Once upon a time, everything I knew about the X-Men came from the old Saturday morning cartoon that ran on Fox Kids from 1992-1997. Then Bryan Singer came along, yada yada yada, and we’re now up to 7 big budget, live action movies with at least three more on the way in the next couple of years, including a solo film starring Channing Tatum as Gambit, due out October 7, 2016. The three primary things I remember from the old cartoon are that in the beginning the main character seemed to be Jubilee, a vaguely Asian mallrat in a yellow trenchcoat who seemed to make fireworks come out of her fingers, the theme song seriously rocked, and Gambit seemed like the coolest character ever, all smooth-talking and devil may care with that awesome Cajun accent. So, of course fans have been clamoring to see him on film, and then once that did happen everyone seemed to agree that we need to call a do-over and forget all about Taylor Kitsch’s Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As such, the confirmation of long-standing rumors that Tatum is indeed getting his own Gambit movie should be good news, right?
So, why am I seeing Devin Faraci at BadAssDigest basically crap all over this news with nostalgia-bursting rhetoric like:
Having a limited knowledge of unadapted characters, when asked which superhero he’d want to play Channing Tatum always says Gambit because that’s the guy who was – to the eyes of a child – smooth on the X-Men cartoon back in the 90s. Once he said that enough times Fox was like, “Fuck it, why not, the guy is box office” and here we are, with a Gambit movie coming out next year. It will feature the dumbest member of the X-Men, a cornily accented Cajun who throws playing cards that he can charge with an explosive energy. He’s basically the worst, and he has no truly interesting stories and whose origin is all about some bullshit “Thieves Guild” out of an Elder Scrolls game, but in New Orleans. With so many interesting X-Men – and so many of them not just boring white dudes – it’s grating that Gambit is getting the big screen solo treatment. I’m sure there will be those who only know the X-Men from the crummy cartoon in the 90s, but even there he’s a waste of ink.
The fact that Tatum grew up in rural Mississippi might have also had something to do with why he identifies with Gambit, but that “Thieves Guild” backstory involves Gambit being raised by an ancient clan of thieves and then a more Oliver-like mob of street thieves named Fagan’s Army until the warring factions turned on him, banishing him from New Orleans. He fell into mercenary work for the villain Mr. Sinister before wandering the world and encountering Storm, whose life he saved repeatedly and thus served as his ticket into the X-Men. They later didn’t handle things very well when they learned of Gambit’s treacherous past, thus establishing him as an anti-hero whose impulse to do the right thing is at war with the sins of his past eventually catching up to him.
The bigger takeaway for me is, wait, I thought people liked Gambit? In fact, this past summer Dorkly.com ranked him as the 4th Best X-Men Character of All Time, although doing so in a way which kind of celebrates all of his shortcomings:
Everyone’s favorite Ragin’ Cajun is almost too goofy for words – he can charge up objects, but almost exclusively uses playing cards? He wears a trenchcoat ON TOP of that weird pink breastplate? His gloves are missing fingers in a few places but not others? He wears metal shinguards/boots? But maybe it’s this unrelenting overdesigned weirdness that makes him so great – that, and the fact he has a long relationship with Rogue – the one X-Men who explicitly cannot be touched.
Come to think of it, I don’t recall thinking Gambit was all that cool on his own in the old animated series. Instead, he seemed like the coolest thing in the world because of the way he acted with Rogue, coming off like a slightly more assertive version of Westley (Cary Elwes) to her Buttercup (Robin Wright) from Princess Bride except instead of saying “as you wish” he’d simply say “me Cherie.” Plus, Rogue would always give him sas, in her rather heavy southern drawl, yet they seemed to love each other despite the whole “we can’t actually touch each other” thing, like a comic book version of Ned the Piemaker (Lee Pace) and Chuck (Anna Friel) on Pushing Daisies.
That presents some serious issues to the concept of a solo film, and even with the X-Men film continuity in such flux right now Days of Future Past still ended with Rogue having a “happily ever after” life with Iceman. So, they didn’t completely undo her film history to the point that they can just start from scratch, and pair her with Gambit now, likely re-casting the role in the process (sorry Anna Paquin). Can they?
Regardless of all that, why are there people who hate Gambit in the comics? Well, it seems like a lot of those shortcomings Dorkly joked about are more purely annoying than oddly endearing to other people, like Geek League of America, which ranked Gambit as the 2nd most overrated X-Men character:
Gambit’s got all the prerequisite qualities of an abysmal 90’s creation: a mysterious, convoluted past involving Mr. Sinster (that guy’s ridiculousness could fill an entire article of its own); a horribly designed costume with one of those goofy and unnecessary headpieces that allowed his super-cool 90’s bangs to hang over his black and red eyes a “totally extreme bro!” mutant power that allowed him to charge objects with kinetic energy , which he used solely on playing cards – because he’s a gambler, you see, Mon Ami?
Also, whenever Gambit is featured heavily in a story, readers are subjected to page upon page of irritating phonetic cajun dialog like this: ” HELLO DERE MON CHERI, I AM DE RAGIN CAJUN, AND I GAH-RUN-TEE DAT YOU ARE DE HOTTEST T’ING SINCE MY GRANDADDY’S CRAB JAMBALAYA OH HO HO HO!!” Ugh. It’s been almost 25 years of this, dude.
Channing Tatum may or may not be the right man for the job if the job calls for such a thick Cajun accent, but maybe the bigger question is whether or not that Cajun accent will grow old on film just as fast as it has in the comics for some readers. However, we should get a chance to adjust to it before the solo movie actually comes out. Gambit is apparently central to finding the plot’s primary MacGuffin in The Age of Apocalypse comic-book storyline serving as the basis for the Days of Future Past follow-up X-Men: Apocalypse, and while that part of the story might not make the transition to film Tatum’s Gambit is expected to have at least some kind of role in Apocalypse.
But regardless of whether Tatum is right for the role or when exactly he’ll make his first appearance the question remains whether or not Gambit is a character with a history which actually warrants and supports a solo film, especially if Rogue won’t be part of that equation (or even if she will). I’m going off the cartoon here. Well, that and also the future short-lived animated series Wolverine and The X-Men, in which Gambit was a bit player, and the dreaded X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I mostly just remember thinking he was really cool when I was a little kid. What about you? Is a Gambit movie something worth making? What would the storyline even be? All that stuff with the Thieves Guilds? And has any potential drama with Rogue already kind of been co-opted for Rogue’s relationship with Bobby in the first three X-Men films? Let me know in the comments.