Image via TimeTravel6000v2/Deviantart
Walt Disney owns 20th Century Fox. That’s the reality in which we now live after Thursday’s landmark deal was announced. The acquisition of Rupert Murdoch’s vast entertainment empire by Bob Iger’s company will have rolling effects on a huge number of properties, from Aliens to Family Guy. For comic fans, though, there’s only one thing worth geeking out over: the Marvel Cinematic Universe just got mutants.
And cosmic surfers. And a family of superpowered adventurers. And a merc with a mouth.
If it was earth-shaking when Marvel and Sony struck an agreement for Spider-Man to join the MCU, this latest move registers Galactus on the Richter scale. (Um, more on him later.) For the first time since superhero cinema become a bankable endeavour, the pride of Marvel’s vast catalog is back together under one roof. The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and all their related heroes and villains could now conceivably join the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Defenders, and all the other blockbuster creations that have made up the massive interconnected Marvel universe.
Which, when it comes down to it, is incredibly complicated. The X-Men and Deadpool are already well-established in their own world, and Marvel Studios has reportedly mapped out their series until 2028. Plans can adjust, though, and Kevin Feige’s team would be silly not to embrace the gift they got on the third night of Hanukkah. So the question now is how do they pull it off?
Well, we probably won’t know for a good while. It’ll be a year before the Disney/Fox deal really goes into effect, after all. One thing’s for sure, though, the MCU just got a whole lot bigger, and things are definitely going to start changing. Here are 10 ways how.
The X-Men are clearly the biggest aspect of all this, not only because of their stable fanbase and cinematic success, but because of the sheer number of characters involved in the X-brand. We’ve seen maybe 75 different mutants appear in the X-films to date, which is like a nickel next to a stack of hundreds compared to how many mutants exist in the comic books. Before Disney and Marvel Studios start worrying about introducing Boom-Boom or Doop (please, God, introduce Doop), however, they have to figure out how to fold the X-Men into a world that already knows the Avengers.
Since X-Men: First Class rebooted the franchise in 2011, mutants have been inextricably connected to world events like the Cuban Missile Crisis or that time Magneto tried to assassinate President Nixon. It would be inconceivable to simply add that mess to the MCU timeline, a universe in which superpowered beings didn’t really start emerging until the late 2000s. Yes, Captain America: The First Avenger was set during World War II and Captain Marvel will take place in the ’90s, but you can’t expect audiences to buy that Nick Fury only started trying to recruit remarkable people in 2010 when the X-Men were literally stopping the Apocalypse in 1983.
So, if you can’t simply say, “the X-Men were here all along,” what do you do? One answer would be the multiverse. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recently started fiddling with the concept, and both Ant-Man and Doctor Strange have already brought multiple dimensions into the conversation. If you really wanted to keep the current cinematic X-Men class alive in the MCU, ripping a hole through the space-time continuum might be a way to do it.
Ultimately, however, that would be a ridiculously complex path and likely unsatisfying. Time travel in the X-films has already made continuity a mess, and bringing in universe travel wouldn’t help matters. Besides, Hugh Jackman’s story as Wolverine ended beautifully with Logan (poor guy will never get that X-Men/Avengers crossover he wanted so badly), and though X-Men: Dark Phoenix was intended to launch a new trilogy, it’s probably a perfect way for the current incarnation of the X-Universe to end. So, perhaps it’s best to go the way of Spider-Man: Homecoming and go for a full reboot.
That way, you could sneak Wolverine into WWII with some nice retconning, lining the character up with Captain America just like in the comics. You could even have the sudden rise of mutantkind lead to an adaptation of the infamous Avengers vs. X-Men storyline — essentially the Civil War of team crossovers. (In the comics, it’s the return of the Phoenix Force that sparks the discord, but even if Dark Pheonix sucks, I don’t think audiences need a third adaptation of that story.) Imagine if the first X-Men MCU film pits a newly formed team against Magneto’s Brotherhood (movie one); in the destructive wake of the final battle, the Avengers are sent in to assess the threat (movie two). Misunderstandings and pride arise, and you’ve got two giant teams of heroes duking it out. After the Sokovia Accords, the characters’ internal conflicts would be even more heightened. Once the dust settles, you could have Beast, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, or any of the other X-Men who have historically also been Avengers switch teams (movie three). Scarlet Witch could even do the reverse (we’ll get there, folks).
