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.
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.)
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.”
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.
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.