THIS MUTANT LIFE #24: When Characterization And Casting Go Wrong

It’s typically a given that most of a superhero movie’s regulars will return for the sequel, in order to maintain continuity, build on previous characterization, and basically keep the ride going. When a noticeable character is noticeably left out — Alan Cummings as Nightcrawler snubbed for the third “X-Men” movie, for instance — it’s rare enough to mull on whatever might have gone wrong.

Which leads us to this little nugget to mull on: January Jones has revealed that she isn’t a lock to return as Emma Frost in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

“I don’t know that I’m in it, I don’t think Emma’s in this one. Well, they haven’t told me if I am,” Jones told Collider. “I wouldn’t put it past them though, I got the script for the first one on the airplane on the way there. It’s called ‘Days of Future Past’ I think, and I think it’s more about James [McAvoy] and Michael [Fassbender] and then Patrick [Stewart] and Ian [McKellan], and I think it’s gonna go back and forth with those so I don’t think Emma’s in those bits. I don’t know, I really don’t know.”

The first reaction is that this isn’t really a giant loss, should it be true. (Though Frost’s rescue by Magneto at the end of “X-Men: First Class” seemed to suggest a continued role in the sequel.) Jones, who’s mostly famous for playing Betty Draper on “Mad Men,” lent Frost the wooden iciness of a generic supervillainess, not the snappy smugness of the comic book version. Granted, there weren’t really a lot of moments for her to sink her teeth in; I’m not entirely convinced she wasn’t cast because of her ability to carry the glorious throwback costume. But in a movie littered with tertiary characters, she was one of the weakest; an especially bad look considering her relative real-life prominence to the rest of the cast, and the success of her character in the comics. (Put it this way: It wouldn’t have mattered if she’d screwed up as Marrow.)

If there’s a lesson here, it’s in the perils of overloading a superhero movie with characters and plot lines. You’d think this would be obvious, but maybe not; while teasing “Days of Future Past,” Hugh Jackman said that it’ll feature “every other actor who’s ever put on a superhero uniform” and that “you wouldn’t have enough room on the page after you’ve listed them all.” In a perfect world where superhero movies had infinite budgets and infinite run times and were written by a committee of Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi, this would probably turn out alright; in our world, there’s the potential for a headache. Jones’s Frost was hampered by a weakened Hellfire Club storyline and a narrative that didn’t have much for her to do outside of fetch ice and look good in her lingerie; now, imagine those responsibilities divided by a factor of five and handed to any number of other characters in the sequel. If Jackman’s just referring to a cameo for all those heroes, that’s fine and dandy. But if there’s going to be an actually dedicated effort to integrate them seriously into the story, well… see how it goes?

More can be done with less when it comes to characters, and finding a few to hone in on seems like a better idea than spreading the love. Obviously, the draw of the X-Men is that there’s a bunch of them, but even a team movie like “The Avengers” needed a handful of films to convincingly build up the characterization needed to feature its heroes without having to delve too deeply into their backstory. When it’s a team movie from the start, there’s the risk of glossing over some of the characters who could’ve been used in better ways — leading to situations where they’re buried in favor of whoever else tests well with the toy markets. It might not be the end of the world for January Jones, since she’ll have plenty of work to do. (Hey, “Mad Men” is coming back soon!) But there was a great character, and a great opportunity, and the sense that it was bungled just a bit.

This Mutant Life explores all corners of the cinematic X-verse, from the kids of “First Class” to the berserker rage of “The Wolverine.” Suggest topics for future columns in the comments or on Twitter!

Previously on This Mutant Life:
» The All-New X-Women
» ’Wolverine’ Director Says All The Right Things
» Please, Let ’The Wolverine’ Be Good
» Should Bryan Singer Adapt 48 Frames Per Second?
» How The “X-Men” Avoided Doom And Gloom
» Looking Into Patrick Stewart And Ian McKellen’s “Future Past”
» “The Wolverine” Claws Into “Days Of Future Past”
» Bringing “All-New X-Men” Together For “Days Of Future Past”
» The Return Of Bryan Singer
» Sentinels? Yes Please!
» “Wolverine” Gets Modern
» Mark Millar Rights the Ship
» Can Mutants and Marvel Heroes Coexist?
» Is Phoenix Rising?
» Wolverine’s Film History In Photos
» Should Patrick Stewart Return as Charles Xavier?
» How Much Does Continuity Matter?
» The Value of Bryan Singer
» Talking “Wolverine” With Chris Claremont
» Claremont Looks Back on “Days of Future Past”
» Why “Wolverine” Should Stick To His Own World
» Hopes For A “First Class” Sequel
» The Status Of “X-Men” On Film