Marvel Character Rights: Disney Buys Fox So Now What Does Marvel Do With the Fantastic Four and the X-Men?
Disney bought 20th Century Fox for $52.8 Billion. The Internet has been buzzing about the possibility of Marvel properties like the Fantastic Four and X-Men to “come home” to Marvel Studios and it’s looking like we’re finally getting that wise. Yes, to all you wet blankets out there, I’m away of some of the concerns around monopolies, big business corporate consolidation and other worrying topics. But here’s the thing: 2017 has been a real rough year for many of us so you’ll have to excuse me if I focus right now on the exciting possibilities of finally getting properly done X-Men and Fantastic Four movies.
So what now? Does Marvel Studios just fold the characters into Avengers 4? Well…let’s slow down a bit. First off, it's going to take at least 12 - 18 months for the deal to be finalized. Don't expect to see any major moves until that point. Fox already has plans for a bunch of X-Men related movies and production isn't stopping on those films any time soon. Just next year alone they have three movies scheduled: Deadpool 2, New Mutants and X-Men Dark Phoenix. Those creative teams are already set and honestly, nothing is going to change much there until there's some certainty. Dark Phoenix is supposedly planned to be the first of two parts and New Mutants is the beginning of a trilogy so don’t count on that changing at this point either. On the MCU side, Avengers 4 is ending filming soon, Black Panther is done, Infinity War is finished filming and Ant-man and the Wasp wrapped filming last month. So there are already at least 6-7 films already baked into both studios’s schedules. Between the deal not being finalized until December 2018/Mid-2019 and the schedules both studios already have, you're looking at 2020 as the earliest possibility for any major movement on films.
So what can we expect when the deal is actually finalized? Well first off, I think we’re dealing with two main categories: Fantastic Four related properties and X-Men/Mutant properties. Let me start with the Fantastic Four group because they’re the easiest.
I’m aware of the issue of Constantin Film owning the production rights to the Fantastic Four but I don't see it as a big deal. Disney just paid $52 billion to buy 21st Century Fox. Beyond just the comic book properties, Disney is looking to get their hands on assets they can turn into more profits. And comic book assets as well as sci-fi assets like Star Wars (Hello $220 million opening weekend), bring in the big bucks. So it’s ridiculous to think that they’d let something as silly as this stand in the way of using the first family of Marvel. They either continue the joint deal Fox had or they will just flat out buy the rights. Either way, the Fantastic Four are back.
So what does that bring? Obviously Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. But almost more importantly it brings Galactus, Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom. You could turn each of those into the big bad for each of the next two or three phases. Galactus and Silver Surfer obviously tie nicely into James Gunn’s cosmic Marvel plans. Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 & 2, he’s already introduced the idea of the Celestials and while Galactus isn’t a Celestial, he’s not too far off. It’s a ready made fit. And James Gunn seems to agree.
Doctor Doom opens up even more possibilities. Besides just conflict with the Fantastic Four and Avengers, you also now have Wakanda as a potential target as well. The fact that Wakanda has essentially been hiding their technological advances from the world, makes it easy to imagine that Doom’s Latveria has been doing the same. Doom has the potential to be a Loki-level villain in the MCU in that with the right actor, there’s a connection to fans and a longevity with his arc that could have long lasting effects.
Then there’s the 'First Family of Marvel' themselves. Several ways they could do it. The boring way is to once again try to do an origin story for the Fantastic Four. It’s been done twice before and hasn’t turned out well. Instead, in Captain Marvel drop a reference to a young group of scientists/adventurers/heroes disappearing while conducting an experiment with a new form of space travel. Captain Marvel is set in the past so it’s easy to explain why the Fantastic Four have been missing. The reference doesn't even have to show the actors, it could be a headline from a newspaper clipping. Captain Marvel is set for a March 2019 release, so the timeline also works since the deal should be finalized or close to by then. Then in Avengers 4 throw in a post credit teaser with a portal opening and the Four coming through.
