So as you’ve probably heard, Disney bought itself something really nice for the holidays, and the charge has finally gone through. Like $85 billion nice. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but it’s the price tag placed on the film, television, and other miscellaneous media acquisitions the Mouse House and 21st Century Fox just uniformly agreed to in their separate shareholder votes today. While we won’t know the full effect this has on the industry—from television to the invaluable Fox Searchlight—until it actually goes through, which is still some months off with final reguatory hurdles that need to be passed, but as the DOJ signed off on the deal last month (with some caveats), it looks increasingly done. And as Bob Iger, the Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO, has already notified investors that the plan is to incorporate 20th Century Fox’s licensed Marvel IPs, notably X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Deadpool, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it looks like the mutants are headed home.
Regarding Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and Marvel’s First Family, Iger said earlier this year, “[The deal] provides Disney with the opportunity to reunite the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Deadpool with the Marvel family under one roof and create richer, more complex worlds of interrelated characters and stories that audiences have shown they love.” In other words, the MCU is getting all of the superhero rights, even to Ryan Reynolds’ filthy and R-rated Deadpool franchise. We’ve had issues with this prospect in the past, but as it’s going ahead, it’s time to consider just how to make the MCU and X-Men universes collide.
A Cosmic Crossover
The easiest solution might also be the messiest, but there is a certain simplicity to it: organically integrate the existing franchise of X-Men movies into the MCU. It’s not like Disney isn’t having this conversation.
Indeed, among Iger’s other comments, he signaled the desire to maintain the R-rated brand to the rather beloved Deadpool franchise that currently exists in the X-Men cinematic universe. Says Iger, “[Deadpool] clearly has been and will be Marvel branded. But we think there might be an opportunity for a Marvel-R brand for something like Deadpool, as long as we let the audiences know what’s coming, we think we can manage that fine.”
This is hardly confirmation that they intend to keep the current continuity of the frequently timeline-muddled X-films, but there’s at least an opening if they want an R-rated Deadpool franchise. After all, that already exists at Fox and is doing fine without any of Marvel Studios’ tinkering. And the idea of someone else playing the Merc with a Mouth besides Ryan Reynolds might be close to sacrilege at this point. In fact, Reynolds teased exactly that on Twitter by suggesting his foulmouthed alter-ego could make an uneasy but amusing addition to the Happiest Place on Earth.™
The simplest way to do that would be to have the existing X-Men universe crossover with the MCU, which is easier than it sounds. Admittedly, neither are natural bedfellows because the current X-Men franchise has created a rich in-universe history. Thanks to the last three “mainline” X-Men movies, we know that mutants have been public knowledge since the 1960s and have been involved in Earth-shattering events nearly every decade thereafter. They also go back all the way to ancient antiquity in Egypt. Conversely, the Marvel Cinematic Universe suggested Captain America is the the first superhero in the aptly named Captain America: The First Avenger, which is set during the 1940s. Other Marvel films have filled in events from the 20th century but mutants are nowhere to be found.
Yet the best answer for reconciling these differences is actually in the next X-film, X-Men: Dark Phoenix. That movie stars Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as the most powerful mutant in history whose godlike, cosmic gifts will even attract the attention of intergalactic aliens. And as that film has been suggested to leave room for a sequel, the following film could easily have the Phoenix causing a reality-tearing event that merges her universe with an alternate one where Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man plays love taps with Chris Evans’ Captain America. Think about it, Phoenix causes mutants to show up in the MCU, and thus becomes an instant threat to Marvel’s traditional heroes. Talk about an easy fast track to an Avengers vs. X-Men movie without a decade-long build-up.
Would that be messy? Maybe. Impossible? Not in a world that has already created two alternative X-Men movie timelines thanks to X-Men: Days of Future Past (which remains one of the most popular superhero movies). This would also allow Disney to absorb, in addition to Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool, a murderer’s row of talent already cast in the X-films, including Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Brolin (as flesh and blood Cable, not a CG-baddie), and rising newcomers like Turner, Maisie Williams, Tye Sheridan, and Anya Taylor-Joy. Not a bad deal right? Well…
Just Reboot It All
The next option, which is probably the most appealing to hardcore comic books fans (and perhaps Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige), is to simply give a hard reboot to everything. There is certainly precedent considering Marvel Studios integrated a Sony-produced Spider-Man into its mythos by starting from scratch and abandoning the Andrew Garfield-led The Amazing Spider-Man movies for a baggage-free Tom Holland.
Holland’s Spidey even opened bigger than The Amazing Spider-Man 2 when Spider-Man: Homecoming grossed $117 million in its first three days (up $26 million from Sony’s effort). This also would allow Feige to build the X-Men in his own image with no baggage from a universe where almost all the key parts have been cast (often twice). He also might find it easier to create his own Wolverine who won’t ever be tangentially connected to Hugh Jackman’s intimidating iconography (even if a cosmic event caused Logan to “live again.”).
It’s the cleanest route, and even Ryan Reynolds is replaceable. Iger spoke vaguely of a Marvel branded Deadpool, but that might be a franchise that has the MCU’s golden goose touch and none of the ownership Reynolds enjoys over the branded IP.
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Why Not Pick and Choose?
Still… it seems like a shame to throw out the baby with the bathwater in the X-adjacent films. While X-Men: Apocalypse was a disappointment, Deadpool killed during the same year, and we personally consider this year’s Logan to be the best superhero movie of the last five years. Granted, Jackman’s Wolverine is dead, but that film is so far removed from other superhero movies, it could continue its own saga as unencumbered by other continuity as Marvel’s supposedly connected (but otherwise cinematically ignored) adult-themed Netflix shows, such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
James Mangold received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay of Logan and is currently still planning an X-23 spinoff starring Dafne Keen. It would be pointless to throw that away. Similarly, summer 2019 will (finally) see the release of Josh Boone’s The New Mutants. If the reshoots intended to make it the actual horror movie it was marketed as are well received, and has little or nothing to do with the mainline X-films, it would be silly to not greenlight a sequel that, again like Marvel Television, can be autonomous from Feige’s carefully curated MCU. One that also continues the journey that Boone is setting out to tell in a horror-themed New Mutants trilogy. Plus, the sight of superheroes going to Hell (or “Limbo”) in a sequel is too groovy of a concept to pass up.
It is almost inevitable Feige and Disney would rather start from scratch with the straight-ahead X-Men films, no matter the quality of next year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix. It will be hard to replace the likes of Fassbender or McAvoy, but not impossible. But there really is no need to replace Keen, or Williams and Taylor-Joy in New Mutants, or especially Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. The smartest solution is to just let Reynolds keep doing his Deadpool thing in a “Marvel-R” while Feige starts from the ground up on the traditional X-Men IP, so it looks just like everything else in the MCU.
We won’t know the direction Marvel pursues for potentially years, but which would you like to see?