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When The X-Men Finally Debut In The MCU, Gambit - Not Wolverine - Is Their Ace In The Hole

The X-Men are coming to the MCU. We know it, and Marvel Studios knows we know it. But when they come, somebody new has to be leading the charge ... or, shall we say, charging the card.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was the most reliable staple of the 20th Century Fox era of "X-Men" films, whether he was leading gritty solo projects or fighting in explosive post-apocalyptic battles with the rest of the team. Jackman's portrayal is among the most iconic in superhero movie history — every bit as gruff and lovable as the comics version — but that character's legacy is now inextricably tied to the prior series. Now, as the X-Men get ready for their first huge reboot since 2000, there's another popular mutant who has never had his chance to shine on the big screen, and whom should be the centerpiece of this relaunch.

Gambit is every '90s kid's cult favorite X-Man. On film, though, his legacy is lackluster — just a bit role in the worst Wolverine movie, and a Channing Tatum spin-off that never materialized. In the comics and animated series, Gambit boasts a complicated history, interesting abilities, and a riveting romance with Rogue. He's also rebellious and independent in a way that's different from Logan, but just as interesting. And the fact that he was wasted by the Fox films makes a potential MCU version of Remy LeBeau into a blank slate for this next era. To filmgoers, Gambit would be new. To fans of the classic 1997 animated series, Gambit is pure nostalgia. Most importantly, Gambit is the kinetically-charged secret to success that will usher in a new era of mutants in a fresh and exciting way.

Gambit is the ultimate symbol of an entire generation's nostalgia for the 1990s X-Men cartoon

In the groundbreaking "X-Men: The Animated Series," Gambit (Chris Potter) was a character whose popularity threatened to eclipse even Wolverine. At the time a newcomer to the comics, the animated Gambit was featured as one of the team's most central members, playing a pivotal role in the unforgettable series premiere "Night of the Sentinels," when he tries to save scared newbie Jubilee (Alyson Court) by guiding her away from the targeting Sentinel robots. As Jubilee is the show's audience surrogate, her fast friendship with Gambit left countless viewers feeling just as attached. Later on, in the action-packed two-parter "Days of Future Past," he takes charge to find the doppelgänger assassin that's impersonating him and tarnishing the reputation of mutants everywhere. 

Oddly, the live-action films never did much with Gambit — but that's to the advantage of the MCU. While the rollout of the mutants has been slow, thus far, it's clear that Kevin Feige and co. are aware of the nostalgia surrounding the 1990s animated series, as made evident by the way they subtly infused the famous theme song into properties like "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and "Ms. Marvel" whenever the topic of mutants emerges. They're even giving us more 1990s "X-Men" content by continuing the esteemed animated series with a continuation, "X-Men '97."

This leaves Gambit as a very interesting blend of new and familiar to the general public. Millennial fans of the cartoon loved him, and they'd be excited to finally see him take a big role. Meanwhile, for movie fans, Gambit would essentially be an exciting new wildcard — particularly if used as a lively point of entry character, like Logan in the 2000 movie. 

The Fox X-Men films barely tapped into Gambit

You may remember the brief and underwhelming role Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) had in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," where he made the mistake of getting between Logan and his archenemy Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber). Or maybe you don't remember it, which is understandable, considering his much-hyped arrival is cut short when the main star knocks him out and fights Sabretooth single-handedly. 

Unfortunately, this moment also symbolizes Gambit's tumultuous road to the screen, led by "21 Jump Street" star Channing Tatum. Tatum was originally set to play Gambit in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," but wasn't able to due to his commitment to "G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra," which created a production scheduling conflict. From then on, he passionately fought for the character to get a solo film, but the project died in development hell. For Gambit, his live-action legacy is an agonizing series of almosts. 

With that in mind, it's past time the powerful mutant finally got his due. Unlike Wolverine, whose entire backstory was deeply explored over the course of his two decades on film, Gambit will be a clean slate if he appears in the MCU's new incarnation of the X-Men. A film has never tapped into his mysterious backstory with the Thieves Guild, his redemptive arc from villain to heroic team player, or even his playful rivalry with Wolverine. Of course, there's one part of Gambit that's even more important than all of that, and also unexplored — and that's his passionate romance with Rogue. 

The great romance of the MCU X-Men should be Gambit and Rogue

Wolverine was the star of the last series, so the central romance was the love triangle between he, Jean Grey, and Cyclops. There's no point in retreading that ground. Instead, it's time for Gambit and Rogue.

Yes, Anna Paquin's Rogue played a prominent role in the prior films, but the shy, reserved version of those films is a far-cry from the fiery comics character. In those comics, the mysterious Gambit and the equally mysterious (and untouchable) Rogue immediately are drawn to one another, and share a powerful and electrifying connection. Rogue is the spitfire force that can wrangle in the Ragin' Cajun, who unconditionally loves her and isn't remotely afraid of her life-absorbing powers. In his mind, the risk is well worth the reward. The relationship between Rogue and Gambit is one that gives agency to both characters, adding new layers to each, and it's a far cry from the high school awkwardness of Rogue and Ice-Man (Shawn Ashmore). 

Going forward, Gambit and Rogue's relationship could be the cornerstone of the MCU's "X-Men" — because let's face it, it isn't an X-Men movie if it isn't also a soap opera. And while there's plenty of X-Men characters the MCU can give redemption to (Storm and Cyclops, particularly), a focus on Gambit and Rogue would be a great way to distance these new films from the Fox series, and set in motion a saga that will hopefully be just as iconic.