Tracking the future of the X-Men film franchise has been challenging as of late since there are a lot of moving pieces and several external factors. One of those being the disastrous failure of the Fantastic Four reboot which quickly squashed plans for its pre-announced sequel and another being the expansion of the franchise towards television.
Legion airs on FX in a matter of weeks and Fox is just about the pickup a pilot for another X-Men television series which has them and Marvel TV pleased. And yes, Marvel and Fox have been teaming up to co-produce these shows using characters they won't use in the movies which is interesting in its own right, but more on that later. Back on the film side, rumors aside that that Fox and Marvel could work together to trade characters or merge their universe (a la Sony's Spider-Man), the record-setting success of Deadpool and the imminent end of Hugh Jackman's tenure as franchise poster boy Wolverine (see: Logan) has the studio trying to figure out the long-term future of the brand.
2016's X-Men: Apocalypse didn't hit the numbers or acclaim of 2014's hit X-Men: Days of Future Past as the trilogy rounded out in a disappointing way and so the next team-based flick on the schedule is X-Men: The New Mutants. There's no word yet on the status of the Channing Tatum Gambit movie (today producer Lauren Shuler Donner said Tatum is still attached though) and so the other big unanswered question is what happens next for the "core" X-Men movies by director/story man Bryan Singer and producer/writer Simon Kinberg?
Yes, The X-Men Are Going to Space!
That big question was potentially revealed earlier today with a report unveiling the next X-Men movie to be titled X-Men: Supernova. The title is not at all related to the Nova who comic readers are still waiting to show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but instead is lifted from the title of "X-Men: Supernovas" story by Mike Carey which centers around a team lead by Rogue. It's unlikely that the film will have anything to do with that particular story though and rather, it seems to be a nod to the obvious cosmic setting of the next X-Men adventure - a long overdue reality that's been hinted at strongly by the creative team behind the X-Men movies for the last two years.
Let's take a step back and recap.
During the early days of production on X-Men: Apocalypse, director Bryan Singer - who announced the movie before Days of Future Past even hit theaters with the idea of taking advantage of all the comic properties Fox has access to - shared a piece of art from the film. It featured a futuristic or alien looking ship with a landing ramp, and an undisclosed figure standing beside it. This scene didn't make it into the movie but with Singer and Kinberg hinting at the alien origins of the artifact in the movie that gave Apocalypse his powers to transfer from one body to the next, it's obvious that Apocalypse's origins is taking at least some major inspiration from the comics where it's alien technology which grants him his god-like abilities. Kinberg even used the word "cosmic" to describe the costume design of Apocalypse's helmet.
What We Learned From Bryan Singer on Set
That summer (2015) we visited the Montreal set of X-Men: Apocalypse where Singer spoke at length about what's next for the series. He said they'd keep going with the 10-year increments (which means X-Men: Supernova would be set in the '90s alongside The New Mutants potentially)
"But we’ve also introduced the tenants of time travel, which already exists in the comic book. Also I imagine – and this is the first time I’ve actually answered the question this way – but another thing that’s been introduced in the comics is a big alien, interstellar tenant within the X-Men universe that hasn’t been explored. And to me, that might be kind of fun because I’m a huge Star Wars and Star Trek fan, and exploring the X-Men universe and being able to utilize that would be exciting, visually."
In that same interview, when joking about how the concept of exploring time-travel in the X-Men movies first came up he said that's a tenant now and outer space/aliens can be as well:
"I could take X-Men to space, which brings me right back to Guardians of the f*cking Galaxy. I could find myself on a giant space station. With the M’Kraan Crystal and the whole f*cking thing with mutants. By the way that sounds like something I’m going to circle back to in about six years."
It sounds like this may be a lot closer than we think.
Le Journal de Montréal published an article in November 2015 with quotes from Mel’s Studio (where Days of Future Past and Apocalypse were shot) boss Michel Trudel revealing that they made deal with Fox for a third Bryan Singer X-Men movie to shoot there as well in 2017 for release in 2018. And today's X-Men: Supernova news lines up with that (arguably, The New Mutants fits too).
What Does This All Mean?
It's not at all surprising that the next main X-Men movie will finally take the franchise to space (where the Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe and Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe have already started telling stories). They should have done this years ago but Supernova does offer the studio a second chance to explore The Dark Phoenix Saga - the correct way, aliens and all. It's the logical followup for how Sophie Turner 's Jean Grey was depicted in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Fox owns many of Marvel's alien races and key cosmic characters which has proven problematic for quite some time for Marvel Studios who wanted to use several of these species (mainly the Badoon) and characters (like Silver Surfer and Galactus) but couldn't because Fox was holding onto them without using them. Now Fox potentially can, and by going to space it opens the doors to all sorts of new stories and characters.
And if X-Men: Supernova adapts The Dark Phoenix Saga as this title may imply, it's possible we see a few aliens too, like the Shi'ar Empire who are intrinsically linked with Phoenix-based stories in the comics. And maybe if Fox can do this right, and make Marvel cosmic work in their own way with the X-Men, they can re-reboot the Fantastic Four or use the plot devices of space, time, and alternate realities to do the inevitable and crossover with the MCU. Eventually.
For now, let's see if they can get The Dark Phoenix Saga right.