With the Disney/Fox deal expected to close in the first half of 2019, fans are eagerly theorizing what the Marvel Cinematic Universe will do with the Fantastic Four and X-Men characters when they “come home.”
A stream of statements from Marvel Studios to the effect that they haven’t made any plans for the characters coming over from Fox has fans understandably skeptical. And it is difficult to believe that the architects of one of the most successful modern film brands hasn’t at least run through some “what if” scenarios of how to deploy the significant number of valuable assets soon to come into their hands.
It’s understandable that fans and the entertainment press are eager for some indication of what Marvel Studios will do with the characters. But at present, Disney/Marvel and Fox are bound by regulatory considerations as to what they can say publicly. So until the deal actually closes, expect more of the same non-committal stance whenever Marvel Studios comments at all.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t speculate. For while Marvel Studios surely has a current game plan for their “Phase IV” starting next summer (after Avengers: Endgame), the studio has demonstrated its willingness to shift projects around its planned calendar to take advantage of opportunities. So that even if Marvel currently has a plan in place that doesn’t account for the properties coming over from Fox, that could shift if circumstances warrant.
Of the two, the Fantastic Four would seem closer to actually appearing in a Marvel Studios movie. We’re now a couple years removed from the disastrous attempt to reboot the FF film franchise, which was not just a failure, but an embarrassing failure. And likely a significant mile post on the road to Fox’s decision to sell its movie and TV studios. With that recent bomb, and the tepidly received two-film series from a decade earlier, the FF doesn’t have a very strong cinematic image. Relaunching the characters into the MCU with new actors won’t have to overcome much in the way of fan sentiment.
In reality, the FF themselves are probably not the most immediate win for the MCU. Getting the FF into the MCU fold will clarify several “crossover” properties where both Fox and Marvel arguably had rights to use characters. For example, the upcoming Captain Marvel movie features the alien shapeshifter race the Skrulls. Those aliens were introduced in an early FF story, but have been used extensively across Marvel’s comic book line. Bringing the FF rights back in-house makes the use of Skrulls in the MCU cleaner (especially if, as has been speculated, Captain Marvel will plant the seeds for an adaptation of Marvel’s seminal Secret Invasion saga in the MCU). Other examples of this tidying up abound.
There’s actually a stronger possibility of the Fantastic Four’s number one villain preceding them into the MCU. Doctor Doom is an integral part of the FF mythos, but has also grown to become Marvel’s signature villain, a complex antagonist who has tangled with most of the comic line’s major heroes. Given the MCU’s ongoing issue with creating memorable villains, having Doom available would be a godsend. And a featured Doom appearance could pave the way for the FF to join the MCU, perhaps turning up in a cameo in Doom’s debut. Or even a featured supporting slot, similar to how the MCU introduced Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War before launching him into his own highly successful solo film. The success of its shared cinematic universe gives Marvel options to help ensure that the FF is well positioned to headline its own movies again.
The X-Men’s path into the MCU is more complicated. The X-films predate the MCU and, while critical reaction has been all over the map, the films have mostly been profitable (at least on a global basis). But the decade-hopping conceit put into place starting with X-Men: First Class has basically rendered the franchise’s continuity an unholy hash. Marvel’s not going to deal with that. So in spite of the optimistic comments from some involved in the X-movies, expect the forthcoming Dark Phoenix (which, depending on when the acquisition closes, could actually be released by Disney) to be the swan song for the Fox incarnation of the franchise.
There is a possibility that some pockets of the current X-movie universe could transfer to the MCU. Don’t look for Wolverine in the guise of Hugh Jackman; the actor has been emphatic that his retirement from the role is a done deal. And the cursed Gambit movie featuring Channing Tatum looks less and less likely to actually get made. But the Ryan Reynolds-led Deadpool sub-franchise is poised to make the leap. Those two movies have existed on the fringes of the X-movies anyway, they could easily shift into the MCU even if the bulk of the Fox franchise is scrapped. The issue there is whether the gleefully R-rated Deadpool can be a success within the strictures of the MCU’s PG-13 mandate. The recent holiday release of Deadpool 2 recut to get a PG-13 was a trial balloon, but it wasn’t exactly a significant factor at the box office, so that question remains open. But given the profits earned by the two Reynolds-led films, Marvel will be motivated to at least try to work Deadpool into the MCU.
A bigger question is the more-or-less completed New Mutants, not expected to be released until after the Fox acquisition is finalized. Not a lot is known about the movie at this point, other than that it’s tone is more “teen horror” than the typical superhero film. While part of the X-movie universe, it’s believed that it is self-contained enough that, should it prove to be a success, Marvel could import this fringe corner of the Fox franchise into the MCU without too much bother. Since Disney will likely be responsible for the release, it’s unclear if it will be positioned as an MCU movie or not. Even if it’s reasonably successful, Marvel/Disney might choose to walk away and focus their attention on reinvigorating the main X-Men team.
Like the FF, the X-villains might provide a logical entry point for the characters joining the MCU. Key foes such as Mystique and Sabretooth have long-established histories of tangling with non-mutant heroes. And while Juggernaut is closely tied to X-Men continuity, he’s likewise faced off against various heroes outside the X-books. Any could make for viable MCU antagonists.
But the likely key for the X-Men in the MCU will be Wolverine. In the comics, he has strong ties to numerous non-X franchises, serving a long stint as an Avenger and sharing history with key MCU characters like Black Widow and Nick Fury. With Jackman’s retirement from the role, a recast is necessary. It would make sense for Marvel to use the Black Panther blueprint and deploy the new Wolverine in a co-starring role before launching either a solo movie or building a new X-Men franchise around him. And given the MCU’s history of various heroes operating in secret, it probably won’t be that difficult to claim the various mutant characters have been there all along, they’ve just stayed under the radar.
There will be a lot of work to be done to integrate the Fantastic Four and X-Men into the MCU. While many fans are eager to see them as soon as possible, it could be wise for Marvel to move slowly and set the properties up for the same kind of success their existing franchises have enjoyed.