Can The X-Men Really Join The MCU Without Disappointing Fans?

In 2019, The Walt Disney Company officially acquired many of the most prominent entertainment assets from 20th Century Fox. Many percieved it as a dark day for the industry, since merging two industry titans meant thousands of people would lose their jobs, and it's scary to think that only a few corporations will control the future of the entertainment industry.

The merger did add an interesting wrinkle to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though: Among the new assets that Disney acquired was Fox's "X-Men" franchise. As it existed since 2000, Fox's X-movies were very different from the universe that Kevin Feige had helped establish at Disney's Marvel Studios. It could be exciting to see beloved characters like Charles Xavier and Magneto interact with the MCU's collection of heroes, but "X-Men" fans have good reasons to be skeptical. Although there were very few clues about the future of the "X-Men" revealed at Marvel Studios' Comic-Con presentation, it's been announced that both a third "Deadpool" movie and the animated "X-Men '97" series will be coming soon. "X-Men" represents a huge opportunity, but can this brand really join the MCU without disappointing fans?

Will legacy actors be brought in?

Ever since the "X-Men" franchise began with Bryan Singer's original film back in 2000, the saga has amassed an impressive ensemble of actors. Veteran performers like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen helped flesh out the longstanding characters like Professor X and Magneto to the point where it felt like many of them already received a proper conclusion to their stories. However, the MCU has made a habit of bringing back different iterations of characters for cameo appearances.

Evan Peters, who originally played the character Quicksilver in 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past," returned for a small role in the Disney+ series "WandaVision." It was fun to see Peters return, especially since his character was not given a satisfying conclusion in 2019's "Dark Phoenix." However, Stewart also reprised his role as Charles Xavier for a brief cameo in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Even though it was within only one possible universe, seeing Xavier back again felt odd. His death was so emotional in 2017's "Logan" that seeing any iteration of the character again so soon just felt wrong. If the MCU finds intelligent ways to bring back actors from the "X-Men" series, it could be a fun treat for fans of both sagas, but there is also the risk that seeing characters again could feel like a cheap way of catering to the audience. 

Will Disney be able to handle social politics?

Social representation is an important part of the "X-Men" franchise. Many comic book readers have interpreted the role that mutants play within the Marvel universe as an extended metaphor for the fight against homophobia. Unfortunately, the MCU has been slow to represent its LGBTQIA fans. It's rather shameful that the MCU only first introduced an LGBT character in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame." The fact that it was a minor character (who had little impact on the plot) was downright insulting.

If the MCU uses the "X-Men" source material to address current political and social issues, it could radically change the overall franchise. Outside of the metaphorical implications, there are many LGBT characters in the various "X-Men" comic books. It would be sad to see this proud legacy tarnished if it was not treated with respect. Disney has not done a great job with their representation, and even when they do introduce LGBT characters they are often for brief moments and can easily be cut out for the restrictive international audiences. LGBT "X-Men" fans deserve more than for an actor to simply suggest that a character is gay.

Will Deadpool feel neutered?

In 2016 the first "Deadpool" movie felt like a breath of fresh air compared to other comic book films. The self-deprecating, fourth-wall-breaking nature of the titular character allowed the "Deadpool" series to lampoon cliches within superhero movies. It was also great to see a franchise that wasn't obsessed with building the larger mythology, as 2018's "Deadpool 2" didn't feel like it was concerned with setting up another slate of films. Rather, it was simply another silly adventure for the beloved "Merc With A Mouth."

Disney has announced that a third "Deadpool" movie is in active development, with "Free Guy" director Shawn Levy attached to direct it. It was also confirmed that Ryan Reynolds would be reprising his role. However, a watered-down "Deadpool" movie would be completely pointless. Unfortunately, this is the issue with bringing in Levy to direct. "Free Guy" is supposedly an anti-corporate original film but it does nothing but celebrate consumerism and replicate familiar story beats.

Will Cyclops finally be done justice?

20th Century Fox's "X-Men" franchise did a lot of things right. Unfortunately, the characterization of the character Cyclops was not one of them. Fans of the "X-Men" comics were excited to see Scott Summers/Cyclops play a significant role in the film adaptations, as he had been one of the best characters within the animated Marvel universe. In fact, a poll conducted by IGN in 2008 ranked Cyclops as the greatest "X-Men" character of all time.

Sadly, the films did not do justice to Cyclops' proud history. While James Marsden is a terrific actor, the movie depicted Cyclops as a brash, obnoxious know-it-all, and paid more attention to Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). When 2016's "X-Men: Apocalypse" introduced younger iterations of the "X-Men" team, the saga failed Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) again. It was another case of getting a great actor to play an uninteresting character iteration. The MCU has an opportunity to get Cyclops right and it might be satisfying to see Marsden or Sheridan return through the multiverse, but with better material to work with.

How will Wolverine be handled?

