As soon as the dust settled from the initial response to the news that Marvel and Sony have come to a deal about the cinematic future of Spider-Man, one question quickly emerged in a lot of people’s minds: What does this mean for 20th Century Fox and the X-Men?
There have been impassioned pleas from many fans that Fox follow Sony’s lead and relinquish creative control of both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four to Marvel Studios, letting both franchises rejoin their comic book brethren to create one massive movie universe, but we’re not convinced that's the best course. In fact, we have five reasons why that might be a bad idea for everyone involved.
The X-Men Movies Aren’t In Trouble
Implicit in the desire for Fox to follow Marvel’s lead is the idea that the X-Men and Fantastic Four movie franchises are in the same state as the Spider-Man franchise — which is to say, in desperate need of being rescued — and that Marvel could do it better. While the second of those theories depends on your faith in Marvel Studios, the first is demonstrably untrue; X-Men: Days of Future Past was a hit in both critical and financial terms, and Fantastic Four is literally about to be relaunched this summer to unknown returns. Both franchises are miles away from the somewhat stalled nature of Sony’s Spider-Man, which was dealing with underperforming financially (at least domestically), audience apathy and a team of executives that seemed unsure about where to go next.
The X-Men and Fantastic Four Don’t Need The Marvel Universe
Hardcore Marvel fans would likely strongly disagree with this, but both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four work better as concepts outside of a fictional universe that’s filled with the Avengers, Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, et al. By avoiding having other superhumans in the world, the X-Men movies are free from having to explain why the public likes those superhumans but not these superhumans — a distinction that has always seems tenuous at best in the comics — and makes the Fantastic Four more unique (and their discoveries/adventures more groundbreaking).
For that matter, the existence of S.H.I.E.L.D. (or, for that matter, Hydra) would have impacted the X-Men’s stories considerably, as would the fact that Avengers would have been tasked with bringing down both the X-Men and the Brotherhood by the second movie in the series at the very latest.
In fact, there aren’t any superheroes as such in any of the Fox movies — it’s not like the X-Men do anything superheroic other than fighting bad guys, and in that case, they’re almost always fighting for their very survival; similarly, as the new trailer demonstrated, Fantastic Four is being reimagined as sci-fi, not superhero… which makes the Marvel dynamic seem even more alien and unnecessary. Placing either of the Fox movie series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe would complicate them needlessly, and lessen both as a result.
The Marvel Universe Doesn’t Need The X-Men or Fantastic Four
Let’s look at things from the other direction for a second: What would the Marvel Cinematic Universe gain from bringing in the mutants or the Fantastic Four? Brand name recognition, sure. Dream fan team-ups, okay. But otherwise…? The Inhumans look poised to take the place of mutants in the larger MCU mythology, while the Fantastic Four would only serve to duplicate existing roles for the Avengers (superheroics on Earth) and Guardians of the Galaxy (space exploration). It sounds sad for those who enjoy the comic book versions of each character and the way in which they interrelate, but in many ways, the Marvel Cinematic Universe just doesn’t need the X-Men or the Fantastic Four anymore.
(Again, the logic of the X-Men and Fantastic Four concepts would ultimately disrupt the MCU too much to be workable without major retooling: if the history presented in the X-Men movies had happened, wouldn’t Stark Industries have been focused on mutant-related technologies as the next arms race? Wouldn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. have built a team of Avengers out of good guy mutants, instead of waiting for Iron Man and Captain America? Wouldn’t everyone just assume Thor was a delusional mutant? And wouldn’t the Fantastic Four experiments be overseen by S.H.I.E.L.D.?)
The established internal logic of both cinematic universes collapses if merged. No, you'd have to reboot, and...
...Who Wants Another Reboot?
While sure, folding in the Fantastic Four to another fictional universe would be relatively easy at this point — it’s unlikely that, at any point in Josh Trank’s movie this summer, the characters say something like “Wow, I’m sure glad the Avengers don’t exist in this world!” — there’s no way to make the X-Men franchise work in the MCU without rebooting the whole thing and starting from scratch and dropping more than a decade of successful movies (and a cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence and Patrick Stewart). It’s unlikely that Fox would be willing to dump that history — or that cast — no matter what deal Marvel offered. And also unlikely that fans of the movies who aren’t fans of the comics would be in favor of such a change even if Fox were into the idea.
Is Less Of A Good Thing A Good Thing?
Marvel has a lot of movies in the works already; they’ve released a schedule that goes all the way through 2019, although that’s obviously open to revision in certain circumstances. As of next year, Fox is significantly ramping up production of the X-Men franchise, with three movies in 2016 and both X-Force and Wolverine 3 in the wings following that. The reality of a Marvel/Fox deal is that it would likely mean that we’d see less X-Men movies as the studios came to an agreement to ensure their movies don’t complete at the box office (Marvel is already shifting to three movies a year come 2017). Is the chance to see Wolverine and Captain America face off on the big screen worth seeing less X-Men movies overall…?