So it’s finally happened! The X-Men and Fantastic 4 are joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) we’ve all come to love (or at least appreciate); though I would have thought Disney would simply acquire the rights to the characters, not buy the whole freaking studio (Fox). There’s a lot to unpack about this deal, and while it’s hard to argue that this is a good thing for cinema as a whole, this is an unqualified win for comic book movie fans.
Earlier this year, I wrote about some of the great things that Fox had been doing with their shared universe, pointing out that they had gone out and executed DC’s vision better than DC. That isn’t to say all their attempts have been successful. I’m less pleased with the X-Men movies (both classic and reboots) than the other contributors here at superheromovietalk.com, but I feel pretty safe in saying that Disney/Marvel has executed team-ups better than anyone else in the genre.
My main gripe has always been that the X-Men movies always feel like Wolverine stories with a bunch of boring supporting people in the background. Look, I love me some Logan; Hugh Jackman is likely the greatest actor/comic character pairing ever. Yes, I put him above Christopher Reeve/Superman, and Robert Downey Jr/Iron-Man. Maybe even better than Heath Ledger/Joker.
But the X-Men should be more than just Logan. There are many interesting characters to explore and various stories to tell, and what the MCU has succeeded at more than any other comic studio, is allowing each of its characters to shine.
The Timing of the Deal
The timing of this acquisition is interesting, and (if approved), will come at a perfect moment for both of these franchises. Marvel is racing towards the close of its Phase 4 with the sequel to Infinity War ending a story arc that’s tied the entire universe together since Iron Man (2008). With X-Men: Dark Phoenix next year, Fox ought to be finished with its prequels. That means in 2019, both houses of Marvel will be ready to clear the table and start something new.
This also could help Disney in its negotiations with many of the established stars in its stable. If Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth wants to step away or even just take a less demanding role (like Robert Downey Jr’s CGI-friendly Iron Man), the studio can simply focus on many of its fresh and newly-acquired faces like the X-Men or Fantastic 4.
What Will Happen to R-Rated Superhero Movies?
My biggest concern about this deal, is the potential loss of edgier films. The Avengers have been great, but the MCU has gotten rather formulaic. Fox, meanwhile, has set itself apart with its willingness to venture into R-rated territory, an approach that’s paid off in spades, both financially and creatively. Logan and Deadpool offered a much-needed breath of fresh air from the often PG-only MCU. Family-friendly is great, but there needs to be space for the grown-ups, too.
My personal hope is that Marvel merges both universes together, while allowing greater creative freedom (including R-rated stories and content) into its solo films. Maybe R-rated movies get released under the Fox banner to keep them a bit separate? I really don’t care how they work it out. As I said to Ja, all I want is a world where the X-Men can show up in an Avengers movie, but Wade Wilson can still curse and decapitate people in Deadpool 3. Is that too much to ask?
Quantity vs Quality
This leads to my next question: how many films a year will this new, expanded MCU be producing? In 2018, Disney is releasing three major comic book movies: Black Panther, Infinity War, and Ant-Man & Wasp. Fox will be rolling out three as well: New Mutants, Deadpool 2, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Post-merger, how many films a year can we expect? I’d hope that the number isn’t drastically reduced (not only because I like watching movies, but it would mean less work for many people). But at the same time, how realistic is it to expect Marvel to produce six superhero films a year, all of whom inhabit the same universe?
The next thing to ponder is how the MCU will bring the X-Men into its shared universe. If I had to guess, the most likely scenario would be to reboot the X-Men entirely. Maybe they would have tried some fancy footwork if Hugh Jackman were still suiting up, but with his retirement it’s probably simpler to just start from scratch. Alternately, they could work in some Thanos/Infinity Gem/Dark-Phoenix/Cable time-meddling, but that seems more convoluted than necessary. Just reboot everyone (except Deadpool) with a fresh cast and be done with it.
Once everyone’s together, the crew here believes that Galactus is the next logical big baddie for the MCU. I disagree. Hear me out: the MCU’s entire arc has been defined by a single, galactic-level threat that seeks to destroy the universe. Galactus would be more of the same. We don’t need another Thanos, at least not so soon. Instead, I think the Skrulls, the Fantastic 4’s race of shapeshifting aliens are the way to go. The Skrulls’ plot to conquer earth involves kidnapping and replacing politicians, superheroes, and villains, culminating in an intergalactic jailbreak, a massive Civil-War-esque showdown, and a shapeshifter with the combined powers of the Fantastic 4.
What I like about the Skrulls story arc, it provides the opportunity to tell a completely different tale—one where the motives (and identity) of the many characters are very much in doubt. Villains and heroes form uneasy alliances, and friends battle friends. It’s total anarchy! This would be a great change of pace from the “get the infinity stone, stop the bad-guy” routine. The newly-expanded universe that now include mutants, X-Men, the Fantastic 4, and all of their associated villains would be a great canvas for this type of infiltration. Plus, they’re an intergalactic threat, so there’s no reason they couldn’t wreak some havoc with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and wherever Asgardians now live (does Xandar have a homeless shelter?).
As big as the last few years have been for comic book movies, it’s crazy to think that the next two-to-three years may be even bigger and more groundbreaking. I can’t wait to see how this all shakes out!