Latest posts by Nat Brehmer (see all)
- Endangered Species: Why One Of the Best Spider-Man Stories Ever Told Is About the F#%ing Rhino - 4th January 2019
- “It’s Never Enough”: Obsession, Sexuality & Fetishizing Family in Hellraiser - 15th December 2018
- Dream Generation: Teenage Rebellion and Subverting Slasher Tropes in A Nightmare on Elm Street - 14th December 2018
Spoilers for Deadpool 2.
Mister Sinister isn’t in it.
End of spoilers for Deadpool 2.
This probably won’t seem like a big deal for most people, as most people generally aren’t aware of who the character is. The MCU did a fantastic job of setting up Thanos as a villain that people outside the comics were not familiar with, but became familiar with simply through the leg work done by the films to establish him as a serious threat. Unfortunately, the X-Universe hasn’t quite nailed that down. Part of that is a good thing. These movies are much more standalone than the Marvel ones. There are references made to Logan in Deadpool 2, but not on the same level of what people genuinely find in an MCU movie. The references aren’t there to establish continuity between the two, if anything, they’re made in order to distance one thing from another.
Because of that, it’s harder to build up a villain over multiple movies. This is the third film in a row that the Essex name has appeared in. But people aren’t really picking up on it. In X-Men Apocalypse, the name of the Essex Corporation is introduced in a post-credits sequence, when they show up at the Weapon X lab to retrieve a sample of Wolverine’s blood. That tease is slightly fulfilled in Logan, when it is revealed that the Essex Corporation used that blood to create a clone of Wolverine, X-23. Deadpool 2 names a nefarious orphanage that runs illegal experimentation on mutants after Essex as well.
What does “Essex” even mean and why do we care? Well, it’s derived from Nathaniel Essex, the real name of longtime X-Men villain Mister Sinister. That might not mean much on paper, but Sinister is one of the most fascinating, endearing and above all different X-Men villains ever created. Most adversaries in the X-Men films fall into one of two categories, they’re either people who fight for mutant superiority without realizing the extreme lengths to which they’ve gone (Magneto, Sebastian Shaw, Apocalypse) or they’re bigoted humans who believe in exterminating mutants, enslaving them or generally treating them as less than human (William Stryker, Bolivar Trask). As great as these films can be, that sameness becomes extremely evident over the course of eleven movies.
But Mister Sinister is a completely different character, in terms of his goals. Even more importantly, he’s a character that fully bridges those two mentalities. Here’s a human being who, like so many others, conducts horrific experiments on mutants, but who at the same time is working toward a goal of mutant superiority. He’s a mess of conflicting ideals and those almost always result in fascinating characters, if treated right.
First, let’s actually look at who this character is. Nathaniel Essex originally hails from Victorian London (which would make for fantastic, moody flashbacks), a scientist and Darwinist (even a contemporary of Darwin’s) from a time long before Darwin’s theories were accepted as the norm. He is dedicated to the concept of evolution and immediately recognizes the signs of evolution in the mutants he comes across in his travels, long before knowledge of mutants was even made public. Essex is in many ways the Victor Frankenstein of the X-Men franchise. He believed his peers were shackled by morality.
Essex would find young mutants who no one would miss (not tough as almost all of them were outsiders, most living as circus freaks) and bring them back to his lab, experimenting on them to test the limits of their mutations, as well as simply opening them up to see how they worked. He named these mutations in the DNA “Essex Factors” after himself, which means that the name of the X-Factor gene and therefore the ‘X’ in X-Men in general all stem from Sinister originally.
What makes Sinister such an interesting character is not that he was a Frankensteinian psychopath who experimented on mutants, nor his fascination with them, but his sheer envy. This is a man who wanted to be a mutant so badly that he experimented on himself, turning himself into a mutant, seeking help from (and playing Renfield to) Apocalypse, constantly updating himself, becoming an incredibly powerful and vicious monster in the process. That was, after all, the point. Chris Claremont, the man responsible for so many beloved X-Men characters and story lines, said that he based Sinister off of what he imagined it would look like if the embodiment of a child’s nightmare simply sprang to life.
Those elements basically result in the Mister Sinister we know and love. A deranged Darwinist in origin, Sinister first looked like a goth Arnold Schwarzenneger before taking on the appearance of a vampiric Lord Byron. He’s vain and prissy, but calculating and cold, genuinely malevolent, but there was once a deep and sincere humanity to him that allows him to still maintain a sense of tragedy and internal struggle that X-Men villains need in order to be memorable. That’s the beauty of Sinister, though. By highlighting any one of these aspects of his personality, Sinister could be adapted as the villain for basically any project on the X-Universe slate.