MCU fans saw Robert Downey Jr. evolve the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man over time. Tony was a much different man in 2008's "Iron Man" than the one he became by the end of 2019's "Avengers: Endgame." Although his whip-smart personality and inventiveness never waned, Tony grew into a more reasonable, responsible, and respectful person. He opened himself up to working with others and became a mentor to Peter Parker (Tom Holland). Due to his deep character arc, Tony's death in "Endgame" was very emotional.

This is certainly something that "X-Men" fans understand given their experience with Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine. When Jackman was cast as the iconic mutant in 2000's "X-Men," he was mostly known for his work on stage. Jackman's performance in the original "X-Men" helped turn him into the beloved star he is today. The "X-Men" franchise certainly had its ups and downs, but Jackman was never less than excellent in the role. He was also given a respectful and satisfying conclusion to his character arc. 2013's "The Wolverine" explored Logan's struggles with his own mortality, and "The Wolverine" director James Mangold closed his story once and for all with his 2017 masterpiece "Logan." The post-apocalyptic, R-Rated "X-Men" spinoff concluded Logan's story by giving him an honorable death. It would simply feel strange if Jackman popped up again in the MCU to play Wolverine again. Anyone that steps into his shoes will face nearly insurmountable expectations.

Will Disney be able to market R-Rated content?

The tonal consistency that Kevin Feige has maintained within the MCU is never something that 20th Century Fox's "X-Men" franchise did very well. Although the MCU has certainly hired some interesting filmmakers, the films themselves still adhere to a very similar tone and style. The content on Disney+ has generally conformed to this style as well.

That's not something that the "X-Men" films ever had going for them. The spinoff "Deadpool" and "Wolverine" franchises were set within the continuity of the "X-Men" universe but had very different tones compared to the core films. They also attracted audiences of different ages. Unlike the rest of the films in the series, which were all rated PG-13 by the MPAA, "Deadpool," "Logan," and "Deadpool 2" all received "R" ratings. The MCU has yet to produce an R-Rated film, and fans have come to expect the same family-friendly tone. There was even a bit of controversy when "Deadpool," "Logan," and "Deadpool 2" were added to Disney+, as the Parents Television and Media Council criticized Disney for putting R-Rated films on their streaming service.

Will fans have to wait until Phase Six?

Ever since Disney officially purchased 20th Century Fox, the question of whether the "X-Men" would become part of the MCU was not "if" but "when." The X-Men are some of the most popular Marvel characters, and it would be exciting to see all of the characters in the Marvel universe living within the same franchise.

Understandably, fans were expecting several "X-Men" projects to be announced during Kevin Feige's presentation on the future of Marvel Studios at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. Strangely, the "X-Men" were not mentioned very often. Feige has teased that there is a mutant-centric film in development, but so far, it does not appear that it will be part of Phase Five. "X-Men" fans looking forward to seeing the characters again may be disappointed if they wait until Phase Six. Phase Six will not start until November of 2024 with "Fantastic Four."

X-Men '97: satisfying or desperate nostalgia play?

One of the more exciting announcements from Marvel Studios' Comic Con presentations was the news of an animated series for Disney+ titled "X-Men '97." The upcoming show, which is set to debut on Disney's streaming service in 2023, will continue the same story that began with "X-Men: The Animated Series" in 1992, and pick up where that show left off.

So far, it appears that Disney has been able to bring back the original creative team. Cal Dodd (Wolverine), Catherine Disher (Jean Grey), Alison Sealy-Smith (Storm), George Buza (Beast), Lenore Zann (Rogue), Adrian Hough (Nightcrawler), Alyson Court (Jubilee), Christopher Britton (Mister Sinister), and Chris Potter (Gambit) are all set to return. The original "X-Men: The Animated Series" writers Eric and Julia Lewald along with director Larry Houston are set to consult on the project. Bringing back so many familiar names will certainly generate some goodwill among "X-Men" fans. A generation of younger viewers thinks of "X-Men: The Animated Series" as the definitive adaptation of the characters. 

Will X-Men interact with golden age MCU heroes?

Back in the "golden age" of both the MCU and the "X-Men" franchise, the notion of a crossover felt exciting. The MCU had steadily proven that it could bring all of its core heroes together into a connected universe. Although it now looks rather quaint compared to the modern MCU, 2012's "The Avengers" was a big deal when it was first released. Marvel fans never expected to see a big-screen adventure with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk that surpassed their expectations.

This was the same period of time when the "X-Men" series was also finding its footing. After the disappointments of 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand" and 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the franchise showed new signs of life with 2011's "X-Men: First Class." Matthew Vaughn's prequel film proved that the "X-Men" saga had a future, and 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" successfully found a way to unite both the younger and older generations of "X-Men" characters. At this time, the possibilities seemed endless. How cool would it have been to see Hugh Jackman's Wolverine,Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier, and Ian McKellen's Magneto interact with Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, Chris Evans' Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth's Thor? It may be disappointing, now that those opportunities are dwindling. It appears that both Downey Jr. and Evans have left the MCU for good, and Jackman has said that he is not going to return to play Logan again.

Will the Multiverse make things more confusing?

