There’s a lot more at stake in the Disney-FOX (FOXA) merger than where our favorite superheros are going to end up; one of Hollywood’s oldest studios is closing up shop and countless people are going to lose their jobs. It’s something worth reflecting on as we continue to pick apart the looming implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Just something to keep in mind.
But the biggest storyline in the eyes of most fans is what will happen to the X-Men. On Wednesday morning, Disney boosted its Fox bid to $71.3 billion in cash and stock, a considerable increase from its initial agreement of $52.5 billion in all stock. Couple that with Comcast (CMCSA)’s renewed pursuit of Fox’s major entertainment assets and it’s just a matter of time until the mutants have a new home.
The X-Men franchise is currently the longest-running continuous superhero series at 18 years. Though the continuity is overly muddled and the cast of characters has been split into two different timelines, it remains a staple of the comic book blockbuster landscape. The original 2000 film helped to launch the current superhero craze, and franchise standouts such as X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool and Logan rank among some of the best in the genre.
But what will happen to this iteration of the X-Men and its sprawling cast once they fall under a new banner? Will either Disney or Comcast recast the popular characters?
“That could happen,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, speculated. “But casting is tricky. Some of these characters are so closely associated with their stars. It is possible to recast, but more difficult when guys like James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart have played these roles for so long. As actors get older, though, that makes it easier to recast.”
As of right now, the two most popular big screen X-Men characters are Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool, making them the most valuable names to crossover. But the former hung up his claws after 17 years in the role with the successful Logan, while the latter is gearing up for the team-up film X-Force, which will still fall under the current Fox banner. We likely won’t be seeing Wolverine in live action anytime soon, unless a new studio makes the unpopular decision to recast the character so quickly after Jackman’s departure. Disney CEO Bob Iger has already said that the Deadpool franchise will remain R-rated should it make its way to the Mouse House.
Most crucially, both characters were used to expand the superhero genre, with Logan serving as a violent neo-Western and Deadpool morphing into a raunchy meta action comedy. Next year’s The New Mutants is a straight horror film that just happens to be populated by superheroes. The hope is that whichever studio gains control of the franchise continues to push the boundaries of the genre.
“Creative risk taking with Logan and Deadpool has been the hallmark of the unique and edgy strategy under Fox recently,” Dergarabedian said. “Every franchise has its ups and downs creatively, but this is a big reason why the X-Men franchise has produced some of the best superhero films of all time. The hope is that this creative risk-taking doesn’t stop and that whichever company winds up with these assets carries forward the success and brand identity.”
Though McAvoy (Professor Charles Xavier), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto) have all been well-received by fans in the X-Universe, next year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix will be their fourth appearance in these roles. Both actors and audiences might be ready to move on after, opening the door for a recast or something new entirely.
It’s possible that Disney or Comcast will bring tangential characters to the forefront that have yet to really take center stage. There are so many X-characters to draw from that casual fans are not familiar with, an immediate reboot may not be necessary. That’s something that could get comics readers excited if done well.
It’s also possible, thanks to the endless powers of the X-Men and the magic of the Infinity Stones and other MacGuffins, that both studios could construct an in-universe bridge so that the current cast, especially the younger actors such as Sophie Turner (Jean Gray) and Tye Sheridan (Cyclops), could remain in the roles. It’s easy to see Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark explaining a rip in the space time continuum that brought the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. X-fans have also long been clamoring for a solo film revolving around Storm, currently played by Alexandra Shipp. Such a move would immediately endear the new studio to the mutant faithful.
Whatever the case may be, one lucky studio is going to receive one of the most valuable pieces of IP in Hollywood. It will be up to them not to squander the opportunity.
“Disney or Comcast will have to take this brand into the next two or three decades,” Dergarabedian said. “Whoever becomes custodian of the X-Men has their work cut out for them. It’s a high bar in the superhero genre.”