaking for myself, Fear the Beast is a film that I would have been happy seeing on the big screen. It probably would have had to go through changes here and there. I would have dropped X-Men from the title. Though it is a brand name, it implies a team movie, which would be a false impression given that most of the X-Men team is out of the picture in this story. (Oddly, Quicksilver is completely absent, despite playing a huge role in Apocalypse. He does appear again in Dark Phoenix, but not for much time.) I also think that the romance between Hank and Ahnah feels a bit forced, so I think the story would be fine without it. With some more focusing in on the theme of the monster within the man, I think that this could have become a thought-provoking film. But here is why I believe that this film would not have resonated much with general audiences: The Incredible Hulk.
This 2008 film, which is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is often cited as not being as entertaining as most MCU films. It is a personal favorite of mine, and I think that it is highly underrated. But many people would disagree. Fear the Beast feels somewhat like The Incredible Hulk, and that is no coincidence. Wolverine's first appearance was in The Incredible Hulk #181, where he and the Hulk face Paul Cartier/Wendigo (who first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #162). This script is clearly inspired by that idea, with Mega-Beast substituting for Hulk since Fox did not have access to the green hero. I have to wonder whether they would have been allowed to use Paul Cartier and the Wendigo as depicted in The Incredible Hulk comics. The general idea of the Wendigo itself actually comes from Algonquian folklore, so I wonder whether just the Paul Cartier name would have been off-limits. I am not super familiar with the other titles in which the character may have appeared, so I do not know which properties he would have been lumped with when it comes to film rights.
But I find the idea of the Wendigo to be intriguing, especially after seeing it used as a symbol in the show Hannibal. And a little while before that show premiered, I remember wondering what it would have been like if the MCU and X-Men films were the same universe, and having fun imagining Beast and Wolverine encountering the Hulk and the Wendigo between X-Men: The Last Stand and The Incredible Hulk. So this script really tapped into something that I have been yearning to see on the big screen. A part of me really wishes that this spin-off could have gone forward. As cheesy as Mega-Beast sounds, seeing him fight the Wendigo with the help of Wolverine in the classic suit would have been glorious.
A Suggestion for the MCU
Since the Disney/Fox merger, the question on fans' minds has been how the X-Men should be introduced. The general consensus seems to be that they should hold off on using Wolverine for a while since he has been the face of the films for a while. I agree with that sentiment. But when the time comes to introduce Wolverine, I would be very happy to see a film like this, with the Wendigo coming into play. I am not sure that there are any big plans for the Hulk post-Endgame. Even if the character were to come back for the introduction of Wolverine, he would probably still be Professor Hulk. I feel that this step in his evolution was necessary for him to grow, but having him somehow be able to help Wolverine fight the Wendigo, even with Beast fighting alongside them, would be a dream come true for me. I am not certain that a whole film could be spent on that story, but perhaps it could make a good first act of a film, with the rest of it involving Wolverine's integration into the X-Men team as they face a different threat. I know that this probably is not how things will end up happening, but one can dream.