The first three phases of the MCU are known as the "Infinity Saga." Despite all the different characters introduced, the story of the "Infinity Saga" was relatively straightforward. Thanos (Josh Brolin) was searching the universe for the Infinity Stones so that he could complete his evil plan. In order to stop him, the Avengers needed to assemble. This was an excellent way for the MCU to steadily begin revealing new heroes from all different parts of the universe.

The subsequent three phases of the MCU are known as the "Multiverse Saga," and it's safe to say that it has been pretty confusing so far. The multiple timelines and variant versions of the characters are overwhelming, even for massive MCU fans. There is also more content than ever before. You may have felt lost if you watched "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" in theaters without finishing "WandaVision." The "X-Men" characters come with their own mythology, history, and world-building. They deserve to be more than just one story beat within the ever-expanding multiverse.

Is the MCU capable of being subversive?

Unfortunately, there is a sameness of tone that has crept into the MCU. Even when the MCU tries to adopt the characteristics of other genres, the films still adhere to similar story beats, humorous gags, and characterizations. There are hints of classic crime capers in the "Ant-Man" films but, in actuality, they are just superhero films with a few heist sequences. The notion that a film like 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is really a 1970s political thriller is frankly laughable; it's hardly as politically bold as classics like "The Parallax View" or "Three Days of the Condor."

That was not the case with 20th Century Fox's "X-Men" franchise. "X-Men: First Class" genuinely felt like a 1960s spy thriller, "Logan" was a fitting homage to classic westerns, and "Deadpool" effectively parodied superhero movie archetypes. This is the type of tonal diversity that the MCU really needs right now.

Have the best storylines already been used?

Fox's "X-Men" franchise took inspiration from some of the best storylines from the original comics. Iconic story arcs such as "The Dark Phoenix Saga," "Days of Future Past," and "Old Man Logan" inspired the best (and worst) entries in the saga. The MCU faces a dilemma when bringing the iconic characters back for a new iteration. If Kevin Feige and his creative team decided to adapt some of the lesser-known story arcs, will MCU fans feel like they've been cheated? If the MCU draws inspiration from the same stories that the previous films did, will it feel repetitive?

Finding the right mix of these two options would be the best course of action. There are certainly many great arcs that have yet to be brought to the screen, such as "Utopia," "X for Extinction," and "Gifted" all have the potential to be great films. However, there are also some storylines that could use another adaptation. Although "The Fall of the Mutants" is an amazing story arc, "X-Men: Apocalypse" was certainly not the version that the fans wanted.

Will we finally get a good Dark Phoenix adaptation?

"The Dark Phoenix Saga" is one of the best "X-Men" comic book storylines. Unfortunately, it had been a thorn in the side of the "X-Men" film franchise for years. 2003's "X2" introduced aspects of "The Dark Phoenix Saga," which served as the primary inspiration for 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand." Unfortunately, "The Last Stand" was a massive disappointment that failed to live up to the first two films.

The "X-Men" franchise tried once again to bring aspects of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" to life in the 2019 film that was aptly titled "Dark Phoenix." "X-Men" fans were disappointed once more. "Dark Phoenix" was visually uninteresting, unemotional, and perhaps even worse than "The Last Stand." If the MCU finds the right way to bring "The Dark Phoenix Saga" to the screen, it would be very satisfying for fans. However, "X-Men" fans probably can't bear another disappointing version of the story. The third time's the charm?

Will we see justice for the X-Men TV characters?

Recently, the MCU films have finally started bringing in characters from the extended Marvel television universe. Charlie Cox made a brief cameo appearance as Matt Murdock/Daredevil in 2021's "Spider-Man: No Way Home," and Vincent D'Onofrio returned as Kingpin in "Hawkeye." These characters were first introduced in the Netflix series "Daredevil." Both Cox and D'Onofrio are set to return once more for the upcoming Disney+ series "Daredevil: Born Again."

The MCU's version of the "X-Men" has the potential to create a similarly rewarding experience for fans of the "X-Men" television shows. "Fargo" showrunner Noah Hawley created one of the greatest superhero shows of all time with his FX series "Legion," which concluded in 2019. Inspired by the character that Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz created, "Legion" introduced a surrealist, trippy side of the "X-Men" universe. It would be exciting to see characters such as David Haller (Dan Stevens) and Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller) appear in the MCU.

Will the MCU still be relevant?

The MCU is no longer as exciting as it once was and has arguably begun to decline in quality. "Black Widow," "Eternals," "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," and "Thor: Love and Thunder" were all massive disappointments, and the Disney+ shows have been mediocre at best. Although there were many exciting announcements out of Comic-Con, there is no guarantee that any of the upcoming shows and films will be good.

The "X-Men" characters might be the supercharge that the MCU needs during these uncertain times. Given the plethora of source material that Disney now has at its disposal, there is certainly the potential for a great "X-Men" film or series within the MCU, but even if the MCU does create an exciting "X-Men" project, will it set a new standard or will it be an anomaly in a franchise that is far past its prime?