If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that the X-Men movies contain almost no recognisable visual panache, choosing to hem close to an aesthetic legacy founded on the line “What did you expect, yellow spandex?” If you’re like me, you’ll curse this fact in the names of Art and Spectacle.
Collars. Crew necks. Maybe Double Cyclops https://t.co/OdApxrIB5D
— Clownhunter (@illusClaire) May 10, 2019
But I love you, little reader, like a benevolent god loves the humble biting ant. And for that reason I’ve chosen to share with you the fruits of my mind: a cast list for an X-Men movie series culminating in the release of X-Men: Inferno, in the winter holiday season of 1989. Much like the X-Men cartoon of 1992, it would be a viewer’s digest of that existing story material—in this case of the Jean-related storylines—which had been published since 1976. Please: relax your head, absorb my wisdoms, and enjoy a gentle afternoon’s hallucination of what coulda, woulda, shoulda been.
(For those not completely au fait with 13 years of X-Men, I will explain. No, it’s too complicated— I will sum up.)
Movie 1: I Am Phoenix The X-Men’s Christmas shopping is interrupted by an abrupt need to go to space. Their mentor Xavier gets a space girlfriend and they come home—but get into trouble upon reentry, and erstwhile team member Jean sacrifices herself to fly the shuttle. Thinking she’s dead the landed X-men panic, but she emerges from the water they crashed in with a new power, calling herself Phoenix. Phoenix is far more powerful than Jean was, and gradually revels in her boundless ability having rejoined the X-Men. During a mission, the psychic parasite Malice tries to hijack Phoenix, who easily rejects her—Malice settles, instead, in teammate Polaris, who turns on the X-Men. They return to space to help Xavier’s girlfriend, the Empress Lilandra, and Jean as Phoenix repairs a very important space crystal. But having experienced the extremity of her power, and remembering the unexplored potential of the wicked emotional profile which Malice introduced to her, Phoenix gets a bit too much up her own butt and goes power manic. Temporarily aligning herself with some regular old earth foes, Mister Sinister and his Hellfire Crew (The White Queen, The Black King, Arms Dealer and Polaris-as-Malice), Dark Phoenix quickly outstrips them and emerges as a threat to all life everywhere, killing a planetful of aliens. After Lilandra, feeling her responsibility to her Galactic Empire, makes the decision that Jean must die, Jean commits suicide on the moon. The X-men return to earth and many of them continue to be X-Men, while Scott, aka Cyclops, Jean’s boyfriend, moves on.
Movie 2: Rise of the Mutants The X-Men, now led by Storm, meet the Morlocks, a community of mutants who lived in New York’s underground and sewer system, when member Warren Worthington, the Angel, is kidnapped for the purposes of marriage by their leader, Callisto. The Morlocks have a member called Masque, who can change people’s appearances—Masque turns Warren blue and changes his feathered wings to poisoned metal, so that he’s as much of an outcast as the rest of them (though he remains handsome, for the purposes of marriage.) Storm must fight Callisto for leadership of the Morlocks in order to rescue Warren. She wins.
Concurrently, Scott decides to take a new girlfriend—a woman who happens to look exactly like Jean. It’s just a weird coincidence. When he finally tells her, she takes it fairly well… and anyway, she’s already in love with him.
Scott has a hard time dealing with not being in the X-Men any more, as he was previously the leader. He was also adopted by Xavier as an adolescent, and misses his teenaged life of directed discipline. Scott and his new wife have a baby, but Scott keeps trying to return to “active duty.” Eventually, Storm, the X-Men’s leader (and Jean’s best friend) challenges Scott to a fight without powers for the leadership role. If she wins, Scott must get over himself and go and be a dad. She wins.
