The rumor mills became a buzz on Tuesday night that Channing Tatum was leaving next year’s Gambit film. At the time of writing nothing has been more or less confirmed about the status of the film or whether or not Tatum is actually jumping ship but with the Internet panic over the rumblings it’s hard to ignore. I certainly understand why this would cause such fervor. Fox has had a pretty solid 3 film run with the X-Men recently as most cinema goers and nerds enjoyed the excellent X-Men: First Class, the serviceable Wolverine, and the for some reason popular X-Men: Days of Future Past.
All this has helped build up some serious buzz for X-Men: Apocalypse and the franchise overall after its serious drop in relevance at the end of the ‘00s. Despite the series popularity Fox is still looking to cut down on actor costs so X-Men: Apocalypse is actually slotted as a series reboot in order to drop expensive actors like Michael Fassbender or Jennifer Lawrence. This has made Gambit the first major post-reboot X-Men film so having its lead suddenly start wobbling is a big deal for all involved.
From Fox’s side this is a major setback for a number of reasons. I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say Tatum was the legitimate draw of the Gambit movie more than anything else. Gambit, a Cajun mutant with the ability to charge objects with kinetic energy and estrange son of a mysterious Louisiana court of mystic thieves, has never been that popular a character despite his various solo series. No, Gambit slides by more on nostalgia than anything else thanks to his prominent role in the ‘90s X-Men animated series along with his legitimately unique power set. The thing is that aside from the powers and place on the most well remembered X-Men team of all time there’s just not much to Gambit for audiences to latch onto, and what little is there is really dumb. That’s why he’s never been the break out character Marvel’s always wanted him to be.
That’s part of why I, unlike a lot of comic fans, didn’t balk at the idea of Channing Tatum playing Gambit despite being fairly different from the comic book version of the character. Where comic book Gambit is sleazy, has an outrageous Cajun accent, and has a sort of slender physique emphasizing his bow staff and cards Channing Tatum is beefy, a hilarious comedic talent, and overall good natured and likable, like a human golden retriever. It’s clear that the big reason Fox brought him onto the project is that they, like Marvel before them, want Gambit to be a break out character. Unlike Marvel however Fox seems at least aware that Gambit alone doesn’t make for a compelling lead, probably because of how negatively audience’s responded to Taylor Kitsch’s turn in the role in Wolverine Origins. So stripping the Gambit character down to its barest minimum and slotting an actor like Tatum into the role, someone who brings their own persona and charisma, makes a lot of sense. It makes even more sense considering Hugh Jackman is leaving the Wolverine role and Fox aren’t sure this franchise has the star power to sustain films without him.
Why I’m not totally surprised by this development goes back to the main reason Fox is looking to reboot and rework the X franchise- money. Hugh Jackman isn’t the only X actor looking to jump ship and the fact that so many high priced cast members are keen to move on has given Fox impetus to ditch most of the pricier X-Men for cheaper actors. This is sort of the dark side of Marvel’s influence, we’ve reached a point where the characters and costumes nearly eclipse the actors in importance so studios like Fox start to wonder why they should shell out so much for say Magneto when all they really need is the helmet and cape. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s been some behind the scenes clashing over Tatum’s salary given he’d be a great big dollar shaped fly in Fox’s cheapness ointment.
As of right now however nothing is really that clear, even if most people have decided to assume Tatum has already left the film and this speculation is just a formality. If Tatum has indeed jumped ship I doubt we’ll see this Gambit movie come to fruition. Fox seems far too aware of the extremely limited interest in a Gambit movie to begin with to try and make it without a key star as a draw. That’s part of why the casting breakdown from earlier this week seemed so far removed from Gambit’s limited, doofy mythos and more grounded in the world of human heists and street crime. If Tatum does stay on I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more of him though as I doubt Fox would be that keen to pay for the privilege of his participation and then not use him as much as they could.
Gambit is currently slotted for release on October 7, 2015.