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Monday, June 22, 2015 

Should a movie starring Gambit be made when there's virtually no good stories about him?

NY's Vulture section wrote about plans to make a movie centered around the most badly written X-Man of all, Gambit/Remy Le Beau:
The Marvel Comics superhero Gambit has the rare distinction of being as well-known as he is useless. He debuted in a 1990 issue of Uncanny X-Men and managed to weasel his way into the popular consciousness solely because he was an X-Man during the early-to-mid-’90s, when sales of X-Men comics skyrocketed and — more important — the Saturday-morning X-Men cartoon burned itself into the impressionable eyeballs of a generation. In his 25 years of existence, there have been virtually no worthwhile Gambit stories. Oddly enough, that means he could have a fantastic movie adaptation.
Don't be too sure. But they're right that the bulk of stories involving Gambit have been nothing short of execrable. As I feel it's important to remember though, it's not the character's fault. It's the fault of writers who cobbled together a botched background and faux-personality for Gambit in the first place. Creator Chris Claremont put the keys in the ignition, and Scott Lobdell/Fabian Nicieza put their foot on the accelerator. And, I assume, a lot of other writers at Marvel in the 1990s were not allowed to make any changes that might serve the character better, so they were reluctant to make any use of out of Gambit. (Indeed, for many years he was largely relegated to the X-books and only made a handful of appearances outside of them.) Under Lobdell/Nicieza, that's where Gambit's would-be personality really took a turn for the worse, as he came off portrayed as absurdly dishonest and written with irritating dialogue.

But was it really because Gambit was an X-Man that he supposedly gained recognition? I'm not so sure. After all, none of the ongoing solo books for Gambit published to date (there were at least 3 of them since 1999) ever sold well, and some people could've been turned off by the sloppily written "revelation" that Gambit had an indirect responsibility for the Morlock Massacre in the late 80s, along with the catastrophously written relations between him and Rogue, whose own characterization suffered badly under Lobdell/Nicieza. Those who saw nothing wrong with a lot of these disastrous setups, however, make me wonder how they could consider themselves fans of the character and then make no effort to protest bad writing that ruined any valid appeal Gambit could have. The early stories by Claremont were mediocre enough. Why make it worse?

As bad as Lobdell/Nicieza's writing efforts were - and they're the ones chiefly at fault - I have thought it bewildering that, of all the characters who could've been adapted to cartoons, toy lines and video games, Gambit would be one of the prime candidates the marketers would choose, instead of better written cast members like Cannonball, Moonstar, Sunspot and Wolfsbane from the New Mutants. What's wrong with them that isn't so wrong with Gambit? If one character can gain recognition through a cartoon, can't others too? Or, why must Gambit be a regular cast member in a cartoon instead of the aforementioned 4 from New Mutants? This only enforces my theories that Gambit was created more as springboard for merchandise than a character in his own right.
Here are the facts on the ground: Despite being an eternally B-level comics character, Gambit is set to be the second X-person to have a solo film: next year’s Gambit, in which he’ll be played by smirking sex icon Channing Tatum. Word’s come down that 20th Century Fox gave this cinematic poisoned chalice to Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt, who shares his creative burden with screenwriter Josh Zetumer (the scribe of the critically panned RoboCop reboot). One can assume they’ll at least take a look at his many comics appearances. They needn’t bother. Gambit’s comic arcs are so banal, so dull, and so unloved by geeks that he offers Wyatt and Zetumer an incredible opportunity: They can write a superhero movie (mostly) free from the shackles of existing story lines.