There’s a lot of options for adding in the Fantastic Four and the other characters attached to them. They all fit very nicely in the MCU and can be added at any point.
Adding the X-Men into the MCU is a bit more of a challenge. I’m not saying it can’t be done but there doesn’t seem to be any really easy options. First, let’s define what the X-Men are because I think a lot of talk about bringing them into the MCU really underestimates the task.
Bringing in the X-Men isn’t like bringing in the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four are a finite number of individuals with pretty basic backgrounds. They were human, went into space, came back with powers. Pretty simple. The real task about bringing the X-Men into the MCU is more a question of how do you seed the MCU and its established history, with mutants? The history of mutants and homosapiens is part of the core of these characters.
Mutants have existed throughout the entire history of the world. En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse) is credited as the first mutant, worshipped as a God in many ancient civilizations. Magneto’s a Holocaust survivor who develops his powers later but being a Holocaust survivor is a KEY part of the character. Wolverine obviously has the Weapon X project but even before he was subjected the experiments, he has a long a rich history of exploits because his healing factor makes him virtually immortal. And all that’s before we get into the explosion of other mutants during the atomic age (i.e. Children of the Atom).
All that aside, the real issue that makes just dumping the X-Men and mutants into the MCU that doing so removes the sustain persecution and discrimination they face from humans. There are two theories involving mutants: They’re either the next evolution of homosapians or they’re a genetic defect. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, humans have never accepted mutants. From trying to find a cure to building giant robots to wipe them out, it’s all part of the “why” of the mutant conflict. Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is a direct response to human bigotry and Magneto’s promise of “Never Again”. You can’t just say “Mutants have been around, they’ve just been hiding.” It just doesn’t work or fit with the characters.
So how do you integrate the X-Men & mutants? I see three options.
Leave Them Separate
This to me is the easiest and obvious answer. When answering questions this week about the buyout, Bob Iger said that the Fantastic Four and X-Men would move under Kevin Feige at Marvel Studios. Folks assumed that meant full integration into the MCU but it doesn't have to be. As much as I complain about what Fox has done with the X-Men properties, the biggest problem to me has never been the lack of integration with the MCU's Avengers characters but rather the lack of direction and vision from the top. If Disney puts the X-Men films going forward under Feige's supervision then we could see the X-Men films improve while not technically in the MCU. The X-Men films have been underwhelming under Fox because they've been missing the top-down vision of a producer who truly understood the characters.
I’ll give you an example of how small changes from a producer who had a better understanding of the X-Men could have improved the current iteration in film. In First Class, instead of casting Jennifer Lawrence to be Mystique, they should have cast her as Jean Grey. Fox cast Lawrence before she blew up in popularity with The Hunger Game and they've been stuck ever since with a popular lead female character playing a character that was never meant to lead the X-Men. If she was Jean Grey from the beginning, there’s no issue.
But now I’m really going to mess your head up. Look at pictures of Nicholas Hoult and tell me that he’s not Scott Summers. Had Fox cast Hoult as Scott instead of Hank, they instantly turn the dynamics in their new X-Men series around and have two of the most important X-Men from the original cast played by pretty good actors who have great chemistry together. But what’s done is done. It’s too late to play what if now. However, that doesn’t mean this approach is dead in the water. If Disney reboots the X-Men team films after the Dark Phoenix two parter, they could then switch over to expanding the universe that was created in Deadpool. Deadpool has no real connection to the main X-Men films or continuity and has established that the X-Men characters exist (even has two in it). Marvel Studios could expand the X-Men franchise using the Deadpool continuity starting point while also giving fans the r-rated properties like Deadpool, X-Force, Multiple Man and more.
