What if Chris Claremont Was In Charge of the X-MEN Movies?
Uncanny X-Men #141 cover by John Byrne
Chris Claremont didn’t create the X-Men, but he did make them who they are today. This week’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is based on a story-arc he created with John Byrne, and all of the previous X-Men and Wolverine movies have been based, directly or indirectly, on the work Claremont did in comics. But that being said, Claremont has his own ideas for how some of the past movies could have gone differently, as well as speculation on possible spin-off titles and characters to introduce to the movies.
Make no mistake, however, Claremont was a big part of the X-Men movies happening at all. It was during his tenure as Marvel’s Editorial Director and Senior Vice President that he helped make the deal with producer Lauren Shuler Donner for the movie rights back in 1994, and the writer has appeared both on-screen in cameos and behind the scenes as an adviser on several of the films since. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ideas of his own: that’s what he does, as a fiction writer.
Newsarama spoke with Claremont by phone from his New York home, asking “What if?” to the idea of Claremont being put in charge of the X-Men movie franchise. Claremont, who had ambitions of becoming a film director in college, is well versed to the intense demands storytelling in film requires, and sees any possible scenario through the lens of budgets, casts, and appealing to a worldwide audience. That being said, Claremont did name-drop several story-arcs, characters, and team he’d love to see in the future of Fox’s films.
Newsarama: Chris, I reached out to talk to you concerning the X-men future and to pick your brain on where they might be going, and more interestingly, where you’d take it if you were in charge – kind of how you took over X-men with issue #94 in 1975. First off, have you been keeping up with the X-Men movies and the Wolverine spin-offs – I assume you’re invited to advance screenings for all of them.
Chris Claremont: Well, there were screenings for Marvel employees up until Marvel was acquired by Disney; there haven’t been any since. But yes, I’ve seen all of the X-Men and Wolverine movies. I have tremendous admiration for the work Lauren Shuler Donner and Fox have done with the franchise so far. The only frustration is that the rest of Marvel is locked out of mingling with the X-Men movies.
Nrama: X-Men: Days of Future Past comes out later this month. Have you seen it at an advance screening or are you privy to any details of what it’ll be given you wrote the original story?
Claremont: I don’t know if there’s a screening for X-Men: Days of Future Past. But I’m involved in the context of me as an employee of Marvel being available, and having known Lauren for the better part of 20 years now. I’ve been available to them for every film, if they needed any kind of information. Keep in mind, that when the deal was signed for the first film I was both the editorial director and a Senior Vice President at Marvel, so I was fairly involved with getting the movie franchise established.
In terms of the X-Men: Days of Future Past movie, Bryan Singer has been a part of the X-Men family from the first movie. He knows about the comics canon and how it relates to his work as a filmmaker. He’s more well versed in the canon than most, as are the people that are working with him.
Nrama: That being said, is there anything you would have done different if you were in charge of the X-Men movie franchise?
Claremont: Well, I think it would have been fun, in another universe perhaps, to treat the Dark Phoenix story with a little more focus and structure than what happened in X-men: The Last Stand. That was just an unfortunate cogswoggle from start to finish because of various things that had nothing to do with the story, but rather the personalities and relationships on the west Coast. It didn’t work out the way it should have, but unfortunately shit happens.
But in terms of doing things different, it’s hard to say. What you want to do in a film is encapsulate the characters and the stories into one focused, coherent two-hour time block, and that’s sometimes hard to do especially when you have a group as varied and distinctive as the X-Men are.
I suspect that’s one of the challenges Bryan is dealing with in X-Men: Days of Future Past, in that you have so many A+ actors, how do you fit them into a focused 120-minute box? There’s been reports that Halle Berry wasn’t in the final cut of the film nor Anna Paquin, as Storm and Rogue respectively, just because of the way the film’s structure turned out. It’ll be unfortunate for the theatrical cut, but I suspect it will make the DVD an absolute delight for film buffs; I have to assume that all of that stuff they filmed will all go back in an extended version for DVD. But that’s the way it is in film.
That’s one of the advantages of a printed story over a cinematic story; yes, we only have 20-something pages per issues, but we can use as many issues as we need. It’s simply a matter of the artist presenting the characters in an exciting, dynamic sequence of panels. You don’t have to call together physical human beings to a specific place, create environments and sets, stage it, film it, stich it and release it to an audience. In a lot of ways, comics are a whole lot easier to evoke the storytelling reality and present it to the audience over film. And an issue of a comic will only cost $20,000 to produce, not $200 million. That has to be an element in the balance as well.
Additionally, in film you’re trying to find a way to encapsulate the characters and the concept to present to an audience who doesn’t necessarily know what you’re talking about. With films you’re trying to make entertainment that appeal to a global audience that might not be familiar with the comics and the history within. Screenwriters and directors have to build a focused, contained story with a beginning, middle and end that satisfies you for the two hours or so you’re in a movie theatre, and hopefully leaves you at the thinking “Gosh, I hope they make another one!” And to that extend, you have to also decide which characters and which story concepts might work best on-screen as opposed to paper.
