Marvel’s Next Steps – The X-Men

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So I’m going to assume you’ve all seen Avengers: Endgame if you’re here, and that you also read my last article which dangled the carrot of exploration; Marvel’s next steps which include introducing their recently acquired properties, namely the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

Let’s catch up a second. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been populated with a roster of characters that, while great, were nobody’s first choices for hinging an entire franchise on. Why is that the case? Well, in the 90s, Marvel was in serious jeopardy and faced falling out of existence entirely and suffering the same fate that smaller publishers in the comic book world had already succumbed to. To survive, Marvel held their prized possessions (the above assets as well as Spider-Man) and auctioned them off to the highest bidders, which for moviegoers meant that the X-Men and Fantastic Four ended up with Fox Studios and Spider-Man over at Sony.

Both studios had a fair and lengthy crack at the whip, and ultimately we got some good, some bad and some excellent superhero films made. But while these movies were being churned out, Marvel, with its plucky attitude, launched their franchise off the back of little old Iron Man in 2008, which nobody expected anything from, certainly not the grand scale of epic storytelling we’ve witnessed thus far and especially not seeing multiple characters from separate films share the same universe, that was simply preposterous. Of course, the MCU would lynchpin its success on the “team-up” chapters in their 22 film story with the likes of Avengers: Assemble (2012) blowing minds of comic book nerds (including me) everywhere. We never thought we’d see the day where Iron Man and Captain America shared screen time and dueled against the forces of evil, not in a million years and now look where we are, Endgame has too many heroes to even count.

Other studios took note of this and realized that they too enjoy having trucks of money dumped on their lawn, so attempted to copy the Marvel formula. DC failed spectacularly, it speaks volumes when their equivalent of the Avengers, the Justice League (which includes Batman and Superman) didn’t even get close to $1 billion, yet a film about Doctor Strange performed better both critically and financially. Next up was Sony. Five Spider-Man films, two of which were great (Spider-Man 1 and 2 by Sam Raimi), one awful (Spider-Man 3, somehow by Sam Raimi) then one good film (The Amazing Spider-Man by Marc Webb) and then finally another mess; The Amazing Spider-Man 2, again by Webb. Not as a direct result of the failure of the Spider-Man sequel by Webb, but it certainly didn’t alleviate the pressure, Sony was in hot water, needing big money fast and decided to strike a deal with Marvel (now owned by Disney) to “share” the rights to Spider-Man and essentially get a payday and also share in some success that Marvel was serving up. Bingo; the friendly neighborhood hero is back where he belongs and enjoying screentime with all of our friends in the MCU. With an amazing debut in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man’s portrayal by Tom Holland has lifted the character back into the forefront of attention. Keep in mind this success as we turn our attention over to Fox Studios.

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Three Fantastic Four Films. One was decent, two were shocking. Marvel’s first family are in desperate need of yet another reboot (this will be the third time) and this alone is cause for optimism of their inclusion into the MCU umbrella. Lastly, we have the X-Men. What a mixed bag this has been. To start with, I’ve got a very obscure relationship with these films. On the one hand, I absolutely love some of the entries, specifically Logan and Days of Future Past but there are some brutal abominations out there (here’s looking at you, X-Men 3: The Last Stand) that really leave a sour taste in the mouth. Added to the mix is my personal grievance with the films, even the ones that I love, they’re just not my X-Men. There’s no color, all of the suits are these boring and generic blackout “stealth” getup’s that don’t scream superhero at all and further still, don’t let you distinguish between who’s who or really let you get a bond with a character. Then there’s the whole problem with Wolverine. One of my all-time favorite characters in any comic book and brought superbly to life on-screen by the glorious Hugh Jackman, yet at an astonishing cost; the films all feel like they’re “Wolverine and friends.” You never get to see major characters (like Cyclops, who’s the leader of the X-Men) have their moment and shine, it’s all about exploiting the cash-cow of Wolverine and sacrificing richer and deeper storytelling, which worked up to a point but guess what, it’s not lasted and with The Dark Phoenix (which has yet again botched the epic tale of Jean Grey being possessed by the Phoenix Force) we’re finally done.

That leads us neatly into what can the X-Men do in the MCU and how they can be served the on-screen justice they so clearly deserve.