It would have to be something that sets the rise of the X-Men parallel to the formation of the Avengers, just tucked in the background. Heck, maybe Professor Xavier actually gets inspired by Nick Fury. But there’s actually one character who might have already set that groundwork. A character whose story could be used as an anchor to lock both established universes together.
It’s almost ironic that the most R-rated aspect of this deal could be Disney’s best bet to introduce X-Men into the MCU. Though Deadpool is understood to exist within the X-Universe as we’ve known it, it’s actually pretty tangential. There are barely nominal references to the X-Men themselves, and the Colossus in Deadpool is completely different from any version seen in the main X-franchise. Plus, the way Wade Wilson shatters the fourth wall could easily be manipulated to explain how he’s able to know so much about both the XU and the MCU.
And here’s the kicker: Deadpool is sort of already in the MCU. The final battle takes place on a decommissioned ship that, to fans, is unmistakably a Helicarrier. Of course, at the time, FOX couldn’t call it that, so this was just some cheeky fan service by the filmmakers. Now, however, it could be used to set Deadpool sometime after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a movie in which three massive Helicarriers crashed in Washington, DC. You could even say some of Hydra’s targets in that film were mutants.
Iger has already said Disney isn’t planning on changing much with Deadpool, and even hinted that his inclusion in the MCU could open doors to more R-rated branding. (Maybe the Netflix shows will finally get their shot at the big screen!) As long as Deadpool 2 doesn’t throw too many wacky curveballs in terms of mutants’ standing in the world, it could be retconned into the MCU with minimal effort. Furthermore, with Cable being introduced in the upcoming film, time travel would already be an accepted MCU concept, something that would be crucial to a character later in this list.
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver
Beyond providing the clearest case for why you can’t simply fold the XU into the MCU (how do you explain two Quicksilvers?), these two might be a pre-established in to combine the franchises. What if instead trying to use the multiverse as a gateway for mutants, you posit that they’ve been there all along? Because of the convoluted way the rights were split, both Disney/Marvel and FOX had rights to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, though the former couldn’t call them “mutants.” The story in the MCU is that Baron Wolfgang von Strucker fiddled with Loki’s staff to infuse the twins with powers. How hard would it be to change it so the experiments didn’t give them abilities, but simply kickstarted their innate X-genes?
Much in the way Spider-Man was introduced via an Avengers film (which, let’s be frank, that’s what Civil War was), you could have Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) be the bridge across which the X-Men walk. Say she discovers she’s in fact a mutant, and learns that her father is one of the oldest mutants alive. She heads out on a journey to find him, only to discover he’s Magneto, a homo-superior supremacists who tries to recruit her in his upcoming war against humanity. That could either spark AvX, or be used as a way to bring together the first X-Men, whose inaugural mission is to rescue Wanda or help her stop her father.
As with any of this, it would take some chronology finagling. Maybe Wanda has known this for some time and has kept it a dark secret from her Avengers teammates. And of course, Magneto’s origins in the Holocaust are integral to the character, which brings up some timeline issues, though that could be explained by saying his mutant powers slow his aging (hey, it’s happened before). Still, it feels truer than having mutants suddenly appear post-Infinity War, introduces a code red-level villain in Magneto, and ties the existing MCU into the incoming one. It’s all going to be a bumpy ride, but this might be the smoothest route to a prolegomenous entry of the MCU X-Men.
Here are two films and franchises that are already well into development (X-Force) or poised for release (New Mutants), which makes things tricky for Disney/Marvel. If you can pull off the Deadpool retcon, X-Force, the black-ops X-team led by Cable, could actually be brought in without much straining. It’s impossible to know how far Drew Goddard, who’s signed on to direct and write the film, has gotten with the script, but hopefully it’s not so deep that making it MCU ready would require a complete overhaul. Ryan Reynolds has previously called the team film a “priority,” and if Disney hopes to keep the guy responsible for making Deadpool a household name happy, they’d do well to allow X-Force to go ahead as planned.
