This past Friday, shareholders from both 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company officially approved Disney’s offer to buy a significant portion of 20th Century Fox. There are many reasons and benefits for Disney acquiring the rival entertainment company but one of them especially interests superhero fans. That is that now Disney and Marvel Studios can use the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties whose film rights were held by Fox. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the most formidable shared cinematic universe will now be a superpower and Marvel Studios will take full advantage of its acquisitions. So what lies ahead for Marvel Studios? Let’s explore.
Enter The Mutants
The X-Men are the biggest prize for Marvel Studios since they are very popular with fans and the mutants’ absence in the MCU has been glaring. That didn’t stop the film studio from producing quality films it is just that it annoyed many that the studio, which proved it cared about its characters, were unable to feature the mutants. Meanwhile, while Fox did put out some fine films like Logan and Deadpool, their films were hit or miss. At times it was obvious that Fox did not appreciate or understand the mutants and often the adaptations were not faithful, at best. Other times we were presented with dire schlock like X-Men Origins: Wolverine that did a textbook character assassination on Deadpool.
Now that Disney and Marvel have the mutants under their fold, the question is what to do with them? The Disney heads made it clear the mutants would be folded into the MCU though there is a good argument for keeping the mutants in their own separate universe. That is because a core concept of the mutants in the Marvel Comics is that they have existed alongside humanity for a very long time. For obvious reasons there hasn’t been any evidence of mutants to date in the MCU with the closest analogy being the Inhumans as shown on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans. So how could it be that mutants have existed in the MCU all this time? Where were they during the events of Avengers: Infinity War? A separate argument can be made for the MIA characters from the TV side of the MCU like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but that is another story.
The way forward is to have mutants being a recent phenomena in the MCU that came about from the events of Thanos’ finger snap in Avengers: Infinity War. Another is to tie them with the Eternals, a property that the film studio is reportedly exploring. The Eternals storyline about alien Celestials experimenting on prehistoric humans and leaving them with a genetic time bomb that explodes into mutantkind during modern times is an avenue worth considering. Or have it that mutants have existed all along, but are very rare and stay hidden, which would go nicely with Logan/Wolverine and Professor X, and that for some reason more mutants have become more prevalent. This mystery could be explored over several films, perhaps as post-credit scenes. Being that it will take some time to properly redo the X-Men, mutants could be gradually introduced in other films and the fourth MCU phase could culminate in an Avengers vs. X-Men film. That could be a perfect way to launch a new series of X-films.
A casualty of the Disney acquisition are the upcoming Fox mutant films Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants. Both were supposed to come out this year, but have been delayed until next year. The latest rumors have it that both films are considered by insiders as bad as the infamous Fant4stic and that they may be scrapped altogether or be dumped on streaming services. It’s too early to say but the films now seem like unwanted children without any future. Dark Phoenix will be the swan song of the proper Fox X-Men films and it might not even feature the word “X-Men” in its final title to avoid associations with future MCU X-Men films. The New Mutants has gained the stink of being a troubled film laden with extensive reshoots and that doesn’t bode well. Its fate may depend on how Dark Phoenix fares. If Dark Phoenix fails, whether as a theatrical release or a streaming release, then expect The New Mutants to disappear like the infamous Roger Corman film version of the Fantastic Four.
The Fab Four Return
Speaking of the Fantastic Four, the superhero team are the other significant gain by Marvel Studios. Unlike the X-Men, it will be easier to fold them into the MCU, partly because there are fewer characters (plus, easier to cast) and also because the property has many possibilities. An easy fix is that the Fantastic Four could just have gained their powers only recently and are recent additions to the MCU. Another could be that they first formed decades ago but never gained prominence because they were lost in another dimension (the Negative Zone? A possible source of their powers. How about the quantum realm seen in Ant-Man and the Wasp? That film explored the idea that the dimension changes you as seen with the Ghost and Janet Pym.) Or they somehow time-traveled forward to modern times. This angle could be played for laughs and a way to do the fish-out-of-water scenario as the Fantastic Four adjust to modern life, something that the Captain America films glossed over.
As with Spider-Man and Black Panther, the Fantastic Four could be introduced in another MCU film, that way the studio can see how audiences and fans react to them. Rumors have it that Marvel Studios is planning on introducing the Silver Surfer to its upcoming films, maybe this event could happen in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. The controversy over the firing of director James Gunn could provide Marvel Studios an excuse to delay production of the third Guardians film in order to rewrite Gunn’s first draft script to include the Silver Surfer. Guardians of the Galaxy has been instrumental with introducing the cosmic side of the MCU, Perhaps the Fab Four can pick up the mantle and further explore the cosmic MCU. Being that the team is from Earth and are, at heart, explorers, their films would be the perfect vehicle for introducing the wild Marvel Comics space concepts while anchoring them to Earth.
Thinking about it, there are more references to the superhero team in the MCU than expected. Black Panther and the Inhumans, residents of the MCU, made their debuts in the Fantastic Four comic books. Meanwhile alien races and characters featured in MCU films were also introduced in Fantastic Four stories. These include Adam Warlock (referenced in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2), the enigmatic Watchers (same film), and the Skrulls (to be featured in Captain Marvel). In fact, many fans believe there is a Galactus Easter egg in Guardians of the Galaxy! A popular speculation has it that the Avengers Tower will become the Baxter Building or Four Freedoms Plaza. The film Spider-Man: Homecoming had it that the building was sold but it was never mentioned to whom. It could very well be that the buyer was Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four.
A big bonus coming from acquiring the Fantastic Four is that Marvel Studios now has access to some of Marvel Comics’ greatest villains. Imagine what the studio will do with Dr. Doom, Annihilus, and Galactus! They could be the big baddies threatening the entire MCU in future films and will easily rival Thanos in terms of threat levels. The coming of Galactus to Earth or Doom being the main villain in a possible Secret Wars film would excite fans in a way not seen since the announcement of Avengers: Infinity War. These threats will be the perfect way to have the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four joining forces. If people thought Avengers: Infinity War was an epic event, they haven’t seen anything yet. 😀 On a side note, the classic first battle between the Hulk and the Thing seen in Fantastic Four #25 would be a great way to have the Fab Four and the Avengers first meeting each other.
The possibilities are endless for what Marvel Studios can do with both properties. At last, fans will get more faithful adaptations of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. The only word of caution is that Marvel Studios should not ignore its other, lesser-known properties for the new kids. Its inability to use Marvel Comics’ popular characters enabled the studio to introduce the world to the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and increase the popularity of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Will that continue with the influx of new characters? It is difficult to see how they can do this and maintain its level of quality. Also consider that there are only so many films that can be produced in a given year and since Disney spent billions to get these properties, the entertainment giant will want to see a ROI as soon as possible. It’s a delicate balancing act, and there will be missteps but the future is bright and very exciting for fans.
José Soto and Lewis T. Grove