Rogue

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A character that was treated so strangely by Fox and far, far removed from her comic book counterpart has a big chance at redemption in the MCU. History lesson through the eyes of 6-year-old Chris Kenny. I’m watching the X-Men Animated Series (ironically on the Fox Kids network) and I have before me a team of diverse, colorful, fun and amazing superheroes. Rogue, with her superhuman strength, ability to fly and power to steal other’s powers is practically unstoppable. We learn through the series (and of course the comic source material that the show is based on) that Rogue actually gained her superhuman strength and flight from Carol Danvers. Yep, that Carol Danvers. Ms. Marvel herself. This is where we can get an iconic moment in cinematic history when Rogue, introduced as part of the villainous crew the Brotherhood of Evil, permanently absorbs Captain Marvel’s powers and puts the Kree powerhouse into a coma. What an introduction and way to build your new character for the future.

Cyclops

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Cyclops was made to look like a joke in Fox’s first three films and the recent iterations of his character as a teenage boy have done little to improve on that. Put simply, Scott Summers was robbed of his power, his leadership skills and basically any redeeming qualities. They insinuated he’s a lover of N-Sync in X-Men 2, just as a reminder. So how can they fix it? It’s the easiest job in the world. Introduce Scott as the first of Professor X’s students, as he always has been and just follow the basic plot that all of the first class (no, not that First Class) go through and endure as a team. Getting Cyclops right is a priority and Marvel can earn some serious goodwill with fans if they just make Scott Summers the badass that he is.

Wolverine

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Without a doubt one of Marvel’s most popular characters of all time, the angry, hairy, aggressive mutant was portrayed on screen by Hugh Jackman since 2000 and shines as one of the brightest parts of the entire saga. Therein lies the dilemma. Yes, Jackman’s depiction of the clawed hero was outstanding, but there remains criticism over the fact that Jackman is a tall, good looking man whereas the character of Wolverine is short, covered in fur and not meant to be all that pretty. So, this is where the MCU is fortunate in that we can have an actor who’s more akin to the comic book portrayal, which not only scores points with the hardcore fans but also differentiates enough from the previous iteration so that the pressure of filling Jackman’s boots is alleviated somewhat. Furthermore, Marvel knows that with Wolverine, they have a tremendous ace up their sleeve, one that can be teased and hinted at across several films before his reveal at which point, the audience will be gagging to see him and hopefully we’ll be treated to another iconic moment in cinematic history when we do finally see those adamantium claws unleashed. On that note, Wolverine can be kept off-screen for quite some time, should the MCU follow the comic arc of the classic X-Men stories. Wolverine was not part of the original team, so there’s no need to shoehorn him in right away. Marvel have been good at being patient, so I don’t feel that this is something they will rush, which will be to the benefit of the audience.

Apocalypse

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One of the biggest letdowns of the Fox X-Men franchise was the depiction of Apocalypse, with the villain front and center of his own film that failed to live up to expectations set before it in the epic Days of Future Past, there’s plenty that needs to be addressed here. Everything about the portrayal was completely wrong. The background story, the scale, the power, everything. Apocalypse is, as the name implies, is a threat to the entire planet and should feel like that. The film gave me nowhere near that level of dread, which was in large down to the costume; he looked like a Power Rangers villain from the 90s show and the mundane plot that was more about setting up Jean Grey as Phoenix than it was Apocalypse wreaking havoc on the world. Now the other aspect of Apocalypse is that he can fling open doors to a whole new saga of storytelling, with the Age of Apocalypse (AoA) storyline one of the most beloved of all time, Marvel has another bankable arc that can span years of film and culminate in a manner akin to Endgame.

Mr. Sinister

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A big part of the aforementioned AoA story is the mysterious villain Mister Sinister, who acts as one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen. Now, that’s not his typical role, in the normal continuity, Sinister likes to conduct experiments on mutants to find the perfect specimen, as you do. This leads him to become obsessed with Jean Grey and Scott Summers, as he believes their combined DNA would create the ultimate mutant. (Turns out, this is exactly what he does in AoA, but we’ll leave that for another time). Thus far, Sinister has been untouched, save for a few mentions that the eagle-eyed and those in the know will catch (the name Essex, which was his original name, Nathaniel Essex, appears in both Apocalypse and Deadpool 2). This is a good thing. Marvel can adapt Sinister, who just so happens to be my favorite villain in any Marvel property, without needing to first shed the bad memories of the previous films, a fate which has unfortunately befallen Apocalypse and many others.