While the X-Men are celebrating with a wild swim, Mystique, a bit of a terrorist and the mother of X-Men member Rogue, approaches with a weapon. She is a member of Freedom Force, a government-owned mutant agency. She is aiming to hit Rogue with this weapon to remove her powers because, though she believes in mutant rights, she loves her daughter whose power means she can never touch anyone skin to skin. Mystique misses Rogue, and hits Storm, who loses her abilities of weather manipulation and flight. Turning to her lover Forge for comfort, Storm discovers that he was the man who built the weapon in question, and a Fed. Third time unlucky: she loses.
The Mutant Massacre—the killing of the Morlocks by a mercenary gang of fellow mutants—brings Scott back to New York against his wife’s desperate pleas, plunges Storm into a depression, and leaves the X-Men horrified and leaderless.
Movie 3: Inferno Having been attacked and waking in hospital to find her child missing, Scott’s wife Maddy calls the X-Men for help, not knowing where to find her husband. They take her in, and Maddy begins to bond with the team. She and Storm connect over their lack of powers.
Meanwhile, Scott and the other former X-Men who left at the end of Movie 1 find each other doing triage after the massacre. They reform as a group, calling themselves X-Factor, and also find something strange in the sewer: a pod containing a brand new Jean. She wakes up and believes that they just came back from space—she’s the real Jean who was hidden away by Phoenix, a force that came from the space crystal Phoenix saved in movie 1 and wanted to experience life. Jean assumes that she and Scott are still an item, and nobody tells her otherwise. X-Factor are joined by Warren, who is upset about being blue and poisonous but wants to be around people who remember him well—these X-Men happen to have been the ones he was first teamed with. They take in and train several teenaged Morlocks who survived the massacre (Rusty, Skids, Boom-Boom, Rictor, Artie and Leech), and with Warren’s riches eventually brand themselves as a public service force who will come and take away any mutants causing local trouble.
Maddy sees an advert for X-Factor, and realises that her husband has abandoned her to play soldiers with his first love. She is also being targeted by the necro-technomancer Mister Sinister, who was behind the manipulation of Phoenix, who was behind the kidnap of Warren by Morlocks, who was behind the Morlock Massacre—he sends a demon to trick her, and she unwittingly signs a contract for power in order to find her son and get revenge on Scott and Jean. As her magic grows, she also becomes romantically involved with Scott’s resentful younger brother Alex, a fellow X-Man, and strikes a bargain with Storm for support in exchange for the restoration of her powers.
The X-Men and X-Factor are pitted against each other in the court of public opinion, with the X-Men and their surroundings becoming more demonic and X-Factor looking pretty fascist. Freedom Force attempts to wrangle both sides. During a climactic battle, Jean and Madelyne face each other, and Jean realises that Scott is actually married, that he has a son, and that he did both of these things with her clone. Her honest shock and disgust register with Maddy, who sacrifices herself through a gateway (courtesy of Gateway) to heaven, to close by counteraction the demonic portal she’s been edged into opening, sending out a mystical message to the entire world: Scott, I love you, please find our son. Her death is noble but it will take more than that, and Storm, Havok, Dazzler, Longshot, Colossus, Psylocke and Rogue also sacrifice themselves to save the day.
As the remaining mutants look around to see what’s been happening, both Jean and Mystique call Scott a murderer, and everybody leaves. Pull back, what do we see? It’s Mister Sinister, looking at his monster screens, dandling the baby on his knee. Oooh, what a bastard!
Cast: X-Men, X-Force & friends
JEAN/PHOENIX/MADDY: Amy Yasbeck
Amy Yasbeck is not only an actual (or at least very convincing) redhead, she is also an absolute stalwart of camp. Her ability to embody yet disrupt the Classic Hollywood Feminine is exactly what an X-Men movie needs to guarantee it the right amount of visual and atmospheric opera. Whether she’s kissing Cary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights or betraying Jim Carey in The Mask, she exhibits the range to exemplify Jean’s warmth and knowingness, Madelyn’s reserve and romantic hope, and Phoenix’ cavalier dash.
