The world of the X-Men is vast and filled with many different mutants who all have interesting stories, but one stands out among the rest. You might know him by the name Nightcrawler or Kurt Wagner, but audiences know him best by his blue complexion and swishing tail. This German teleporter holds one of the most intriguing and heartbreaking mutant stories of any character on the big screen.
He has been in the two most recent “X-Men” films, “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Dark Phoenix,” where he was portrayed by Kodi Smit-McPhee, and was featured 16 years ago in “X2: X-Men United,” played by Alan Cumming. In those three films, he was a side character, getting the stars of the film where they needed to go in a quick puff of smoke, even though he’s one of the biggest heroes among them.
He saved Charles Xavier from Apocalypse in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” as well as his whole team from a plane crash. His character, along with Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, were the fan favorites of the film for their cheery demeanors and sweet personalities. His abilities are used frequently throughout “Dark Phoenix,” but that is the most audiences see from Nightcrawler.
Sadly, his past is rarely discussed, and his abilities never fully examined. There is a lot that’s been left off screen, but just enough to set up and hint at his story during his supporting roles that would lend itself greatly to a Nightcrawler movie.
In the comics, Nightcrawler was raised by a circus in Germany after being taken in by his adoptive mother. There he learned to use his heightened reflexes and flexibility to be an acrobat; this is where Kurt Wagner first got the name Nightcrawler.
In the small German circus, he was happy, accepted and beloved by audiences who thought his appearance was just a costume. His happy life didn’t last long, however, when the circus was bought by a rich American. He forced Kurt to be part of the “freak show,” drugging and imprisoning him in a cage.
After Nightcrawler was finally freed, he returned to Germany only to find out that his adoptive brother had gone mad and murdered several people. As it goes in the comics, his adoptive brother feared this would happen and had begged Kurt to stop him. The two fought and Kurt unintentionally killed him. The villagers soon found them and accused Kurt of all the killings. They tried to burn him at the stake, calling him a demon despite his strong Catholic faith and kind heart.
It is then in the comic where Professor Xavier saves him and recruits him for the X-Men, offering him a home at his school for gifted youngsters. He goes on to be a part of the superhero team, armed with a sword both in his hand and in his tail. Eventually in the comics, he learns the truth about his birth parents and has many altercations with both them and his half-siblings.
Some of his past has been hinted at in the film adaptations. In “X2: X-Men United,” Kurt proudly proclaims he was part of the circus, and it is during the cage match scene in “X-Men: Apocalypse” that it is revealed that he was either sold by or stolen from the Munich circus and given to the mutant fighting ring — the fact that he was kept in an electrified box suggested it was against his will.
During a scene in “Dark Phoenix,” Nightcrawler tries to get to Professor X, but something prevents him from doing so. When he finally reappears, Xavier asks if he’s all right and a stunned Nightcrawler only shakes his head. It is possible that in this moment he was stuck in another dimension. When Nightcrawler teleports, he travels rapidly through a plane filled with demons, which is why he reappears in a cloud of smoke that smells of brimstone.
The idea of Nightcrawler being trapped in a realm with demons would lend itself to a good film. The biggest set up for a Nightcrawler film, however, would be the revelations of his birth parents. During “X-Men: First Class,” it seemed like they were setting the stage for Nightcrawler by having both of his parents on screen. The similarities between Nightcrawler and his birth father are striking when put side by side.
The red teleporter, Azazel, from “X-Men: First Class” shares almost the exact same characteristics as Nightcrawler. He and his late father share the same pointed ears, fangs, yellow eyes, prehensile tail and, of course, ability to teleport within a cloud of smoke. In the comics, Azazel is a very old biblical mutant who was banished to the realm of demons Nightcrawler teleports through, and over his long life, he has fathered many children hoping to use them to open a portal to that world — just another part of Nightcrawler’s story a movie could explore.
In the movies, Nightcrawler also has swirling marks on his face, which are the only part of his features not related to his mutation. The markings were established in “X2” as self-inflicted scars meant as penance for his “sins,” namely his appearance.
The fact that the markings carried over to the younger, rebooted Nightcrawler means that the kid began self-harming at a young age — another storyline a film could explore, or at the very least include. The only physical difference between the villain Azazel and the hero Nightcrawler is Kurt’s three fingers, toes and skin tone; his blue color he gets from his mother.
