As Marvel Studios recollects fan-favorite characters, most recently adding Spider-Man to The Avengers‘ shared universe, and DC Entertainment prepares the way for their own cross-movie storyline, 20th Century Fox is reaping benefit from one of the most popular superhero franchises on the big screen (the X-Men) while also licking their wounds after the studio’s other Marvel property (Fantastic Four) was a critical and commercial bomb. Even though the Fantastic Four has crossed over with the X-Men on multiple occasions in print, box office revenues and overall film franchise strength have proven that Marvel’s mutants are a much stronger platform on which to plan a film slate.
To that end, as the studio decides whether the already release-dated Fantastic Four 2 (currently scheduled for June 9, 2017) is salvageable, despite the scandal of Josh Trank’s reboot, 20th Century Fox has two sure-fire X-Men films in the works (the Days of Future Past follow-up X-Men: Apocalypse as well as the final Wolverine solo movie), as well as the highly-anticipated but untested Deadpool, with a fourth project, Gambit, in pre-production. For three months, between June and September, Rise of the Planet of the Apes helmer Rupert Wyatt was set to direct the Channing Tatum-starring solo movie – before the director suddenly dropped from the project. Now, we know why.
In a report that comes as more confirmation, than revelation, THR is suggesting that Wyatt and 20th Century Fox struggled to reach an agreement on how to adapt Gambit for the big screen. Specifically, Wyatt’s vision for the film was deemed too ambitious (read: risky) for the studio and, conversely, 20th Century Fox was pushing for control over the final product – opting for a “safer” adaptation. The dispute, and pressure from Fox, reportedly left Wyatt “ambivalent” about helming Gambit – leading the studio and filmmaker to part ways.
THR does not go into specifics regarding the tone of the split; though, comic book fans who lavished in the controversy surrounding Trank’s high-profile spat with Fox in the wake of Fantastic Four‘s failure will find very little drama (at least publicly) between Wyatt and the studio. All sources indicate that Wyatt isn’t a monster; he simply didn’t feel comfortable working on a film that doesn’t mesh with his vision – or strengths as a filmmaker. That’s not just a polite way of framing “creative differences” either, interviews with Wyatt have revealed him to be a thoughtful and down-to-Earth filmmaker – albeit one who is very selective about his projects.
Currently, little is known about what Wyatt’s vision for Gambit might have been and why 20th Century Fox felt as though the filmmaker’s treatment would be too big of a gamble; yet, there’s no question that the fallout from Trank and Fantastic Four has left 20th Century Fox wary of auteur filmmakers that want to differentiate their films from the palatable popcorn adventuring made pop-culture staples in Marvel’s massively successful shared universe. For that reason, it’s easy to see how Wyatt’s relationship with 20th Century Fox could have destabilized. Maybe Wyatt joined the project under the impression, and agreement, that he’d have room to produce a unique take on Gambit – only to see 20th Century Fox become more conservative after losing millions on what was supposed to be an inventive modernization of the Fantastic Four franchise.
Fans may never know exactly what Wyatt had up his sleeve, adding the filmmaker to an ever-growing list of talented directors with unique ideas that have exited high-profile comic book adaptations (Edgar Wright and Darren Aronofsky, most notably); however, it is also encouraging that the filmmaker did bow out – instead of forcing his vision through the production pipelines or, worse yet, spending two years on a project that no longer sparked his passions. Nevertheless, it’s disappointing that viewers will never get to see what Wyatt wanted to do with Gambit – especially if the version 20th Century Fox is pushing is mostly a paint-by-number superhero origin story.
A tale about twenty-something Gambit, in his early days of heroing, could make for an enjoyable piece of fall escapism but, like The Wolverine or Ant-Man before it, there are also very interesting angles to the character that could be explored – for a filmmaker that wanted to break the mold. In particular, even though many X-Men fans remember Gambit as the quippy charmer with explosive playing cards in Fox’s animated TV series, the character’s comic book origins, and overall background, revolve around a long-running battle between rival guilds in New Orleans (the thieves and the assassins). As a result, it’s very possible that Wyatt wanted to focus less on mutant superheroes (the same approach that Christopher McQuarrie and Darren Aronofsky wanted to take with The Wolverine) and, instead, tell a gritty gang-war character drama – through the eyes of a guy that can also manipulate molecules.
Given the success of the mutant-heavy X-Men: Days of Future Past, coupled with significant alterations to Fantastic Four‘s final act (in order to beef up the superhero “action”), it’s clear that even if Fox is open to inexperienced but talented filmmakers taking a run at their comic book properties, the studio believes that superhero spectacle is more bankable than a great superhero story. This isn’t to say that an action-packed Gambit movie can’t also tell a good tale; instead, THR‘s report simply suggests that Wyatt wasn’t the man to do it.
Regardless, Fox is pushing forward with the project and, with a tentative release planned for one year out, expect the studio to lock-in a replacement for Wyatt very soon. Hopefully, the new Gambit director can bring similar class and talent to the project – while also finding a way to marry vision with Fox’s demands.
Deadpool opens in theaters on February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016; Gambit on October 7, 2016; Wolverine 3 on March 3, 2017; Fantastic Four 2 on June 9, 2017; and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.