6:45am PT by Richard Newby
How the X-Men Could Fit Into the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to discover the X-gene. With Dark Phoenix, 20th Century Fox is preparing to say goodbye to its stable of merry mutants while Disney prepares to welcome them into the fold following the impending acquisition of one of Hollywood’s oldest studios. Although Fox still has the eternally shuffled film The New Mutants on the horizon in August, it's entirely possible Disney could decide not to give it a theatrical release. No other mutant-related films will be going into production at the studio. The long-gestating Gambit starring Channing Tatum, X-Force and Deadpool 3 will all be at the mercy of Marvel Studios soon enough, and it’s almost certain that none of these projects will be handled as originally envisioned. With the deal between Disney and Fox rumored to close sometime this month, it’s worth considering when audiences should expect mutants to start showing up in the MCU. They’re definitely coming eventually, but in what form and at what rate they’ll be introduced remains to be seen.
Just to clear the air before we start discussing X-Men at Marvel studios, I’ve long been of the mind-set that Marvel Studios should have shared access to the Fantastic Four and all the cosmic characters associated with them, while X-Men, and their mutant spinoffs should remain at Fox. That notion is of course a moot point now, but there’s been a lot of noise from MCU fandom in recent days about its anticipation for Fox to be done with the mutants. This tin-eared commentary has run the gamut of suggesting that Marvel Studios is the only studio capable of making successful superhero movies, to ill-conceived hopes that Dark Phoenix fares poorly at the box office. So while it’s inevitable that Fox will soon be finished with the X-Men, I want to approach their entry into the MCU with respect for a 19-year-old franchise through which some of our great comic book movies have emerged, and without which there would be no MCU. Studio 20th Century Fox, and the X-Men franchise specifically, has provided a lot of people with jobs and careers, so while there are certainly interesting discussions to be had about the future of Marvel Studios, and there will be plenty of movies to look forward to, I want to encourage that we approach this as a celebration of the potential of X-Men as characters, rather than a celebration of a business decision that will cost people their jobs.
Following Marvel's landmark deal with Sony Pictures, it only took two years for Marvel Studios to introduce Spider-Man into the MCU with Captain America: Civil War (2016). Due to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) falling below box office expectations, Sony struck up a deal with Marvel Studios that allowed Spider-Man to appear in the MCU, with film appearances and solo entries overseen by Marvel boss Kevin Feige, while Sony maintained marketing and distribution. Although Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox is a very different animal than its deal with Sony, Spider-Man’s inclusion might provide a timeline though which we could expect mutants to show up in the MCU.
It’s no secret that Marvel Studios’ post-Avengers: Endgame plans are already shaping up to include quite the lineup of films. Right now we’re looking at Spider-Man: Far From Home, Black Widow, The Eternals, Shang-Chi, Black Panther 2 and Doctor Strange 2. And going by box office tracking, there’s certain to be a Captain Marvel 2 in that lineup as well. Going by Marvel’s current strategy of three films a year, one new property and two sequels, these films could all potentially be out by 2021, or 2022 if something else we don’t know about moves to the forefront. It stands to reason that we’ll see mutants in the MCU in two to three years. If Marvel decides to go for four films a year, as Feige has suggested it might do, then we might be looking at an even shorter timeline. But is two years enough of a gap to introduce new versions of characters audiences have grown familiar with for almost 20 years (with a soft reboot or two)?
Despite what certain vocal sections of fandom might have you believe, Fox’s X-Men are not at all unpopular with audiences. In fact, the franchise, which had never had an entry make more than $459 million worldwide before 2014, has only grown in the past five years. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) marked the central series' biggest success with $747 million worldwide. Deadpool (2016) raked in $783 million, and did so without securing a release in China, and its sequel Deadpool 2 (2018) raked in almost the exact same numbers. Logan clawed his way to $619 (2017) million worldwide. And even X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) made $543 million worldwide, despite critical consensus marking it as one of the series’ lowest rated, between X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). This is all to say that X-Men might not have as easy a time finding an audience as Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). While there’s certainly an appeal for seeing Wolverine go up against the Hulk, for many audience members, Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine and a new face might not be as easily embraced as our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Even with the MCU connection to draw people in, there may be reason for Marvel to err on the side of caution rather than going all in Marvel Studios’ Uncanny X-Men in two years.
Perhaps a smarter angle would be for the MCU to make Deadpool the first of its mutant lineup to introduce. While we expect Marvel Studios to recast the X-Men and cut ties with Fox’s iteration, I can’t imagine that Ryan Reynolds won’t be returning as Deadpool. Reynolds has made the character, and a familiar face, however covered up by prosthetics, might be a way to ease fans into the idea of the onetime Fox properties fitting in with the MCU. While Deadpool remaining R-rated in the MCU is questionable, at least in terms of a theatrical release, his presence could certainly strike a chord of confidence. The MCU could also rely on the fact that Deadpool’s continuity is less tied to the X-Men films, and if any character were to be aware of a studio transition it would be the fourth wall breaking Wade Wilson. Perhaps those R-Rated Deadpool films Disney CEO Bob Iger has promised could be separate from the MCU, while a better behaved, PG-13 version could still show up in MCU movies.
As for the rest of the X-Men, the MCU could introduce the concept of mutants, homo superior, as something new. While a small population of mutants may have existed for hundreds of years (ensuring that Marvel Studios could introduce Mister Sinister, Apocalypse, Wolverine, and a number of immortal mutants down the line), the MCU could present the increase in mutations as something recent in order to account for their lack of presence until now and provide reason for the X-Men’s current emergence. Their presence could be suggested through a number of films, leading into a full-fledged Uncanny X-Men film. With Carol Danvers having ties to Wolverine, the Starjammers and the Shi’Ar empire, a Captain Marvel sequel could be a fitting place to get our first introduction to the growing mutant population. Disney+ and its MCU TV series could also be another place to start planting the seeds for the X-Men, or at the very least a school for gifted youngers in upstate New York.
Marvel Studios has operated just fine without mutants, and audiences have been given numerous strong X-Men entries, so there’s no need to rush their entry into MCU. While Deadpool feels like a character who’s best struck on while the iron is hot and Reynolds is still nimble, the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom feel more pressing than seeing Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine and Jean immediately. The X-Men are coming, but until they do, let’s relax, appreciate the films we have and learn to miss these characters a little so that we can be wowed by their return.