The Marvel Cinematic Universe learned a new word today. Mutant. Mutant and proud to have a huge roster of characters back in the fold for Kevin Feige and company to tell astonishing stories with. Marvel Studios has never let us down when it comes casting. But to reimagine the beloved faces of mentors and heroes we’ve had for almost two decades will not be an easy task. I think there is something to learn in a similar ordeal Marvel Studios went through; casting Spider-Man: Homecoming. In that reboot of a reboot, there were two key takeaways to their choices. As per usual, Disney wanted actors on the cusp of stardom. In this position, they can bank on a six picture deal, while also expecting these actors to grow in name recognition outside their Marvel franchise. The other lesson is to cast openly in regards to ethnicity. These characters can be over 50 years old and just as in Spider-Man: Homecoming, it is important to represent a more realistic, modern generation. With these thoughts in mind, I submit to you and Lord Feige my recommendations for the MCU X-Men.
David Oyelowo as Charles Xavier (Professor X)
Filling Patrick Stewart’s (and James McAvoy) shoes may prove to be the hardest casting decision for Marvel. Like Stewart, David Oyelowo is a classically trained British theater actor. His most recent credits include voice acting roles in Disney shows such as Star Wars: Rebels and The Lion Guard. In both of these he plays a villain, but his normal voice is very paternal and mature. His experience as a voice actor, again similar to Patrick Stewart, will lend itself to a role where he is confined to a wheelchair and must express himself through mostly line reading. His most famous role in Selma, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would also be great preparation as Xavier is an analogue for MLK.
Jason Isaacs as Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto)
Always an incredible antagonist who has deserved a huge Hollywood role for years, Jason Isaacs is the perfect choice for Magneto. He has crushed every villain role ever given to him and like David Oyelowo (and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen), is an experienced voice actor. His current gig has him as Captain of the USS Discovery on Star Trek Discovery. In this show, he effortlessly walks the line between compelling commander and a man who would tear your life apart if you get in his way. Few actors can pull off the menacing physicality and voice behind the helmet. With Magneto, Marvel Studios needs to buck the trend of their villains being one offs. Jason Isaacs is at the perfect age and place in his career to play a new A-level villain for years to come in the MCU. While we’re getting a little too far from believably being able to explain Magneto as a holocaust survivor, Isaacs’ Jewish heritage is a nice homage the writers can play with.
Jack O’Connell as Scott Summer (Cyclops)
Onto our young mutants. I imagine this class of mutants to be in the college age range. The X-Men have always been a teenage fantasy, but lets give Peter Parker some breathing room as the kid on the block. Cyclops has been neglected far too long and often. This version must be akin to Captain America. A clear leader headstrong in ideals, but someone who has enough underlying gravitas to not come across as a simple boy scout. Jack O’Connell is one of Hollywood’s best untapped talents. In what roles he’s had, he’s made a name for himself playing unhinged alpha males. Three separate roles of his in Godless, Unbroken, and Skins have shown the duality of this and being a strong voice capable of rising through tragedy. But down the road, mania will serve Cyclops as a character with a history of making questionable decisions in his love life and as a face of the mutant cause.
Saoirse Ronan as Jean Grey
The biggest get on this list, Saoirse Ronan is an Oscar caliber actor who would be the most difficult to get to sign a six picture contract. Her talent would lend itself to a rightly done long game for the character of Jean Grey. If Marvel decides to tackle the Phoenix storyline down the road (and I mean like 8-10 years down the road), Saoirse Ronan is the most likely actor to achieve meaning with the audience and also convey the many sides of Jean Grey during that time. Until then, Ronan has that perfect bookish look and experience with intelligent scripts to play one of Marvel’s smartest characters.
Ashton Sanders as Bobby Drake (Iceman)
Iceman is another member of the original five who hasn’t been written very well in the past. Often portrayed like a dog chasing Rogue around worriedly, Bobby needs his time to shine. One of the youngest members of the team, I imagine Bobby recently having came to Xavier’s Institute with fresh psychological scars of bullying from his old high school. Sander’s experience in Moonlight would work well here as a coming of age story and would also serve a potential coming out story if Marvel wants to take a cue from the current comics.
Hailee Steinfield as Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat)
A name that would get non-hardcore fans excited for this reboot, Hailee Steinfield is Kitty Pryde personified. Her character in The Edge of Seventeen is akin to the most popular incarnations of Kitty. Instantly likeable, Steinfield would be a perfect stand in for the audience as a teenager entering Xavier’s School for first time as the movie opens. Another “it” girl, Marvel should hope to be able to snap her up before she is cast as Batgirl or someone else.
Mena Massoud as Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler)
To round out my class of five, fan-favorite Nightcrawler will of course play a part in this movie. The most visible anomaly of mutation on the team, Kurt also has a tragic backstory. Kurt’s story is that of a refugee. To update it to modern times and issues (such as Syrian refugees), Marvel should cast openly for Nightcrawler. My suggestion is Mena Massoud. Muslim representation would hit home with the white nationalism themes of X-Men comics. It would also be a smart move on Disney to invest in making Massoud a star before and/or after his soon to be breakout role in the live-action Aladdin. That movie will most likely show Massoud playing a swash-buckling, sword-wielding, rogue type and that’s exactly how I like my Nightcrawler.
There you have it. The MCU X-Men have their first class. It can always expand in sequels, but what characters would you like to see newly portrayed and by whom?
For more – Cole Hickey