There’s a lot of debate going on about the future of the Fox’s Marvel films already in production (Deadpool, New Mutants, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and movies slated for production or stuck in development hell (the Gambit movie, the unnamed Multiple-Man project, an unnamed X-Force project, and a solo Doctor Doom film) with the recent acquisition of Fox properties by Disney.
In the $52 billion deal, Disney acquired several IPs. More particularly, for our discussion, they’ll be getting the X-Men characters. And they’ll be getting the Fantastic Four.
The mutants have been somewhat successful with their franchise on the Fox lot. With the first film, there was a decent audience for it. First Class was an attempt to get comic book fans back on board with the retro style of the X-Men. Days of Future Past was successful in exploring time travel and merging the two worlds of X-Men both old and young on screen. Logan was a box office success and critically lauded as one of the best superhero films, maybe even above the ranks of Dark Knight. Then Deadpool was heralded as a successful comedy that took the R rating and made fun of itself as a superhero film that continually broke the 4th wall.
Add to that the upcoming titles for the X-Men universe, and the deal gave audiences some pause. What can Disney do with these titles in order to make them even more successful? One obvious answer that many a fan wants to see is crossing them over into the Avengers films. It’s also possible, they might keep the two universes separate, but certain characters might traverse between them. For example, we might see Magneto become a foe in an upcoming Avengers-focused movie with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Or we could see Red Skull or even Loki hop into the X-Men reality and cause some mischief. However, there will be a major hurdle: tone.
The problem with integrating these titles into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is tone. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige will eventually have to make a decision about the development paths for these movies. Will the tone of the X-Men fit in with the likes of The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy? There’s also the question of budgets and the differences between an Avengers title versus an X-Men title. Many of the MCU films have heavily invested in CGI and big budget sets and top talent to make their movies. However, the X-Men titles, with even their most recent title Logan was a lower budget film that relied on the strength of the writing to bring audiences to the box office. Even though there were top notch actors in the film, it wasn’t an ensemble of stars sharing the screen.
The Fantastic Four
The Fantastic Four hasn’t been a great franchise to begin with. Every iteration of the first super powered family hasn’t been really big in the theaters. The campiness of the characters and the feel of the movie felt more Batman & Robin with some of the old 90’s aesthetic of the previous iterations of Fantastic Four. Add to that the casting of Sue Richards as Jessica Alba, who is as far from the character as possible. Ioan Gruffudd was a good fit for Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards, Johnny Storm played by Chris Evans was fun but got cringeworthy at some points, and Michael Chiklas was probably the most polarizing for the film- even if his rocks didn’t look convincing.
The last Fantastic Four movie was a box office disappointment in every respect. The reception of the team by Josh Trank tanked. The visuals of the movie didn’t appeal to audiences, the story didn’t appeal, and the characters didn’t appeal. Even though each actor was a rising star in their own respects, it seemed like this movie shot each of their careers down (except Michael B. Jordan, who went on to do Creed and can now be seen in the next MCU film Black Panther as Killmonger). Everything about this movie worked against it when it was finally released. The darker tone of the movie, the aesthetic mess that was Dr. Doom and the Thing, the messed up description for Mr. Fantastic’s powers, Kate Mara’s shoddy wig during reshoots… the list could go on and on. So, taking on this title won’t be a problem for the MCU, right?
The Problem in Production
There was a lot of speculation about whether or not Disney would get the Fantastic Four in the first place. Those who follow the Hollywood business note that Fox has distribution rights. But Constantin films actually had rights to the characters. Everyone ended up talking about whether Disney could actually produce any Fantastic Four movies. As a distribution, they could simply refuse to distribute any Fantastic Four films from Constantin until they played ball in the MCU.
Because they don’t have any distribution, Constantin could potentially produce movies with the Fantastic Four characters that no one will ever see, keep the rights and lose money. Or they don’t make any movies with those characters, a certain number of years go by and they lose the rights to the Four and it falls back to Disney. Or they play ball and include the Four in the MCU and have Feige work with them to get them integrated into the larger story line.
The agreement also provides Disney with the opportunity to reunite the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool with the Marvel family under one roof and create richer, more complex worlds of inter-related characters and stories that audiences have shown they love.
While this part in Disney’s official statement about the deal specifically names the Fantastic Four, it’s curious that Constantin is not named as the production company for the team. Instead, the Fox deal somehow put them in the same category as the X-Men, and put them under the Mouse umbrella.
The X-Men present another problem to the MCU. Along with the tone of the films, there is also the use of the term tent-pole in Hollywood. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a money making machine. A tent-pole movie’s ultimate purpose is to support the financial performance of the studio. This ties in with merchandise sales, appearances, etc.
With the X-Men films, they are not so tent-pole as maybe Disney would like. The film’s success will have to rest on its own laurels. The strength of its writing team, direction, set and costume designers, promotional staff, post production, trailer cutters, etc. will determine the financial success of the studio. And for Disney, a film doing well on its own may not be enough to pay the bills.
Film makers who have worked under Fox who felt stifled before may have greater difficulties when Disney/Marvel execs arrive on set with their mandates. They’ll want their three or four shots featuring some tie-in with another film. Or a clip the studio wants for promotional purposes. And it won’t matter if it doesn’t fit in with the narrative of the writers or director. There’s also the job market for those who currently reside in the Fox production company. Disney already has a network for distribution, production, post, houses for CG and motion capture. So folks around the Hollywood scene fear that Fox’s lots might get thinned out or eliminated altogether.
The 2019 Verdict?
We probably won’t see anything immediately from this deal in 2018. Kevin Feige won’t have any big announcements at Comic Con or D23. Bob Iger won’t have any storyboards or mandates for execs to take to production studios. X-Men: Dark Phoenix is still in production. The Gambit film is finally set to begin filming in February. We still have the New Mutants and the Deadpool sequel to look forward to. Not to mention the television franchises of The Gifted doing well and Legion getting a second season. Pulling the plug on all of these productions to fit with the MCU tone would be unwise on Disney’s part.
The government is now taking a look at the deal- whether anti-trust laws are potentially being violated. Disney, with this deal, will have over 300 channels, 22 sports networks, significant control over Hulu as well as Roku. As David Cicilline, a representative on the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee put it, “If it’s approved, this [Fox and Disney deal] could allow Disney to limit what consumers can watch and increase their cable bills.” That’s a huge portion of the entertainment landscape.
We could already be feeling that pain of the one-sided landscape. Just ask Warner Bros. about the superhero market as of late. It’s hard to compete with Disney with all that Mouse House money thrown in for the MCU and Star Wars. The box office numbers seem to be in agreement for the most part. If the merger does go full throttle, the landscape for competing on that field could get worse.
So, we could get an announcement in 2019. But at what cost to the creative landscape? What competition will remain when Disney owns more than half of it, at the very least? What cost will consumers pay to see the Marvel titles under one roof? And what of those creative souls, who have to kowtow their desires to fulfill Disney exec mandates? And that just to get a watered-down version of their vision on screen? A lot of people in Hollywood are talking about this deal and asking these very questions.
To say the least, 2018 will be a legal, financial, and logistical hurdle for Disney. It’s going to be a long year until we finally see how they fare through that labyrinth.