As for New Mutants, that’s already scheduled for an April 13th release date. Though intended to launch a new trilogy, it’s a fresh aspect of the XU, and it’s entirely possible Disney decides to drop future installments entirely. Still, if Josh Boone’s film manages to remain as distinct from the primary X-films as it appears to be, they may not have to. Like Colossus in Deadpool, there’s a new take on Sunspot here that doesn’t seem to match what we saw in X-Men: Days of Future Past, so it shouldn’t be too hard to say this already existed in the MCU. Plus, it’s a common argument that MCU films have become formulaic in their approach, so adding such a drastically different style to the proceedings would only be a good thing. Why not let the New Mutants play out as a series of horror movies starring mutants? Of course, it all depends on the quality and independence of Boone’s feature, but Disney should at least give Cannonball, Wolfsbane, and the others a shot.
Channing Tatum has been trying to get a Gambit film made for years, and it’s finally heading into production in February. It’d be a shame if this merger eradicated all the work he’s put into the project. Besides, Disney/Marvel love putting major actors in superhero costumes, so this could be seen as a casting Christmas gift. There might even be a way to use Gambit as an introduction to mutants in the MCU, though considering how close it is to going before cameras, it would likely need to be delayed to accomplish that. Tatum would have to wait even longer to play the Ragin’ Cajun, but if he’s had patience to this point, what’re a few more calendar pages? It’s also possible it could just be made as a one-shot, with Gambit being rebooted with the rest of the X-family down the line.
James Franco, meanwhile, only just entered talks to play Jamie Madrox, aka Multiple Man, in a standalone feature. Since it’s such early days on the project and it comes prepackaged with a bankable lead, there’s really no reason for Marvel to shy away from continuing to pursue it. As with Gambit, it likely would have to be pushed back to give the MCU a chance to really introduce mutants, but once it came to fruition, it could be used to launch another novel franchise with a noirish take on X-Factor, which is essentially a mutant detective agency.
There’s always going to be collateral damage in mergers like this, and in-production projects are easy targets. But getting mutants means opening up a lot of avenues for Disney/Marvel, and they’d do well not to put up roadblocks where pavement has already been laid.
The Fantastic Four
Far and away the easiest, most tantalizing prospect of this whole deal is the Fantastic Four. FOX tried twice to launch a franchise with Marvel’s First Family, and neither attempt stuck. That doesn’t mean Disney has zero work to do to reboot the team, however. There’s a bit of convulsion when it comes to the rights to Mr. Fantastic and co., as while FOX has distributed the movies, German production company Constantin Film has actually owned the property since the ’90s. Whether Constantin will still be involved in future FF adaptations isn’t clear, but whatever the case, Disney just spent $52 billion for FOX; surely they aren’t cheap enough to withhold a few million more to reclaim such potential cash cow.
What’s more, the tone of the Fantastic Four is perfectly suited for the MCU: playful, adventurous, world-expanding. The Thing and Human Torch are built for humor, while Mr. Fantastic’s meddling with the Negative Zone opens up a literal universe of possibilities. There’s also the possibility of the Future Foundation and Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman’s kids, Franklin and Valeria, making the big screen leap. At the same time, they offer a new dynamic to the standard Marvel fare, as they’re a true family who gain their powers simultaneously. They’re a team before they’re super powered, and watching a family struggle together with their developing abilities presents a fresh perspective on the origin story.
This should, honestly, be a priority for Marvel, as it makes the most sense right off the bat. You could even set the fateful space expedition that’s the genesis of their powers take place during the upcoming Infinity War, even if we obviously won’t see it in that film. The Fantastic Four can exist rather isolated from the Avengers at first, which is how most new characters have been introduced to the MCU anyway, and makes their entry into their new cinematic home seamless. Even better, you can’t bring in the FF without the single greatest Marvel villain of all time tagging along…
Marvel Studios has long had a villain problem, with maybe four characters being worthy of remembering. Loki is one of them, and he’s been a common thread weaving together multiple aspects of the MCU, from Thor to Infinity War. But you can only run a franchise on a single intriguing baddy for so long. Enter Doctor Victor von Doom. Think of him like if Iron Man was an evil Doctor Strange who also ruled a small Eastern European kingdom. He’s a madman with a genius-level intellect and a fascination with the occult whose superiority complex drives him to not just demand but expect that the world will grovel at his feet.
