The following story was originally published in December 2017, days before the Disney acquisition of 21st-Century Fox became preliminarily official.
Originally published December 5, 2017: There are new indications this week that we’re inching closer to a watershed moment in the super nerd universe - a Patton Oswalt-mind-melting potential merger of the Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox X-Men and Fantastic Four movie properties. Or in other words, the almost full potential realization of the comic book Marvel Universe on film … and oh yeah … on television sometimes too.
If the mega-merger comes to pass, fan excitement will be palpable, the possibilities will be endless, and almost all of them will involve Hugh Jackman coming out of retirement. If and when the time comes Newsarama - along with the rest of the entertainment press - will be all over all exploring those possibilities, and for a very long time to come.
But today we’re going to take a minute to slow the roll and talk for a little bit about whether such a permanent crossover would actually be a good thing, and whether or not we as fans would actually be the better for it.
Because believe it or not there’s an argument against. In fact, in our minds, there are a good four arguments against.
And yes, this is the part where we tell you what they are.
You Can’t Do It Without a Reboot
Now this may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it may be a necessary thing. As we draw closer to Avengers: Infinity War, and more and more we consider the ages, ambitions, and contracts of the original Marvel Cinematic Universe stars, we’ve more and more been getting the nagging feeling an MCU reboot might be coming anyway. A Phase 3-concluding, two-part mega-magnum opus involving all of reality may be too enticing opportunity for Marvel Studios not to clear the playing field for the next 10 years in terms of replacing the actors portraying their most valuable properties, not to mention resetting their compensation
As for Fox, well, every film is kind of a soft reboot anyways. Let’s face it, the Fantastic Four isn’t coming back without a full-on restart, and X-Men continuity is frankly a hot mess. Fitting Logan, Deadpool, and X-Men: Days of Future Past together is kind of like finishing up a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle with Jenga blocks - it’s a hell of a lot of fun but probably not what they intended.
But that’s beside the point. The real issue here is the MCU and the FXU (Fox X-Men Universe) are incompatible as they currently exist. You just can’t have Wolverine show up next to Iron Man without some typical comic book crossover shenanigans. It’s a nonstarter to try to shoehorn current MCU and FXU continuity into the same narrative framework. In order to make them work together you have to start over from scratch, which might be both okay and maybe even desirable to some, but that leads us to problem number #2…
They’re Kind of an Uneasy Fit to Begin With
Now as long time Marvel comics readers (and if you’re reading this is a good chance you are one) we tend to forgive or forget that the core premise of the X-Men kind of, sort of, really is compromised coexisting with the Avengers/Defenders/Fantastic Four/etc. They all fit together the same way Squirrel Girl and the Punisher do – you just have to let it lie.
The X-Men are the superheroic protectors and the last line of defense for a public that hates and fears them. That’s the (and a really great) high concept. But as fans we’ve always had to not think too hard on some of the finer details – like the fact that the public hates and fears say Iceman, but embraces and celebrates Spider-Man and the Human Torch.
The X-Men occupying their own space in which their freakish abilities are completely unique is actually the most fully realized execution of the concept.
That’s by no means a deal-breaker, and maybe outweighed by the sheer fun of seeing all the characters together. But the X-Men movies as we know them have leaned hard on mutant hate, and the MCU as we know it has leaned hard on the Avengers being official, sanctioned peacekeepers. A new, integrated, Marvel Cinematic Universe would need to pump the brakes on both of these things or the conflict between heroes and mutants would become a central preoccupation - sort of a permanent Avengers vs. X-Men limited series. Not to mention given we know Marvel Studios already is planning 20 films deep, a lot of re-imagining of those plans would be in order to rewrite the basic source code of the MCU.
In other words, there is a strong argument to make to keep the two universes narratively separate so as not to make mutants the MCU's Inhumans 2.0, with the Fantastic Four of course joining the MCU proper (that’s a no-brainer, and let’s face it, cool), with the possibility of fun one-off crossovers now in the mix.
And this way, fans would likely enjoy more films, or at least as many as they’re used to, which brings us to…
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
It’s entirely possible a Disney-owned 20th Century Fox would continue to operate as its own production shingle, the way Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar do - meaning Fox would retain its own budget and operate with some independence. But with ultimately singular oversight at some level, one has to wonder if Disney would continue producing Marvel superhero movies at the same rate and pace Disney and Fox do separately in a competitive environment.
2018 features six ‘Marvel’ films between Disney and Fox. And that isn’t even counting Venom and the animated Spider-Man from Sony expected late next year. Of those six films, The New Mutants (April 13), Avengers: Infinity War (May 4), Deadpool 2 (June 1) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (June 6) all consecutively open within three to six weeks of each other, and that’s not even mentioning Disney’s other tent-pole offerings during that timeframe like a certain Star Wars ‘Solo’ adventure.
Either integrated into the same narrative universe or not, it’s a fair and astute question to ask if Disney would take a macro-marketing and financing approach and cut down the number of Marvel superhero films they produced and released in any calendar year?
Cannibalization could become a bigger issue if the films are all under one roof than it is now that they're spread around.
Now maybe even if you’re a fan you think there’s too many as is, and less would be more in this equation, but that brings us to perhaps the most important point…
You Can Only Stretch a Kevin Feige So Thin
Let’s face it, in addition to the uber-fanboy fun of just wanting to see team-ups and the Marvel comic book universe fully realized, the truer, more significant appeal of Fox’s Marvel properties being collected under the Marvel Studios umbrella is the assurance of the unprecedented Marvel Studios quality control we’ve come to expect and (sorry…) marvel over.
The MCU winning streak is a product of a system of vision and oversight. Marvel Studios has had great success with finding unique directorial talent that might be considered out-of-the-box, but let’s make no mistake, even those choices are the vision of President Kevin Feige and his production lieutenants.
Marvel Studios has had undisputed success producing two or three films a year - who is to say that same quality of oversight can be carried over to four to six films a year, an equation made only more difficult if integrating the universes becomes a thing?
As is, pre-potential merger, there is little reason to think the MCU winning streak won’t continue for the foreseeable future, perhaps even with little to no change to established continuity. And in addition to that we would continue to get a full slate of Fox films too, including potential winners like Deadpool and Logan.
A game-changing merger of the movie universes or even just the production studios may offer very intriguing possibilities for the future and the stuff of our childhood dreams, but it might also offer unintended consequences.
As we say, as super-fans, we all might want to be careful what we wish for.