Mystique, or Raven, is Nightcrawler’s biological mother and one of the main reasons Nightcrawler probably won’t get his own movie. In some versions of the comics, Mystique was hiding in Germany under the appearance of a baroness when she gave birth to Kurt. He was born blue with his three fingers, fangs and tail, and it forced Mystique to go on the run. She was angry with her son for the safety and luxury he costed her, so she threw him off a cliff. In others, she and Azazel were running from an angry mob and had no choice but to leave their son. In the show “X-Men: Evolution,” Magneto had been experimenting on Nightcrawler when Mystique fled with him, only to be trapped by Magneto’s wolves on a bridge, forcing her to drop the blue baby over the edge in an attempt to keep him safe. No matter the version, Mystique is his mother and she abandoned her son.
But knowing about that mother-son relationship changes everything between the two characters. It would add another layer to the moment where she saves him from the fight ring and the one scene they share together in “X2,” where Nightcrawler asks her why she doesn’t hide her appearance despite being able to. But more importantly, it changes how audiences would look at Jennifer Lawrence’s “hero,” Mystique.
What follows does contain spoilers for “Dark Phoenix.”
In the first part of the film, Mystique talks quite a bit about family. She says more than once that the X-Men are her family, but coupled with the fact that she has never breathed a word to Nightcrawler about his father or being his mother, she comes off as very hypocritical. She even talks about leaving him and the rest of the team later in the movie. If it wasn’t for needing his abilities in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” she never would have stayed with her son and never would have brought him to Professor X. One could argue that Mystique doesn’t know Nightcrawler is her son, but his appearance is too distinct to forget and too much like his father’s to ignore.
For a movie that marketed itself with the tagline “Every Hero Has A Dark Side,” it was a shame that this big comic villain didn’t have one of her darkest moments examined or even acknowledged. “Dark Phoenix” holds her up as this flawless hero that wanted the best for her “family,” but never once does it look at her actions toward her real blood relative. This might be because she was killed in the early parts of the movie, or it could be that the actress, Jennifer Lawrence, didn’t want to play the villain or embrace the darker parts of Mystique’s complex character; perhaps the creative team decided against it. She didn’t have to be a villain to have abandoned her child — it would have only added to her character. The omission subtracts from what “Dark Phoenix” could have been as whole.
No matter the case, the decision to exclude Nightcrawler’s tragic beginnings from the film and the death of Mystique puts a halt on any future developments between the characters. There was no cathartic scene where Nightcrawler finds out the truth and Mystique must face her mistakes like Xavier faces his own in “Dark Phoenix.” Nightcrawler won’t have a chance to reconcile with either parent. Her death cuts a large part of his story off before it can start. He’ll never get to see how closely his struggle with his demonic appearance reflects Mystique’s own struggles in past movies.
But it’s not just Mystique’s sudden death that will keep a Nightcrawler film from being produced.
The X-Men Cinematic Universe, or the XMCU, have attempted solo “X-Men” films before, or rather, Wolverine got a lot of movies and some didn’t do well. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was released in 2009, and its poor reviews put a halt on any other solo “X-Men” films. But, 10 years later, “Dark Phoenix” put a crack in that trend. The movie primarily focuses on Jean Grey and her past while the team tries to help her, reestablishing the idea that “X-Men” movies can focus on one team member.
“Dark Phoenix,” however, is the last movie that will be produced by Fox. Disney now owns the rights to the X-Men characters, finally holding all the Marvel cards. Disney has not released any upcoming plans to produce an “X-Men” movie any time soon, and due to “Dark Phoenix’s” poor box office performance, it is unlikely that Disney will use these characters in the near future. Not to mention, there are several problems within the XMCU’s timelines.
Nightcrawler’s story is one that more people should know. Between the abandonment from both birth — and mostly villainous — parents, his extremely visible mutation (a rarity even among mutants), mixed with his religious beliefs, depths of source material including his time as a pirate, his innocent and sweet personality, his skills with a sword and all the cool fight moves he can do with his teleporting and his tail, Nightcrawler is one of the most interesting and underused X-Men characters. Audiences know the story of Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto and now Jean Grey. Nightcrawler would be the breath of fresh air the franchise needs.