Both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men will join the MCU before long, but Marvel should introduce the former way before they begin delving into the world of mutants. Before they ventured into the world of shared cinematic universes and began shattering records at the box office, Marvel were in deep financial trouble and stayed afloat by selling some of their hottest properties. Consequently, the rights to Fantastic Four and X-Men ended up at Fox, who swiftly set about developing their own movie adaptations of both properties.
Earlier this year, however, Disney (owners of Marvel Studios) completed their long-awaited purchase of Fox and its assets after months of negotiation, rival bids and legal wrangling. Effectively, this means that Marvel Studios have regained the rights to Fantastic Four and X-Men and both sets of characters are set to be rebooted Spider-Man style to fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Excitement for both additions is very high, and both topics have been keen subjects of debate ever since the Disney/Fox deal was first reported.
While both Fantastic Four and X-Men are major Marvel properties, most of the discussion thus far has revolved around Charles Xavier's merry band of mutants. How will they be melded into the MCU? Which actor will take over from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine? Will Gambit be mercilessly wasted once again? Chronologically, however, it makes far more sense to introduce the Fantastic Four in the near future and leave the X-Men for much further ahead.
Both Fantastic Four And X-Men Brands Need Work
Like a neighbor that borrows your lawnmower and hands it back two decades later with the wire mangled, a blade missing and the engine shot, neither Fantastic Four nor X-Men return to Marvel in particularly good condition. Fox's first attempt at bringing the Fantastic Four to live-action in 2005 was undeniably a box office success, but fans and critics were not bowled over by the paint-by-numbers plot, missed attempts at humor and inconsistent casting. A sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, failed to address these criticisms and didn't perform as strongly at the box office, putting paid to Fox's initial run with the characters.
While the first duo of Fantastic Four movies were considered uninspired and well below the quality one would expect from such major Marvel comic characters, they provided but a mere taste of the misery to come. In 2015, Fox rebooted their Fantastic Four property with a brand new cast, attempting to right the wrongs of previous efforts in a landscape increasingly dominated by the MCU. They failed completely, with extensive reshoots and creative difficulties leading Fant4stic to an even worse critical reception than the previous two movies. Needless to say, overly-optimistic plans for a sequel were scrapped.
Considered as a whole, Fox's X-Men franchise was a resounding success that spawned spinoffs, courted critical acclaim and included several majorly lucrative releases. Towards the end, however, the core X-Men movies were desperately in need of a refresh. After two successful ventures in 2000 and 2003, Fox's problems began with a poor attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix comic material and a misguided Wolverine spinoff. However, the franchise recovered thanks to X-Men: First Class' soft reboot of the prime series and an improved Wolverine sequel eventually led to both Logan and Deadpool, two of Fox's crowning jewels in the Marvel crown.
Unfortunately, the main run of X-Men films suffered from diminishing returns following a timey-wimey mash-up of old and new casts in X-Men: Days of Future Past. This decline culminated in the recent Dark Phoenix which, despite also suffering from the upheaval of the Disney/Fox deal, was the franchise's biggest dud to date.
X-Men's Failures Were Bigger (& More Recent)
Fox's canon of Fantastic Four movies comprises of three entirely forgettable offerings, the most recent of which came out four years ago. Marvel fans are ready to finally witness a worthy cinematic interpretation of this famous superhero group, and have absolutely no attachments to previous cast members in their respective Fantastic Four roles, although a reference to the Human Torch and Captain America looking somewhat alike would be very welcome.
It could be said that Fox entirely failed to grasp how to translate the Fantastic Four into live-action, however allowing the popular and financially viable X-Men series to fall into disrepair is arguably a more damning failure. Fox's X-Men troubles began in 2006 and have continued, albeit with notable bright spots, ever since. This means that fan interest has been gradually eroded over time, particularly with regards to the main X-Men movies, whereas the interest surrounding Fantastic Four remains strong because the demand has never actually been met. Combined with the sheer amount of X-Men movies Fox have released over 19 years, it's understandable that superhero fans might need a mutant hiatus before fully getting on board with the MCU incarnation of the characters.
Significantly, X-Men's failures are also far fresher in the memory, with Dark Phoenix only releasing a couple of months ago and the delayed New Mutants still hanging in limbo. Fantastic Four at least offers a clean break following its last 2015 (mis)adventure, but there's still plenty of X-baggage that must fade away before audiences are ready for, and can fully invest in, a new generation of X-Men.
Fantastic Four Are Easier To Fit Into The MCU
Aside from the respective states of the Fantastic Four and X-Men franchises, it's also vital to consider the practicalities of adding two major components to a franchise already bursting at the seams with superheroes and, in this regard, Fantastic Four is a far more straightforward fit. Since Reed Richards and his pals aren't born with their superhero powers, their origin story can occur at any point in the MCU, and there's no requirement to explain where the quartet were when Loki was invading New York or Thanos was trying to destroy the universe. For the past decade's worth of movies, the Fantastic Four could've been living regular civilian lives and their introduction to the MCU could also be the moment the Four first become superheroes.
The situation couldn't be more different in the land of X-Men. In Marvel mythology, mutants have been around for thousands of years and exist all across the globe as the next evolution of mankind. Because of this, mutants are common knowledge in most versions of the X-Men story, even if Professor X's super-powered high school masquerades as a regular establishment. This setup simply doesn't work within the MCU. It's inconceivable that an entire race of humans with abilities could exist undetected over the course of the MCU's fictional history. Even if mutantkind could be kept a secret from the general public for centuries, the likes of Nick Fury, Odin or Tony Stark surely would've uncovered their existence.
Then there's the issue of the X-Men and Brotherhood teams to consider. Assuming SHIELD had managed to keep the existence of mutants under wraps, surely Charles Xavier would've dispatched his X-Men to help out against Loki, Ultron, Thanos, or any number of other villains that have threatened Earth over the past decade. To explain away this issue, the MCU would have to introduce the X-Men during their establishment, while also accounting for how mutants haven't previously been discovered by the public.
Many have suggested that the simplest way to combine X-Men and the MCU would be to use the franchise's cracked multiverse and have mutants cross over from a different world, but whatever direction Kevin Feige opts for, plenty of work and setup will be required, unlike the Fantastic Four who could be dropped into the franchise at a moment's notice.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021