Why it’s a good thing that the X-Men won’t be part of the MCU yet… but the Fantastic Four can be

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While the advent of Disney’s historic purchase of Fox means that Marvel finally got back all the cinematic rights to their characters, we learned this week from Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige that we shouldn’t be expecting to see the X-Men debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe any time soon as they’re not part of the immediate plan. As I mentioned in that article though, Marvel’s plan isn’t wholly set in stone, which is how we got Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.

Of course, Spidey’s entry into the MCU was the perfect alignment of several unexpected factors (the failure of Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man franchise being the biggest) that allowed the plan to change suddenly but organically. On top of that, the introduction of the Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man into the MCU wasn’t a disruptive event, because he’s simply that: a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. While Holland’s hero brings a great new dynamic to the MCU tapestry, he doesn’t make too big of a global impact on the average citizen in this world.

The X-Men are a totally different story though. Due to their core concept of being a persecuted evolutionary offshoot feared by humanity, introducing them anytime soon into the MCU just wouldn’t work. At least not without either changing the MCU or the X-Men fundamentally. The MCU as it currently stands sees the thunder gods and giant green rage monsters of the Avengers treated as celebrities. People know they exist and barring a few international incidents (see: Avengers: Age of Ultron) or lethal altercations (see: Captain America: Civil War), they’re pretty well regarded by the public. So why would the common populace fear the X-Men and their superpowers, when for all they know Captain America has been a mutant this entire time?

That is really the biggest problem being faced by the creative folks at Marvel Studios. Even in the source comics, Marvel has struggled in modern times to keep that angle of the X-Men’s mythos alive. It’s taken drastic story directions like decimating the mutants’ numbers to under 200, Cyclops gaining the Phoenix Force and going mad with power, or the Inhumans inadvertently killing off mutants worldwide to keep things interesting. But all of those things still required the history of mutants that the MCU just does not have.

Last month Marvel Comics revealed that acclaimed writer Johnathan Hickman – who has been on hiatus from the publisher after his universe rearranging Avengers and Secret Wars runs – would be writing two new flagship X-Men comics that will take the franchise in unexpected directions. I would not be surprised if Marvel had tapped Hickman, known for his seriously epic and long term ideas, to reposition the X-Men not only in terms of their place in the contemporary world but also in such a way that things align more with whatever Feige and co are cooking up on the movie front.

As for that cookout, I have several ideas that I’ve brainstormed about how the mutants could be introduced into the MCU (I’ll write them up one of these days), but none of them work without some pretty radical changes. At least there has to be some kind of very public, cataclysmic event that introduces mutants to the greater world and thus sets them in a bad light from the get-go. Agents of SHIELD tried something similar with their introduction of Inhumans via Terrigenesis, but it wasn’t ever wholly successful, and they had the advantage of being only tangentially linked to the greater MCU. Whatever they do, it needs to be disruptive.

Now, along with the X-Men, the Disney/Fox deal also brought back home the rights for the Fantastic Four. When reading Feige’s statement in which he tempers fan expectation about what’s to come in their lineup, you’ll notice that he never mentions the Fantastic Four. And yes, the interview question was specifically asking about the X-Men, but I don’t think that was a complete oversight on Feige’s part. I suspect that’s because introducing Marvel’s First Family will be whole a lot easier and could very well be part of Feige’s plan already.

There’s no sudden drastic evolutionary process needed to introduce Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. They’re just scientists/explorers who get given powers through cosmic energy. All those factors are already in place, so there’s no real disruption of the plan. On top of which, we’ve heard a few times that Marvel want to tap more of their cosmic elements for the MCU, and what better, overarching cosmic threats would there be to follow in the giant footsteps of Avengers: Endgame’s Thanos than something like Galactus or Annihilus?

Both those characters have returned to Marvel with the Fantastic Four rights and they actually fit in perfectly with many of the story elements already introduced into the MCU – ancient Celestials and alternate dimensions. Other potential antagonistic threats like Doctor Doom or Kang the Conqueror are also back in-house. And all of them have some kind of precedent in the current MCU for their existence without massive narrative paradigm shifts needed to introduce them.

There’s another reason why Marvel may want to get work on the Fantastic Four going quickly while holding back the X-Men. We’ve had two super-cheesy modern Fantastic Four films in the early 2000s and one seriously ill-conceived, car-crash of a reboot in 2015 – fans almost universally would rather like to pretend none of these ever existed. A Marvel version of the Fantastic Four would be welcomed emphatically. At least give us a Galactus that isn’t just an angry space cloud!

For the X-Men though, irrespective of how bad X-Men: Apocalypse was and how bland X-Men: Dark Phoenix is looking (and who even knows what the hell is happening with The New Mutants?!) there’s still a lot of goodwill for this franchise. Some of these characters have been around on-screen for nearly 20 years now and fans have grown up with them. In the case of Wolverine, it’s almost impossible even imagining anybody else except Hugh Jackman in the role. That’s something that a bit of time will definitely help to remedy though.

Whatever way you look at it, keeping back the appearance of the mutants in the MCU just makes perfect sense, no matter how much we want to see Cyclops butt heads with Captain America.

Last Updated: April 12, 2019

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