SCOTT SUMMERS AKA CYCLOPS: Nicolas Cage
Does this afford ol’ one-eye an excess of charisma and contextually egregious sexual magnetism? Yes. But it can’t be helped. Cage has the long face of Slim, the seriousness of purpose and the integrity of performance to guarantee a fantastic trilogy. He also has an absurdly V-shaped torso, bringing that page-to-screen aesthetic we are after.
PROFESSOR CHARLES XAVIER: Duh
If it ain’t broke, do we fix it? We don’t.
EMPRESS LILANDRA: Cher
Cher can act; Cher looks like a space empress. What’s more to argue?
ORORO MUNROE AKA STORM: Grace Jones
Grace Jones in ’89 is an easy physical match for Storm, but she’s also extremely well-placed to take the role. Consider her as an actress: In Conan the Destroyer, how she forms quite a complex and largely implicit bond of mutual protection and care with the teenaged princess. In A View to a Kill, how she worries for her woman teammates as the mine caves in, and her vulnerable bitterness as she says, “I really thought that bastard loved me” when Christopher Walken tries to murder her. If Grace Jones could make such a lot out of those two fairly underwritten roles, imagine what she could do with Storm?
WARREN WORTHINGTON AKA THE ANGEL: James Spader
James Spader has one of those faces: the kind that looks like he’s going to have a big asshole plot, but also like he might try to have sex with someone more powerful than him. I feel like that’s “very Warren Worthington.”
ROGUE: Ally Sheedy
There are a lot of pictures of Ally Sheedy in recognisable roles out there that could almost work for Rogue, but this, from an afterparty, is the best example of how appropriate she is for this character that I could find. Sheedy tended, in my experience, to play shy roles—Rogue is so much the antithesis of shyness that I feel in my bones, my water, and the wind that this would have been the way to go. Invert!
HANK MCCOY AKA THE BEAST: Ted Danson
Ted Danson is slightly more vertical than the Beast is usually envisioned, but if you care to look at Paul Smith’s renderings of 1989 you will see this is in fact an inspired choice. Danson has the easy masculine warmth of Hank McCoy, the ability to perform both “listening” and “teaching,” and the investment in a role to hold an accent for an entire movie. He’s also great opposite kids, which comes in handy when X-Factor pick up a whole bundleful. Though usually cast in boneheaded roles, he’s actually very deft at convincing an audience of his characters’ bravado—an element of the Beast trademark loquacity that’s nigh-impossible to remove.
BOBBY DRAKE AKA ICEMAN: Michael J Fox
Bobby Drake is “fun-loving,” easily goaded and “the baby” of the X-Factor group. He’s a lighthearted guy with an inferiority complex. If that doesn’t say Marty McFly to you, I guess we’re pretty different after all.
ALEX SUMMERS AKA HAVOK: Matthew Modine
Hello, Goblin Prince! Modine is actually slightly older than Cage, my pick for Summers Major, but he’s a youthful performer where Cage is a dominant one. Havok is a bad decisions boy who wants to be a knight in shining armour more than pretty much anything else; Modine is a very large, affable man who can convincingly portray someone you’d feel safe with if he suddenly came and got into bed with you (see Married to the Mob). This is a match made in limbo.
BETSY BRADDOCK AKA PSYLOCKE: Jane Seymour
Jane Seymour is not an aggressively physical actress, and that is why she’d be ideal for Betsy “I wish I were a ninja” Braddock. Not only is she the picture of your basic visual template for Alan Davis’ Betsy B, Seymour is earnest enough to portray a woman who wishes she were a warrior, but isn’t yet—someone determined and possibly prone to morally compromising shortcuts. Dunk that hair in some wine to turn it purple and you’ve got yourself cinematic perfection.
ALISON BLAIRE AKA DAZZLER: Brigitte Nielsen
This is pretty much a visual casting, but tell me I’m wrong. LIAR!!
