Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has cautioned that the Fantastic Four and the X-Men won't join the MCU for "a handful of years."
In December last year, Disney finalized a deal to purchase the bulk of 21st Century Fox's movie and TV empire. The deal is now awaiting final regulatory approval, which is anticipated by summer 2019. Should the purchase be approved, Disney CEO Bob Iger has already confirmed that the Fantastic Four and the X-Men will join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige already has over 7,000 characters to work with, and that number will increase sharply with thousands of heroes and villains.
So, should the deal be approved, how quickly will Marvel seek to add these new characters to the MCU? Feige is currently doing the rounds while promoting Avengers: Infinity War, and Playlist took advantage of the opportunity to ask about this. They specifically asked whether or not the Disney/Fox deal affected plans for the upcoming Phase 4, and Feige gave a simple answer:
"No, because any of that deal would take a while to get going and years from whenever and if ever it happens. So, certainly it won’t impact the five movies we’ve announced, and it probably wouldn’t impact anything for a handful of years after that. Because really, we’re not thinking about that. We’re thinking of delivering on what we promised. Any movie, especially for any characters we don’t have the rights to yet until someone tells us we do, would be even further after that."
Assuming Marvel continue their current "phase" approach, it sounds as though Feige is considering incorporating Fox characters into the MCU as part of Phase 5. The comment makes sense; it would be reckless for Feige to assume the purchase is a "done deal," given there's currently a troubled regulatory backdrop. The Justice Department has sued to block AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner, an approach few had expected. Every company is having to navigate uncertain waters, and Disney's purchase of Fox is complicated a little by Comcast's determination to compete for the deal.
If regulators do sign off on the deal, though, Feige is clearly determined to push ahead with projects that are already in the works. Playlist asked Feige if he's particularly interested in any of the specific characters, but he refused to answer. "I'm not going to pick one over the other of any of those characters because it's too hard," he insisted, "but my career started with those characters on the 'X-Men' films." Feige is clearly excited by the possibilities, but also refusing to do a course-correction due to the deal.
It may be that he's learned a hard lesson from the Spider-Man deal with Sony, which caused significant complications for Phase 3. Marvel were forced to pivot partway through Phase 3, dropping The Inhumans and shuffling a number of release dates in order to fit in Spider-Man: Homecoming. While the addition of Spider-Man was a thrilling new opportunity, it seems to have caused some major headaches for Marvel, and continuity suffered a little as a result. The addition of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four will be a far more dramatic change to the fabric of the MCU; it needs to be handled with real care so as not to damage the entire shared universe.