For films, it might be necessary and might be more exciting to come up with a totally original story that has never been seen in the comics or anywhere else, but works brilliantly in terms of establishing a character (or characters) and selling them to this new audience. Filmmakers shouldn’t be restricted to what’s in the canon. Movies are a whole new canon, and while the comics are there for reference, the goals should be to tell the best story you can in the medium you’re working with. That’s what Singer did, especially with X2: X-Men United.
Nrama: Are there any of your X-Men storylines you’d like to see adapted down the road in the movie-verse?
Claremont: The geek in me says the “Asgardian Wars” Art Adams and I did would be fun, but that’s impossible. Since Asgard is on the Disney side of the ledger and the X-Men on the Fox side, it’ll never happen.
But part of it also depends on which characters filmmakers want to use. To my mind, there’s no stock immediate answer that satisfies your question and the reality of the situation, because it all depends on that the producers want, which actors are available and which director is available. It’s a fungible question from start to finish, but my stock answer almost always is that it ideally needs to be a story that is as primal as the best I’ve ever done but one I haven’t told yet.
Nrama: Chris Claremont writing a new X-Men story exclusive for the movies?
Claremont: Perhaps. My desire as a storyteller is to always catch the readers off guard; to give them something they aren’t expecting, and take them in a direction that is satisfying in the here and non. Perhaps it’s derived from existing comics canon but done in a new way. To take what the fans have loved before but do something new and exciting.
Nrama: There’s been some interesting speculation that Fox might do two concurrent X-Men movie franchise; one for the “First Class” era team, who are already in line for X-Men: Apocalypse, but then also resume the older X-Men cast with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and others. Could you see that happening?
Claremont: Anything is possible. As with anything, that’s the ideal answer – and I’d love to work on any X-project. If I had my druthers, I’d be writing Uncanny X-Men but regrettably there’s another writer in the way. What one writer wishes rarely comes to pass, but I’m wide open to everything. As for what Fox’s plans are, those decisions are made on levels that I’m far removed from.
Nrama: There’s also been talk of a crossover film with Fantastic Four and X-Men; you’ve written both titles, and you even wrote a comic called “Fantastic Four vs. X-Men” back in 1987. On the movie side of things, do you think a FF/X-Men crossover film could stand on its own?
Claremont: Why not? The challenge with any kind of crossover is actually the same challenge you’d face if the X-Men crossed over with any other franchise. In comics all it takes is me telling the artist the story and then away he or she goes.
In the movies however, if they were to adapt Fantastic Four Vs. X-Me for example, you’ve got a lot more to lock down. First of all being Hugh Jackman – no one else is going to get away with playing Logan. Then, if available, you’d have Halle Berry as Storm, Anna Paquin as Rogue, Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and that’s before you even consider the Fantastic Four side of the equation. You’d have to get a dozen major stars signed on just to get a crossover film off the ground.
And I forgot, they must have Kitty Pryde and Lockheed.
Nrama: Lockheed’s someone fans are still dying to see on the screen.
Claremont: Kitty would be a ghost for most of it, but even still that acting roster would take a lot of cash to secure. That’s before you even consider the director, screenwriter, special effects budget, and so forth. And the story is important – even if it's an adaptation, it needs to be true to the tastes of a global audience. How will it play out as a story; will the conflict and resolution appeal to people who aren’t comic fans but just general fans of the film franchise? And with so many players, there’s not much room for exposition on the individual characters. Would moviegoers know automatically who Reed Richards is or the rest of the FF, to know why they should care?
It’s a lot of fun to speculate and say “Gee, wouldn’t it be fun to do this?” It would be fun, but in movies you’re trying to tell stories to people who don’t necessarily know anything about the characters you’re talking about going in. In movies you have to establish the characters, then the conflict and the adversaries and bring it all down to a satisfying resolution – al in 90 to 120 minutes… 140 minutes at most.
The cool thing about comic books and prose is that if a reader gets confused on page 8, they can backtrack. With films, you sit down in a seat and once the projector starts going you’re stuck for the next two hours. There are no do-overs, rewinding or starting again. You have to stay with it until the end, and you can’t fool around.
Nrama: Last question. X-Men: Days of Future Past will be in theatres in just a matter of weeks, and they’ve already penciled in the next one with Apocalypse. How do you see the future of the X-Men film franchise going and what they might pull from to create those stories?
Claremont: There’s a lot left in the tank. In addition to the X-Men stories, you’ve also got Excalibur, the New Mutants, and hundreds of other characters I have created that haven’t shown up yet – or have, but only in cameos. The fact that Kitty Pryde evolved over the four films from being an unknown background character in the first X-Men film to being played by a major actress with Ellen Page with X3: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past is an exciting portent.