He’s perfect for the vibrant tone of Deadpool—and also rife for its particular brand of commentary—he could be tailor made for the full-blown horror vibe of New Mutants and perfect for the general X-Men franchise as well. There’s never a bad time to introduce Mister Sinister, and that’s what’s so puzzling. What’s taking so long? It’s been suggested that they’re playing the long game with this character, but he’s not a character that actually needs it. This isn’t Thanos, where the stakes are the destruction of half the universe and he requires each of the Infinity Stones to be introduced before him.
Sinister could come in at any time. There’s no need to wait and yet the films keep haphazardly teasing him—in a couple of great movies, granted—for no real reason at all. It doesn’t feel like there’s an actual game plan. It feels like they keep making the decision to introduce him and then changing their minds at the last second. And as someone who loves this character deeply and dreams of seeing him actually make it to the screen, that would be such a sad place to wind up.
But it’s clearly where we’re already going. It was recently revealed that Josh Boone actually came up with a post-credits stinger for The New Mutants in which he is introduced Jon Hamm as Sinister, but the scene was cut from the finished film. This is devastating to hear because Hamm would be pretty perfect in the role, and also because the film is still a year away so the decision to cut Sinister out altogether feels pretty final. There’s been some vague insistence that there are still plans for Sinister in the movies, but no real evidence to support that. One could remain hopeful, but after already appearing once and being cut out, it truly doesn’t look good.
Even still, Sinister could easily fit into any of the proposed or in-development X-Movies coming down the pipeline. He’s an important character in Gambit’s past, with Gambit having once served among Sinister’s marauders, so it would make sense for him to appear in the Ragin’ Cajun’s solo outing. He’s also pivotal to Cable’s origin, which could mean the character could potentially appear in a possible Deadpool 3 or even as the main villain in the eventual X-Force movie, which seems the most likely scenario at this point in time.
Being such a central X-Men villain could mean that the character could appear in the main series of X-Men features, but this is a rare case in which the biggest franchise is the most uncertain. There’s no real word on where the actual X-Men films will go after Dark Phoenix. It’s possible they’ll end altogether, with the whole ensemble being recast if the Disney/Fox merger goes through. But it’s also possible that the younger cast will continue on for several more movies, which could actually be an enticing prospect, considering the obsession that has driven Sinister for years.
Yes, Sinister is an obsessive character by nature. It’s his obsession with genetics and mutation that caused his transformation in the first place. But it could also be used as an interesting tool to almost make the character a stand-in for the fans themselves, because sometimes that’s what it feels like. In essence, Sinister is the ultimate fanboy. He’s someone who is so entrenched in this world, a world that doesn’t necessarily belong to him—when you look at it, he basically appropriated being a mutant—and that he feels nonetheless entitled to. Anyone is welcome to appreciate mutant culture, but Sinister feels an unfounded ownership of it.
He has even spent much of his life devoted to a single ship. Sinister is obsessed with the pairing of Cyclops and Jean Grey and the potential genetic offspring that the two of them could create. All he wants is to see those two together, to see the Summers bloodline thrive, to the point where he basically creates their future son, Cable, as his OC, his living fan-fiction and even clones Jean Grey to do it. Mister Sinister is Tumblr made flesh.
There is so much potential for Sinister on the big screen and it would be great if the respective teams behind the X-Men film slate would take note of that. This is a twisted, vain, eccentric and genuinely scary character who deserves a shot at the spotlight. If they actually are working toward introducing that character in the right way, more power to them and I can’t wait. But if an introduction was already filmed and scrapped, it just seems like the love for the character isn’t there, or at the very least, that they don’t understand why he might be so important.
I have no doubt that there are going to be fantastic X-Universe films to come. The solo films are absolutely crushing it, and as someone who grew up loving these characters it is still stunning to think that one of these features was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar. If Mister Sinister doesn’t factor into the plan, I guess I’ll live. I already have to walk into each of these movies by giving myself an anti-pep talk and saying “Hey, he’s never gonna be there, it’s not going to happen, so just get excited for the things you are going to see.”
But I still can’t help but feel like there’s a wealth of promise and potential in this one character that, if handled right, could take any of these connected properties in a bold and refreshing new direction.