The news is seemingly official, even if we are awaiting a confirmation. Channing Tatum is exiting Fox's Gambit standalone movie.
This couldn't have come at a worse time for Fox, who are already reeling from Hugh Jackman's confirmation that he will be putting out Logan's cigar for the last time and the negative buzz around Fantastic Four and some aspects of X-Men: Apocalypse.
The Ballad Of Remy LeBeau
Since rumors began of Tatum circling the X-verse in the role of the X-Men's favourite thief/card shark there has been some disquiet from fans. On paper, he is/was a great fit but has seemingly not caught the imagination of fans in the same way other castings have, particularly those in the MCU.
To many, Tatum seemed like a safe bet on the studio's part, someone who could replace Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence as the bankable box office star and anchor for their universe. From Tatum's perspective, he was seemingly joining a thriving universe.
Why might things be different? Well, he was probably expecting at least one movie with Lawrence and Jackman and himself involved but that is now seemingly off the table thanks to Hugh's announcement. Mystique could easily be killed off in Apocalypse if Fox feels that Lawrence is now too expensive - so that leaves Tatum in an awkward position. Especially now McKellen has also tagged out.
The Jennifer situation is a thorny one. She is undoubtedly the most popular female box office star but both her franchises are winding down somewhat. The Hunger Games will be done with after Mockingjay Pt 2 and her arc in X-Men can't really go much further as the character was never meant to be a lead.
Fox need only look at Jackman and Robert Downey Jr. to know the dangers of one person having too much of a hold on a franchise. Jackman, they can probably see paying the bucks required. Lawrence? studios don't pay women leads that level of money, they never have and while she is popular, her movies don't do THAT level of numbers.
Back to Channing. It's possible he hasn't been overly inspired by the casting choices made. Fox have skewed young - which leaves Tatum squarely the lead of any future X-Movies and little scope to bring in other name actors in major roles. Sure you still have Fassbender & McAvoy, but most of the best X-Men are now used and gonna be kids. In terms of other cast, Rose Byrne and Oscar Isaac are good actors, but not A-List, at least until Star Wars hits in the latter case.
Tatum is used to an ensemble cast and his best successes have been with them, but he's never been the sole star/actor carrying the load - GI Joe had other bankable names and Magic Mike had strong talent, yet he was sniffy of the first Joe film recently. The movie had Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller & Chris Ecclestone - all top actors for Hollywood, yet he thought it stunk?
He was all behind Magic Mike because he was involved in the production, it was his baby. It's not good form to throw any former movie you were in, especially a franchise you were chosen to launch under the bus and is not a great example to set if you're taking one over from proven talent.
It could be as simple as with the new X-Men cast being unproven in Hollywood & only really Kodi Smit-McPhee having anything approaching movie success in The Road and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes,. Perhaps Channing was concerned who helps carry that load if Mystique's arc is done and Magneto is making Assassin's Creed when the next X-Movie is in production?
Not quite as simple anymore, huh?
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Tatum was also given the chance to be part of The Hateful Eight, Tarantino's long gestating western. Tying yourself to Fox's wagon means missing out on other juicy parts and this might have been a step too far for Channing.
He also bailed on the planned Ghostbusters movie, probably for similar reasons... or did he? That seems to have been reinvigorated today with rumors breaking that Chris Pratt might also be interested. Has Channing had his head turned?
It wouldn't be the first time Fox have lost already cast actors. Their biggest success is built on the 'fluke' that Dougray Scott was tied up longer than planned on Mission Impossible 2. He WAS Wolverine, Jackman was the last minute replacement. Chris Evans went to Marvel and James Marsden defected with Bryan Singer to Superman Returns.
Of course this could also be linked to a lack of confidence in the scripts involved. At this stage, we just don't know the real reasons. So, where does this leave Fox?
Pretty well screwed...
They're losing Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence is quickly going to become very expensive and now Tatum is gone. Add to that the unproven nature of the young cast (Sophie Turner is NOT proven, despite her Game Of Thrones success) and that Fantastic Four seems destined to bomb.
It could well be time for the board at Fox to accept that their Marvel era has come to an end as a viable tentpole. After all, who CAN they bring in to anchor that franchise? Which character works? Who is big enough to carry the franchise who isn't already signed up to others or insanely expensive/not a risk.
Any crossover relies on a big star, which potentially neither franchise has now. It's only a matter of time until Michael Fassbender also tags out and as good as McAvoy is, he isn't that franchise leader.
The young cast Fox has employed is ideal for a TV show, more so than a movie - but Fox don't hold the rights for one. Marvel would love the X-Men in their MCU.
Here is where a deal can be done. Say, for example Fox are allowed 5 years exclusively with an X-show, which takes us up to the end of Phase 3 and prep for Phase 4. In return, Marvel get the movie rights to all Marvel properties Fox hold or a deal similar to Spiderman's at worst case.
Phase 4 and 5 can then be X-Men and Fantastic Four based. Fox could still get a cut of the movies, or their time could just end with Apocalypse and Wolverine 3. There would be appropriate "cool-down" time so that the old X-Verse can rest, so any recasting isn't jarring. Hell, Marvel can do Old Man Logan as Jackman will have reached an appropriate age by then.
Tom Rothman was always the biggest obstacle at Fox, and he's gone now. He was the most anti-Marvel guy, bombastic about how he'd never work with them, at times almost hostile. Yet now heads up the studio where the deal is done for Spidey? That in itself is a big signal (he joined AFTER the Spidey deal was done!) that Fox are not the same studio they were a year ago. It's not going to take too big a loss on Fantastic Four to really make them wonder. If it fails, who really wants to see a Fox Cinematic Universe?
Deadpool will be an interesting coda, but an R-rated character can't really be that lead guy. Shifting focus to Cable or someone similar is also a big risk. Perhaps the biggest mistake was not tooling Days Of Futures Past with another big name like Dwayne Johnson as Bishop or getting the Tatum done sooner so he could debut in that movie.
Disney will also be very cash rich in about 6-7 months time from Star Wars. Make no mistake, that movie will make $2bn in record time, so that's going to mean Disney can afford to make some big offers to Fox, Sony to get those Marvel properties back.
Channing may well have just sealed the fate for Fox's Marvel-verse completely, it's entirely possible that making a deal with 'the enemy' is now Fox's best business option, rather than betting the farm on replacing Tatum.
Is this something you can see happening? Who could Fox bring in to anchor that franchise now?
Let me know in the comments below.