The dust has settled on Fox’s tenure as the studio that brought us the X-Men movies—a 20-year-old franchise that went from promising, to garbage, back to good, and then utter trash. With box office receipts all but confirming that the last movie in the series, the majorly panned Dark Phoenix, was not the coup de grace that it deserved. All negativity aside, the X-Men movies did introduce some creative ideas into the superhero movie lexicon; namely the spin-off movies. These side stories allowed the movies to live in different time periods in order to adapt popular stories from the comics with some of your favorite characters such as Deadpool 1 & 2 and Logan. Now this may have inadvertently screwed up the continuity of the series and had diminishing returns (X-Men Origins, anyone?)—but bear with me, we’re trying to be positive. Imagine everyone’s surprise when, during the supposed apology tour surrounding the failure of Dark Phoenix, longtime composer and editor of the X-Men series John Ottman revealed a script for a Beast solo movie titled X-Men: Fear The Beast. Catchy title, right? The movie finds Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy/Beast, who is struggling to control his own mutation, traveling to an Inuit village to save an old friend of his.
The biggest surprise about this script is that Ottman (and co-writer Byron Burton) don’t choose to go back in time, split the timeline, or do a huge time jump between Fear The Beast and canonically the previous movie in the franchise, 2017’s absolutely terrible X-Men: Apocalypse. After all, the First Class timeline is the best timeline—and allows us to keep central characters like James MacAvoy’s Charles Xavier intact. As stated before, the auteur-driven direction of the X-movies allows for different interpretations of these stories, and Fear The Beast definitely has horror elements weaved into what is conceivably its first two acts of this self-contained story.
The desolate location of Alaska gives a way for the main antagonist, Dr. James Cartier AKA Wendigo (whom Ottman describes in the script as “James Spader in a lab coat”), to stalk his prey and kill them in a multitude of bloody ways. The violence is perhaps the most shocking part of this script—it’s clearly going for a very hard R. Grizzly bears are dispatched and killed, and Beast & Wendigo brutally murder about 30 hunters in a huge set-piece towards the end. Aside from the horror and gore, I think the script does an admirable job at trying to create a story about an oft-forgotten character like Beast, which I think is a gift and a curse—because I can’t think of many people who’d care to give this a chance because he isn’t Wolverine.
Which brings me to my biggest negatives about the script—namely Ottman and Burton hitting the emergency button and releasing Wolverine Ex Machina for no damned reason. Yes, Fear of The Beast re-introduces Hugh Jackman, who “died” in Logan and forgot his memories after Days of Future Past, complete with the same cage fighting intro from X-Men. It’s perplexing in its narrative & financial obviousness; yes, you need to sell tickets and put butts in seats, but Wolverine’s inclusion is nothing more than a glorified third act cameo to help Beast, who is getting his ass kicked even with a super-powered upgrade he receives just moments before. The script even retcons his memory loss with a Xavier handwave that gives it back to him. It’s bad. There’s also the love interest in the movie—Anah and her daughter Bunkei—who are written so paper-thin that it’s jarring considering how the movies treat characters like Mystique and even Jean Grey. The ending stinger of Mr. Sinister is an interesting direction, but after the handling of Apocalypse, shouldn’t have left anyone with a good feeling about where this arc could have ended.
It’s hard to say where X-Men: Fear The Beast "could" have landed on a critical level. The first half is claustrophobic, scary, and oozing with atmosphere—while the last act devolves into the kind of limp spectacle that these movies are known for. It is interesting that Ottman, under the advisement of Fox, took the script to X-Men producer Simon Kinberg—who was working on Dark Phoenix at the time. He declined to even read it because he was also thinking of bringing Wolverine back in his movie as well. I have to commend his decision (he decided against bringing back Hugh Jackman in Dark Phoenix), but I have to wonder if this could have helped stave off the tepid reception of the movie had he embraced X-Men: Fear The Beast. With the future of the X-Men on ice for possibly a long time, it looks like we’ll never know.