LONGSHOT: Brad Pitt
I don’t know who you think Brad Pitt is, but I’ll tell you who I think Brad Pitt is: a very limber sweetheart made to be thrown around and mildly resentful of it. And that’s also precisely who and what Longshot is. Watch ye some Dark Side of the Sun, watch ye The Favor; watch ye whatever it is he’s in in the picture above, probably. Even as late as Meet Joe Black he was projecting innocence like a lighthouse—the very bad choice you understand why people, such as Dazzler, make.
PIOTR RASPUTIN AKA COLOSSUS: Guy Pearce
Guy Pearce is not Russian; he is Australian and was on Neighbours. I do not know of any Russian actors from 1989, probably because of the cold war. But look at him. He’s got a tiny little button face on a big muscle bod—he’s even got a red towel, like Petey in (gasp!) Australia. I was struggling on this role until I searched “hunk 1989” and found his name on the cover of a Playgirl. I rest my cast.
LOGAN AKA WOLVERINE: Sylvester Stallone (READ MY JUSTIFICATIONS, TRUSTLESS HEATHEN)
First of all, if we can make hobbits out of Hollywood Regulars we can make five foot three out of Stallone. Put him in a hole… shoot him further away than everyone else… do the work. My movies will do the work. Once you get him down to size it becomes obvious that Stallone is a born Logan: he’s good at acting tough and cross. He’s handsome, but in a weird way. He’s great acting with kids. He’s terrific at performing both “person in love” and “tender friend.” And he’s fine with being nude on screen. Can you hear him saying “Bub”? I can. I’m doing it right now.
SALLY BLEVINS AKA SKIDS: Molly Ringwald
Skids has the “ugh” of a mutant runaway and develops the innate responsibility of Oldest Girl on the Team—that’s Ringwald, through & through.
RUSTY COLLINS: Anthony Michael Hall
Rusty ran away from the Navy when he accidentally burned a woman as she tried to pressure him into sex. He’s a massive dork who both thinks he’s Teen Cyclops and that that’s good, for some reason. AMH can express this, and he can also get his hair to look just like it does on the paper.
TABITH SMITH AKA BOOM-BOOM: Kelli Maroney
Boom-Boom is a menace and a sassmeister who likes bubblegum and extreme sunglasses and can create and control plasmic time-bombs. She is Jubilee before Jubilee was Jubilee, and if Kelli Maroney was slightly too old to play her in 1989 I’d bet you a dollar she’d still pull it off. The obstinacy and willfulness bubbling under the surface in Night of the Comet turned up to eleven… why did I start this project? I’m only upsetting myself with great things I will never see.
J E RICHTER AKA RICTOR: Benicio Del Toro
Rictor honestly doesn’t have a great deal of character during the 80s—he mostly just inhabits a baseline guilty/scared—but I feel pretty sure that Del Toro could pull of the tricky acting necessary for convincing people that he is making the earth shake, as well as playing up his teammate rivalry with Boom-Boom.
ARTIE & LEECH: Doesn’t matter! Prosthetics!
GATEWAY: David Gulpilil
Gulpilil was probably not quite old enough to play a perfectly accurate Gateway in 1989, but that’s what stage make-up and hair powder are for. As a regular member of the X-Men, Gateway would no longer be mute—it would just be too much of a waste of Gulpilil’s deadpan delivery.
CHRISTOPHER SUMMERS AKA CORSAIR: Sam Elliott
It’s Scott’s Daddy.
CALLISTO: Pamela Reed
Honestly I just want to see Pamela Reed in more roles. Am I maligning her beauty? No. Am I supposing she might be interested in playing someone who self-identifies as ugly? Yes. She strikes me as an actress who is interested in curious roles, having played against Arnie & Devito twice. She also has a compelling sexual energy in Kindergarten Cop, at least, which is necessary for Callisto’s habit of kidnapping men and dressing them in leather.
MASQUE: It doesn’t matter, they’ll be in prosthetics.