This is a best of both worlds type solution. Fans of Deadpool and “R-rated comic book movies” can continue to get those. And newer X-Men films can be PG-13 and not connected to the original timeline and yet be more in line with the source. This is honestly what I prefer. Even in the comic books, the X-Men's best stories don't really involve the other characters we've seen in the MCU. Yes there's some crossover with character likes Wolverine and others being on the Avengers. But a lot of that is more of a recent development. And outside of some forced relationships *cough* T'Challa/Ororo *cough* that don't need to happen, there's not a lot of reasons to integrate the two. Later down the line Marvel Studios could still print money with a one-off X-Men vs Avengers (which wasn't even that great of a storyline) type crossover but the more important part of the X-Men coming home is to finally get movies that accurately represent them.
Use the Infinity Gauntlet to Change Reality
Now to go from a pretty good option to my least favorite. With Infinity War coming out in 2018 and Avengers 4 coming in 2019, there’s speculation that Thanos could use the reality or time gems to somehow cause mutants (and as a result, the X-Men) to enter into the MCU.
This is one of those suggestions that I think probably looks good on the pages of a comic book but when it comes to translating them into a coherent movie that doesn’t lose general audiences, it’s a mess.
The biggest problem I have with this choice is that it assumes a reference point for the X-Men and mutants that just doesn’t exist. If this was 2008, this might work. But in 2017, what’s the reference point we use to bring in the X-Men that is universally accepted? There aren’t any X-Men cartoons out right now and the X-Men movie universe is a complete mess. Is Mystique still a founding member and leader of the X-Men? Is Angel dead? Is Alex still Scott’s older brother and is he also dead?
Sure, you could just wipe the slate clean and do a complete reboot but then you bring in a bunch of characters with no background and no time to explain it. And honestly, the biggest problem with this is that this just isn’t how Feige and Marvel Studios have operated. We now have about 10 years of history and examples of how Marvel Studios operates and shoving the X-Men into the MCU using the Infinity Stones seems completely outside of the realm of what they do. Yes, Marvel is getting access to a plethora of new characters but they’re not going to suddenly dump the carefully built MCU out the window in favor of the X-Men. It just doesn’t make any sense. One of the things we give Warner Brothers grief for is that they don’t plan anything for the DCEU out and get distracted by the “shiny object” i.e. a character’s popularity increasing.
Now I’m willing to admit that if Feige and his team decide to go this route, I’d trust them to work it out and make it work. But it also just doesn’t seem like the style of Feige and how he built the MCU.
Merge Two Universes
This is very similar to the first choice. Here, Marvel Studios introduces the concept of the Multiverse to the MCU (officially, not just a reference to a theory on Agents of SHIELD) and sets up the X-Men & mutants on another earth. We’ve seen this before with how DC has Supergirl on her own earth then brings her over for crossovers with the rest of the Earth-1 Arrowverse. And while DC is definitely better suited for the multiverse, Marvel’s no stranger to this, particularly after Hickman’s Avenger run that lead into Secret Wars in 2015.
Using this method, Marvel could spend a few years (and movies) building up the X-Men and expanding their world and relationships. Then they could set up a big Secret Wars type movie event, and use that to either crossover the characters or merge the universes together. I still believe the merging of the universes causes problems but in this case it can be resolved by slowing building up to that by walking audiences along through multiple build up movies. This pretty much gives Marvel the chance to reboot (and recast, sorry Alexandra Shipp) and expand the X-Men in their own set of movies then at the right time, bring them all under the MCU umbrella. I still think it's an unnecessary risk but it's less messy than option 2 (while still being messy).
Personally I'd go with options 1 or 3 for getting our Marvel Studios X-Men films but having watched Feige taking nothing and turn it into the biggest comic book movie franchise in such a short time, I have confidence in whatever choice they go with.
Overall, for Marvel movie fans this is an exciting time. The First Family of Marvel (and all their villains) and all the X-Teams are back in some way for Marvel Studios to play with. There’s a lot of options going forward and fans of these characters have a lot to look forward to.