At the stroke of midnight … plus two minutes … what seemed like a pipe dream just a few short years ago for hardcore Marvel comic book and movie fans becomes a reality - the Marvel movie universe is whole.
Sure, there may or may not still be some funky rights things still going on with the Hulk and Namor at Universal Pictures and 'Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters' mouthful means Spider-Gwen, Miles, Venom and others may not be ticketed for the Marvel Cinematic Universe anytime soon.
But the MCU does get to play with Spider-Man, at least for now. And what they’ve done with the Wall-Crawler may well offer a preview as to what studio president Kevin Feige and co. intend to do with Professor X and the Children of the Atom now that Disney has acquired the media rights to the franchise with the close of their takeover of 21st Century Fox assets.
Now we’ve already covered how Marvel Studios recovering the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four may affect how many movies we see and how often, so today we’re going to talk about what we may see whenever it is we wind up seeing them again.
And not for nothing, that may be a while.
The presumed lame-duck-of-the-Fox-era-Dark Phoenix doesn’t seem to be capturing the imagination of moviegoers, with the most recent trailer not causing much of a stir. (And that’s not even mentioning the New Mutants.)
While Dark Phoenix could certainly be well-reviewed and received and perhaps defy currently timid box office expectations, it’s more likely Marvel Studios will retire the X-brand for at least few years to build up some appetite. Certainly the Marvel treatment of the characters and their introduction into the MCU will be highly-anticipated by fans, but to more mainstream moviegoers, particularly in foreign markets where the MCU brand has greater room to grow, too soon may be a little too much.
Though it had its own spectacular failure just a few shorts years ago, the Fantastic Four seems like a much more logical property for Marvel Studios to introduce as a brand new toy sooner than later, but that’s a conversation for another day.
The point is whenever it is we get to see mutants in the MCU, there’s a good chance we’re going to see a very different X-Men than we’re used to.
Let’s look at Spider-Man: Homecoming and the upcoming Far From Home as possible previews as to what to expect.
That expectation should be 'change.'
Given the lukewarm critical and domestic box office reception of Sony’s last self-produced Spider-Man, 2014’s the Amazing Spider-Man 2, and the excitement over Spidey joining the MCU, Marvel Studios got something of a pass by the usual watchdogs/long-time fans for the changes and omissions they made to his mythos.
But they were considerable. Let’s review:
- Marvel Studios astutely abstained from delving into Peter’s origins at all, only briefly and vaguely referring to Uncle Ben’s death, and not even Ben by name. We know Peter will be using a suitcase with Ben’s initials in Far From Home, but whether he’s seen in flashback or even namechecked remains to be seen.
- Their reimagination of Aunt May doubled down on the Ultimate Universe’s de-aging of the traditionally one-foot-in-the-grave Aunt May, transforming her into a turns-Tony-Stark’s-head hippy 50-something without-a-hint-of-gray Marisa Tomei.
- The Daily Bugle has been so-far fully abscent from Peter’s world, including one of this most iconic supporting characters/nemesis J. Jonah Jameson.
In fact, has Tom Holland’s Peter even picked up a camera?
- Harry Osborn has been replaced as his best friend by Ned, more or less a new character with a borrowed name; Flash Thompson evolved from a traditional muscle-bound jock-bully to a five-foot-something rich kid; and understandably given the events of Amazing Spider-Man 2, Gwen Stacy is nowhere to be found at Midtown High.
- Marvel Studios has also avoided any and all villains from the first two series of Sony films, including Electro, the Rhino, the Lizard, Venom, Sandman, Doctor Octopus, and especially any version of the Green Goblin, despite his place as Spider-Man’s most iconic archvillain.
- But perhaps the biggest change is Peter’s second significant love interest ‘MJ’ being transformed from Mary Jane Watson, an aspiring supermodel-actress/party girl into Michelle Jones, a socially conscious but equally socially awkward, sarcastic intellectual equal to Peter.
Marvel Studios very purposely and very conspicuously have altered and avoided whatever they could from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films, while keeping the essence of Peter Parker himself, even when they meant alterting decades-old and revered comic book canon.
This is why anyone expecting to see Professor X and Magneto’s love-hate relationship, the X-Mansion and the Blackbird, and new versions of all the more well-known original and All-New, All-Different characters may be waiting a while.
The X-Men universe is a deep bench of characters and concepts, and it’s very likely Marvel Studios could dig deep into it, using both heroes and villains with great cinematic potential but who perhaps are not as well-worn as some of the more iconic mutants.
Wolverine will still likely be one of the first to appear, of course, because he’s Wolverine.
Iceman, Kitty, and Gambit have been adapted in the Fox films, but have been just low-profile enough to still be poised to graduate to an expanded presence.
And expect Storm to finally emerge as a true leader and central character in whatever iteration the MCU-X takes. Halle Berry was a big name at the time, but another actress later Ororo has remained a supporting character at best for now almost 20 years.
Given Marvel’s continued promise of further diversity in the MCU, whenever the X-Men make their presence felt, don’t be surprised if the characters who do appear - new to the big screen or otherwise - reflect that intent.
Characters the MCU’s Spider-Man teaches us to maybe not expect for a while?
Magneto, a constant but always evolving presence in all the core X-Men films, seems like a character due for some time off. And the ying-to-his-yang, Professor X, has been more or less pushed to the background by Marvel Comics in recent years.
Marvel Studios culls from all comic book eras for the film inspiration, but Captain Marvel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Civil War demonstrate they keep a close eye on contemporary developments, so don’t be surprised if Xavier doesn’t emerge in his traditional foreground role in the MCU.
But even more than the Professor and Magneto and their dynamic, Jean Grey/Phoenix is perhaps the closest X-Men equivalent to Sony's Green Goblin in terms of movie treatment. Dark Phoenix will effectively be the second time Jean’s story is being told on-screen, and it’s a reasonable assumption Marvel Studios not only won’t be eager to attempt a third, but may retire the character altogether for some time.
And where Jean goes (or doesn’t) Cyclops is almost certainly to follow.
So whomever does or does not appear and in whatever form they do, expect Marvel Studios to lean heavily on their own version of the All-New, All-Different credo.
And wouldn't that be entirely appropriate?