Is X-Men Joining the Marvel Universe Really a Good Idea?

Logan, Captain America Civil War and Deadpool - Split - Photofest - H 2017
There are potential downsides to the rumored Fox/Disney deal if it means films in the style of 'Logan' would be among the casualties.

As soon as the rumor of Disney buying 21st Century Fox first appeared on the internet, buzz about one possibility such an acquisition made possible threatened to drown out all other discussion on the topic. Could it be true? people asked. Could Marvel finally get control of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men movies again? Well, yes … but that might not be the best outcome for all involved.

There are two distinct elements to any potential merging of Fox’s Marvel properties and the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the narrative and the practical. Based on the reaction to speculation that a Fox/Disney deal is imminent, it’s obvious that fans are deeply excited about the former, and not really giving that much thought to the latter at all.

It’s easy to see why. Working out how to insert the Fantastic Four and X-Men mythologies into the MCU is a fun puzzle, with an end result that comic book fans have fantasized about for almost a decade now: a “complete” Marvel universe on the big screen. No wonder social media is abuzz with story ideas, continuity patches and casting wish lists. (As much as I may love the Fantastic Four and X-Men, my personal reason to be excited about this possibility is almost entirely based around the idea of seeing a Doctor Doom as melodramatic as the comic book version menacing anyone and everyone in the MCU. Don’t shame me.)

Less thought is seemingly being paid to what such a merging of the fictional universes would mean, however. It’s not that X-Men movie canon spanning the past 17 years would be dumped — but given how confusing and inconsistent that continuity has become, that would arguably be no great loss — nor that the cast of the current incarnations of the characters will likely be replaced. With the exception of Ryan Reynolds, it could be argued that Hugh Jackman was the only irreplaceable actor in the franchise, and he’s already stepped aside as Wolverine following this year’s Logan. (There have already been multiple onscreen versions of Professor X, Magneto, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, etc., making any and all future recasting seem far more palatable.)

No, the real problem is that Fox’s approach to the properties, specifically the X-Men ancillary properties, is unlikely to be duplicated if folded into the greater Marvel machine.

After all, Marvel’s entire selling point is that everything takes place within the same fictional universe. In reality, that’s proven to be a somewhat theoretical exercise — beyond Easter eggs, is there really any connection between, say, the MCU of the movies and Hulu’s Runaways or ABC’s Inhumans?  But the notion of the X-Men properties fitting into the MCU cuts down on the narrative possibilities that Fox has started to explore with projects such as The Gifted, Legion and Logan, which bypass the main timeline of the mythology to tell stories that require stand-alone worlds to work to their fullest potential.

Moreover, for all that Marvel’s output has attempted to experiment with tone and genre, there’s a sameness on display in each of its onscreen properties: the shows look alike in terms of visual aesthetic and their tonal range exists in a narrow spectrum between “slightly snarky action adventure” and “very snarky action adventure.” The studio has yet to evince any desire or ability to produce a Logan or, based on the distinctly horror-tinged trailer, next year’s New Mutants.

Similarly, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has played down any possibility of an R-rated Marvel movie, which might leave the future of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool series — one of the few Fox franchises that could have arguably continued under new management, given the character’s ability to simply tell audiences directly that he’s got new owners and a new universe to explore — in doubt. (Reynolds has even joked about the possibility of a more family friendly Deadpool under Disney, tweeting Nov. 6, "If this is true, I wonder how the fudge it would affect Deadpool?")

For all the fan excitement surrounding a potential Marvel takeover of the Fox/Marvel franchises, there’s an exchange that would happen few seem to be considering: Yes, Marvel is likely to be a safer pair of hands for these properties, and yes, it would be a chance to re-create the comic book universe onscreen. But what would be lost would be Fox’s at-times-confusing willingness to experiment and remake the properties, and because of that, the heights that come from something like Logan. That might be a price comic book fans are willing to pay — but what about the rest of the audience?