Surprisingly, the MCU has yet to really see an antagonist like Doom, a true world dominator. Ego came closest, but on a galactic scale, and Red Skull was really just a soldier in tyrannical group. Doom wants to control the world, and he’s manipulative and fearsome enough to actually pull it off. He could become the Loki of the MCU’s Phase Four, someone who pulls strings everywhere, plays both sides, always with a sinister ulterior motive. And while he’s running his little game on Earth, a new Thanos-level threat could be making his moves in the background…
Though typically a major Avengers foe, Kang’s connection to the Fantastic Four has kept him from being figured into the MCU. Now that he’s following the FF to Disney/Marvel, the studios have a chance to turn him into the next Thanos. After all, where do you go from an adversary who wants to control all of space but to one who wants dominion over all of time.
Kang is a time-traveling warlord from the 30th century who (spoiler!) turns out to be a distant descendant of Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman. As someone who’s essentially weaponized interdimensional and intertime travel, he’s a devious mastermind who could play the long game from the shadows, just as Thanos has. He could be teased at the end of Fantastic Four, pop up in the background of a WWII-set Wolverine flashback, tie into Cable, and even infiltrate an Avengers team as one of his other multiple identities (perks of time travel). Hell, maybe he even fudges up the timeline enough to spark the birth of mutants, purposefully or incidentally. All along, he’d be planting seeds for another two-parter like the next two Avengers films. As one of Marvel’s most powerful and unique villains, there’s little doubt he’ll play a major role in the future of the MCU.
Silver Surfer and Galactus
Like the Fantastic Four, there’s really no trick here. Silver Surfer and Galactus appeared in one film for FOX and were quickly forgotten, making them prime for an unhampered reboot. Marvel has already said it wants to get more cosmic in the future (Nova! Make a Nova film!), and it doesn’t get more cosmic than Silver Surfer and Galactus.
Though FOX chose to introduce Silver Surfer via a Fantastic Four film, Marvel might consider the Guardians of the Galaxy route by giving him a solo adventure first. An interstellar story about how Norrin Radd agrees to become the herald of the world devouring Galactus in order to save his home planet only to rebel when he encounters the nobility of humanity could work without having him fly alongside the Human Torch. Maybe he just has a brief encounter, or witnesses the heroics from the Fantastic Four movie. A solo Surfer film could see some of Galactus’ other heralds (Terrax, Firelord, Stardust) as the “boss battle” characters, while their master becomes the looming threat for a follow-up where the Surfer teams with the FF. Given that the Purple Planet Eater is an extinction-level threat, it’s hard to imagine the Avengers and X-Men not being called upon to aid in the fight, which would make for a great end to Phase Four or Five ahead of Kang’s big final play.
This is looking way, way down the line — like Phase Six — and largely depends on who survives Infinity War, but the Illuminati is a wildly intriguing prospect. In the comics, Iron Man brings together Professor Xavier (later Beast, after Xavier’s death), Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt of the Inhumans, and Namor, the first mutant/King of Atlantis, to form a cabal of superpowered beings. Notice I didn’t use the word “heroes” there; a lot of the actions the group takes aren’t exactly heroic, with dark overtones lingering over many of their decisions. They don’t function as a governing body, which was Tony Stark’s initial intentions, but they do share intelligence and help map the course of Marvel Comics’ history, often by manipulating events for what they collectively see as the greater good.
That has more than once led to some dubious actions, from brainwashing heroes to erasing minds to provoking alien attacks. Watching heroes audiences have grown to love and respect wrestle with moral gray zones could be gripping comic movie fare and offer a change of pace from all the do-gooding. It could also lead to stories like Secret Wars, the Kree-Skull War, or Secret Invasion, all well-regarded tales from the comics that now could finally be fully realized on the big screen with all the best of Marvel back in control of the House of Mouse.