Bringing the X-Men into the MCU

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The landscape of the MCU is hopefully now much more exciting to you after reading the above, which is only scratching the surface at the potential that the X-Men rights bring to the table. Now, the bigger question remains; how do we introduce the X-Men into the current MCU?

To answer this, let’s first analyze the current state of play. The universe has just been given a second chance. Thanos and his armies are gone, those that were lost to the first “snap” have come back, life can flourish once more. That, however, does not come without consequences. Apart from the fact that half the Universe has suddenly reappeared, to worlds that have been adjusting to this for five years, the actual ramifications of the snaps themselves could serve as the key to unlocking the X-Men’s, or more bluntly, mutant’s existence within the MCU. Cast your mind back to the beginning of Endgame, where Rocket proclaims (paraphrasing) that the initial snap from Thanos gave off an enormous discharge of gamma radiation. Let’s pause there. Radiation, as we know, can cause many side effects, often of the mutated variety, exhibit A being the Hulk. So we have one snap, giving off a massive burst of energy. Then, ironically, Hulk himself snaps his fingers with Tony Stark’s DIY gauntlet, bringing back half of the Universe. So far we’re at two snaps. Finally, Tony dies a heroic death by snapping his fingers to wipe out Thanos and his armies. Peace in our time, the world mourns, the Avengers are once more the saviors. That’s three snaps now by the way.

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With all these snaps and all this radiation flying around, my theory is that this is how mutants will be introduced into the MCU, as a direct consequence of the snaps and that is how they can “suddenly” be introduced. There’s scope for the mutants such as Magneto, Apocalypse, Wolverine and Professor X having been around for some time, just unnoticed and unwilling to reveal themselves (Apocalypse simply laying dormant in his tomb on Egypt is easily explained away for example). The first snap took place five years before the other two, so there’s opportunity to introduce the original X-Men lineup as their teenage selves, having been educated by Professor X as part of a normal boarding school, but they all mutated overnight and decided to form the X-Men in secret, revealing themselves to the world after the second and third snap in order to help the now rapidly growing number of mutants.

Assuming this does take place, the mistreatment and fear of mutants can be accompanied by the sudden re-appearance of half of the planet and all of the problems that will cause. I’m not saying Thanos was right, but suddenly bringing everybody back will cause an enormous strain on resources, infrastructure and relationships to a world that has moved on since the first snap. This is where mutants can be the perfect scapegoat. They’re different, they’re to be feared, they appeared overnight with all of these incredible powers and just like that, the core elements of storytelling within the X-Men comics (persecution, hate, injustice and so on) can be told through an entirely new outlook. Alternatively, all of these snaps ripped multiple holes in the universe, dumping the X-Men in their fully formed state from their universe into the MCU and this would negate the need for having to try and explain the conspicuous absence of the older mutants (such as the names already mentioned above). We can refer back to another MCU film, Doctor Strange, and study the words of Mordo, who is mortified by the titular characters’ actions in playing around with time, stating that the bill comes due, always. Could this be it? All of the time travel that the Avengers did within Endgame, all of the snaps, maybe the multiverse is real and this is where we get our X-Men from.

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Final Thoughts

There’s been plenty to digest here and we’ve still yet to explore the other side of the Fox coin, the Fantastic Four and their associated properties and how they can be introduced into the MCU. I admit, that’s purely down to me being more excited to see the X-Men given justice, simply because they have and always will be my favorite team in any comic book storyline. Out of everything discussed, I think the snaps causing radiation and thus birthing mutants is the more likely, multiverse stories can become severely entangled and messy and quite lazy; simply dumping the X-Men into the MCU would be unceremonious, impatient and sluggish, all of which Marvel and Kevin Feige are not. Regardless of how they’re brought in, there’s so much potential there for expansive, gritty and important storytelling, I think Marvel will absolutely take their time, which is why in the immediate future, we’ll see the Fantastic Four before the X-Men.

Next Time…

We’ll look into why the Fantastic Four are coming first, what that means for the universe as a whole and who the next Thanos scale villain could be.

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