There are some basic tenets they’ll have to mind in order to avoid fan outcry: Gambit has to be (a) named Remy LeBeau, (b) a mutant, (c) able to turn objects (usually playing cards) into little bombs when he touches them, (d) a drawl-heavy Louisiana Cajun, (e) a bit of a lowlife hustler, and (f) something of a ladies’ man. If those boxes get checked, everyone who grew up watching the animated X-gang will have their nostalgia adequately served. (No need to re-create his iconic but ridiculous costume of that era, with its skintight purple jumpsuit, superfluous headband, and enormous trench coat.)
They're not entirely accurate about how Gambit turned cards into explosives - he has the power to ignite them at will (and can control his powers a lot more easily than Rogue was shown able to do in the 1990s, something that ultimately made many stories with her a botch job too). But they're right about the costume design; it was a laughingstock, conceived by Jim Lee, in one of his decidedly unsuccessful moments.
From there, the filmmakers can get to work on building a story that’s wholly new — a phenomenon that’s sadly rare in the superhero-movie boom. By and large, studios have used successful comics story lines as the starting points for big-screen adaptations: You can’t have Batman Begins without Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, you can’t have Captain America: The Winter Soldier without Ed Brubaker’s “Winter Soldier” comics story line, and so on. You’d be an idiot to ignore that kind of high-quality, character-defining source material.

Luckily, Gambit has no such pedigree. I mean, some Gambit-centric stories are less bad than others, but there’s nothing truly memorable. He’s had plenty of adorable romantic tension with fellow Southerner X-person Rogue, but that’s just an ongoing will-they-or-won’t-they situation, not a specific narrative. There was the entertaining 2012 “Once a Thief” story line, where the Ragin’ Cajun tried to steal the sword Excalibur, but hardly anyone read that one. Ask comics fans what the definitive Gambit story is, and they’ll scratch their heads while imagining all the scattered times he’s said “mon ami.”
I'm sorry to say, but most of those "romantic tensions" were pretty badly handled too, and, as a result, not very adorable at all. Frankly, what bothers me most is that Gambit was set up as Rogue's only possible boyfriend, with no recurring civilian guys who could befriend her and look for ways to help her gain control of her mutant power. And why did few people ever read what they claim is an "entertaining" story from 2012? Simple. Marvel had driven away many more potential readers by that point, and nobody expected their current stable of hack writers to do any better.
The closest thing Remy has to a famous story is the 1994 mini-series Gambit. I fear it’ll end up being the foundation for the movie, but it’s astoundingly dull. In it, Remy finds himself at the center of a war between the Assassins Guild and the Thieves Guild, two theoretically secret organizations who nonetheless wear comical costumes and spend their time, uh, assassinating and thieving. He feels angst because he was raised in the Guild system. He throws exploding cards and beats the bad guys. He woos Rogue. And … that’s about it. Luckily, the tale isn’t particularly beloved in the comics community, so you can easily get away with ignoring it.
I did think the simplistic names for the gangs were lame and rushed. And I believe Lobdell/Nicieza were the ones who originally came up with that premise back in the mid-90s. And that's why I think it's a shame the reporter didn't bring them up, so we'd all know who it was who reduced the X-Men to shambles, and damaged Rogue as a character while they were at it.
So, hey, why not abandon that barren ground and start anew? Give us a heist movie! Give us a The Sting–esque tale of con artists and rubes! Give us a colorful romp through modern New Orleans! Hell, give us a wacky rom-com about Gambit and Rogue! As long as the flick is equal parts sexy and silly (and lord knows Tatum is great at being both), and as long as it hits most of the marks that folks remember from their cartoon-watching youths, just go wild, mon cher.
This raises an interesting question: why should the cartoons be considered any better than their comics counterparts? Indeed, that's not necessarily so.

But I wish they'd just name some names, and not keep letting the guilty writers get away with it all while remaining under the radar for the wrong reasons. It takes more than what's written in this piece to explain what went wrong with the X-Men during the 90s, and how the editors basically abandoned quality writing for the sake of commercialism, and the confidence that speculators and addicts would back up their sales to the fullest. If Marvel's staff, then and now, aren't held unambiguously accountable, then nothing will improve.

As for making a movie as planned now: should they be making one? With all the limp baggage sitting around, that's why this could be the most ill-advised movie adaptation of all for superhero comics, because it's always likely anybody who hears about or sees it will do some research and learn more why there's no point in reading a lot of the stories churned out, which were pretty rock bottom. Even if the movie can be written and viewed on its own terms, the comic baggage still casts a pall over the proceedings, making it less exciting. So maybe there's a point in here that this is one project better left undone, yet it looks like they've greenlighted the filming, and no telling what it'll turn out.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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