The news that 20th Century Fox has been in talks to sell some of its company to Disney – including the movie rights to the X-Men – has inspired much conversation over the future of the Marvel franchise. But while there are definitely reasons why it could be a bad thing for both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Fox’s, it conversely has the potential to revitalize the X-Men franchise as well as expand the MCU. And we have proof: Spider-Man: Homecoming.
When Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios announced that they would be collaborating on a new Spider-Man movie with a new leading man, many people were understandably skeptical. The franchise had already been rebooted with Andrew Garfield in 2012, replacing Tobey Maguire after just three movies. Of course, while The Amazing Spider-Man was highly rated by critics, the sequel was definitely lacking; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was roundly criticized for its messy plot, with too many characters that were underdeveloped.
So, nine months after the film’s release, Sony had confirmed their plans to replace Garfield to start a third franchise co-produced by Marvel Studios. That deal meant that while Sony would continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control over the Spider-Man film rights, Marvel head Kevin Feige would be spear-heading the franchise’s creative direction and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be able to use the superhero too.
This was obviously a massive win for both studios, as well as fans who had both been desperate to see Spider-Man in the MCU, something they finally witnessed in Captain America: Civil War. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was a huge hit, with the movie providing a strong set-up for the character’s solo outing Spider-Man Homecoming.
Jon Watts’ first Spidey flick definitely benefitted from Marvel Studio’s creative influence – Feige and his team co-produced alongside Sony Chief Amy Pascal, rather than The Amazing Spider-Man franchise producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach – and the addition of one of their most popular characters, Tony Stark. The reviews were the best the series had had in years; on Rotten Tomatoes the film has a 92% fresh rating with critics praising its fun tone, diverse casting and revitalization of the superhero with a more modern, youthful approach to the storytelling. The box office result reflected the change-up too; it’s still the highest-grossing superhero film of 2017. The character is back, with a proper sequel in works set to come after Holland’s appearances in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4.
So how could Spider-Man’s renewed success be applied to the X-Men franchise? Since Fox released the first movie in 2000, the series has achieved fluctuating acclaim; X-Men and X2 were praised by critics but X-Men: The Last Stand seriously dropped the standard. The franchise was exalted with the double-whammy of X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past but by the time X-Men: Apocalypse came along the second trilogy had likewise run out of gas. It seemed Fox were falling into the same traps as Sony, unable to find a continuing narrative and the right approach to character development that would keep the X-Men train rolling on the track of critical success.
Of course, they’ve since released the distinct, R-rated Deadpool and Logan, which both have benefitted from having their narrative separate from the one established, then reset, in the main X-Men movies. But despite that expansion, there are still concerns, especially as we’re now faced with a brand new main trilogy starting with X-Men: Dark Phoenix from producer-turned-director Simon Kinberg. It’s no Amazing Spider-Man, but there are clear advantages to a hard reset that brings the characters over to the MCU.
Above all, Spider-Man showed the power of simply existing in the MCU. This is obviously not to say that every single X-Men or Marvel hero has to appear in each others’ movies, but like in Spider-Man Homecoming with Iron Man and Captain America, we could see one or two cross franchises. That said, the bigger success of Homecoming was its self-aware handling of the character’s iconography; it stripped back Spidey to a core idea that avoided overused elements. Something similar applied to X-Men would refresh them, not just reboot the series. For example, considering that Wolverine, Professor Xavier and Magneto have been used excessively, maybe they could retire from the X-Men universe to make way for new heroes.
The introduction of fresh characters would obviously raise questions of whether the newish X-Men crew should be recast. Like Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, they are playing the younger versions of their X-Men heroes and have barely scraped the surface of what they could bring to the cinematic table – Dark Phoenix‘s 1990s setting would seemingly open the possibility of a Captain Marvel crossover. That said, Holland shows that sometimes starting new is the best approach. It all depends on integration.
And, of course, the biggest difference between bringing Sony’s Spider-Man into the MCU and doing the same with Fox’s X-Men is just that; it is far easier to crossover one character based in Queens than it is multiple with a bigger role in the wider world. The MCU is already filled up with numerous superheroes and villains so the potential for a whole load of X-Men goodies and baddies to be added to the mix may just make it far too convoluted. But Marvel Studios has already proven that they know how to bring their superheroes to the big screen better than anyone else, regardless of how overdone they are. Surely they could do the same for the X-Men.