MYSTIQUE: Gates McFadden
Another natural or convincing redhead, for another redheaded role. She also has that bone structure! Mystique is a character who has always seemed very adult to me, and Gates McFadden has basically the most grown-up face I can imagine. Wouldn’t it be fun to see her play evil authoritarian?
DESTINY: Some old lady, she’s all covered over
ST. JOHN ALLERDYCE AKA PYRO: Paul Hogan
With Inferno containing as it does a directish reference to Crocodile Dundee, I feel no compunction about borrowing three of its cast members to populate my masterpiece. Pyro is Australian, kind of haggard-looking, and Paul Hogan would definitely understand how to perform the confidence cocktail that is “terrorist turned federal agent who also writes romance novels.”
SPIRAL: Linda Kozlowski
Kozlowski does not have six arms, but she does have a fairly sharp nose, very light feathery hair, and the acting chops to make a side character full of viciousness and heartbreak register.
MARTIN FLETCHER AKA SUPER SABRE: Dean Stockwell
Super Sabre, Crimson Commando and Stonewall are three WWII vets who’ve been slightly revitalised with superpowers, and who turned to vigilantism with poor/murderous results. From there they agreed to work with Freedom Force, and are basically just overpowered curmudgeons.
FRANK BOHANNON AKA CRIMSON COMMANDO: Christopher Lloyd
LOUIS HAMILTON AKA STONEWALL: Ian McKellen
Are we going to waste this name on just some big strong dude in 1989? No. Freedom Force is led by lesbians and Stonewall means Stonewall.
FORGE: Wes Studi
Studi is Cherokee, not Cheyenne, and as far as I know has both legs—but he served in Vietnam, like Forge, has a lot of presence in Street Fighter, and was a working actor in ’89. Frankly this is a hard role to research—please chime in with better choices (for this character ONLY… thanks) in the comments!
MISTER SINISTER: Dolph Lundgren
An absolute specimen. Silvestri designed Mister Sinister, which means he is both a perfect hunk and possessor of a vaguely vampiric spiritual aspect. Lundgren, I think, can pull this off. He also has the sense of humour necessary to capture the entirety of the character—Sinister’s kind of a smug, sassy type.
LORNA DANE AKA POLARIS AKA MALICE: Michelle Pfeiffer
Lorna is Havok/Alex’s longterm girlfriend, who is unfortunately hijacked by the psychic parasite Malice, a servant of Mister Sinister, and turned to his will, which is part of what turns Alex so readily toward his brother’s abandoned wife. Malice brings out all of the (get it) malice in a person’s soul. Pfeiffer is not only great at both tragic innocence and wicked fury, she also looks really good with an extreme perm. And Malice, in Lorna, really goes for an extreme perm.
EMMA FROST AKA THE WHITE QUEEN: Sharon Stone
She’s evil because she’s fed up and ambitious. I don’t think Sharon Stone is evil, but I’m pretty sure she knows how to project both “fed up” and “ambitious.”
SEBASTIAN SHAW AKA THE BLACK KING: Brian Blessed
The impression of great bigness is what’s needed here—and imperviousness. BB has it.
DONALD PEARCE AKA ARMS DEALER: Christian Slater
The worst and whiniest asshole, who constantly breaks his cyborg arms through personal overestimation and has to have them fixed.
Every superhero movie can do with a sequence where other characters look up in shock because something psychic happened, right? Right!
VISION & THE SCARLET WITCH: Ed Begley jr and Sean Young
You can sum their tragedy up like this: emotionally, there’s not enough of him and there’s too much of her. (I say this as a compliment.) Plus, in ’89, Begley had that comic book body.
CAPTAIN BRITAIN & EXCALIBUR (NIGHTCRAWLER, MEGGAN): Maxwell Caulfield, Prince, Mariel Hemingway
Caulfield is younger than Seymour, who plays his twin; Hemingway is older than Caulfield, while playing his ward-turned-girlfriend. Yup, yup, it’s true! But I’m in charge now! And my way is better.