X-Men: Dark Phoenix – the fourth and final film in the ‘First Class’ quadrilogy – is finally with us, and it definitely marks the end of this X-Men strand as we know it: there’s little in the way of new universe-building, the main characters’ arcs are all wrapped up and there aren’t even any mid/post-credit stingers to chew over.
It’s not really that surprising. Not only does the series feel like it’s come to a natural end – unfortunately, with slightly more of a whimper than a bang (check out our review) – but with Disney now having completed its acquisition of Fox, it makes sense that the mutants will be returning to the same stable as that of their creators, Marvel.
So, now that this era of X-Men is drawing to a close, what will the future hold? Let’s have a look at how the uncanny mutants might move forward…
The New Mutants
A strange one, this. The trailer for Josh Boone’s (The Fault In Our Stars) “scary” X-spinoff first appeared back in 2017 and since then, there’s been nothing but reports of extensive reshoots (reports that were subsequently shot down by star Maisie Williams) and seemingly endless release date changes. Things weren’t looking good for the movie when, around the time that the Disney/Fox deal completed, The New Mutants seemed to drop off the schedule entirely, prompting fears it would head straight to streaming. But then Disney announced a new release date of 3 April 2020, as rumours of a new round of reshoots started to emerge.
The question is, will Marvel Studios be overseeing these reshoots? It’s not out of the realm of possibility that The New Mutants could be retooled into something more in line with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After all, the core cast is full of newcomers (we imagine any already filmed cameos or ties to the existing X-Men would be cut) and the project could work as a re-introduction to the concept of mutants, with a plot that follows five as-yet-unseen gifted youngsters – including Anya Taylor-Joy’s sorceress Magik and William’s shape-shifter Wolfsbane – as they struggle to deal with their demons while locked up in a sinister secret facility.
At this point, Ryan Reynolds’ Merc with a Mouth seems to be the only existing Fox X-character that will survive the crossover to Disney intact (other spinoffs in development, such as the long-mooted Gambit, have officially been dropped). Disney’s chief creative officer, Alan Horn, has already promised more ‘Pool and has been extremely complimentary about Reynolds’ popular antihero, while the actor himself has embraced his character’s new studio home in typically irreverent style on Twitter. Disney CEO Bob Iger also confirmed there is room for R-rated superhero movies at the Mouse House, although they’ll probably exist in a separate strand, “making sure we are not in any way confusing the consumer with the more traditional Marvel product.”
All of which means we’re still likely to be getting a standalone Deadpool 3 at some point in the near future. It makes sense: while it might be too much of a stretch to introduce the potty-mouthed Deadpool into the much more family-friendly MCU, there is too great a fanbase to risk losing – Deadpool 2 was a hit with critics and punters alike, raking in nearly $800 million worldwide. And Reynolds, who’s already survived one big-screen rebirth after Wade Wilson’s botched first appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is now so synonymous with the character that recasting at this point would be a big mistake.
The return of Wolverine
Talking about actors who are intricately associated with their characters, one of Disney and Marvel’s biggest priorities is going to be finding a new Wolverine. Hugh Jackman played the mutant throughout the majority of the Fox X-Men movies (nine appearances in total, including camoes and solo spinoffs – 10 if you want to include the reused footage in Deadpool 2), finally hanging up his adamantium claws with the brilliant Logan in 2017. Whether you feel he fully embodied the Wolverine of the comics or not, there’s no denying it became Jackman’s signature role (earning him a Guinness World Record for “longest career as a live-action Marvel superhero” in the process).
Replacing Jackman is not going to be easy, but it’s likely that Wolverine will be the first port of call for Marvel in terms of redeveloping its mutant characters, seeing as he’s one of the X-Men’s highest-profile members and has starred in several comic series of his own (meaning there’s a lot of source material to draw from). He’s also ripe for shared universe integration, too: Wolverine made his first comic appearance in The Incredible Hulk in 1974, so he and the green giant go back a long way. He was also a member of the New Avengers, fighting alongside the likes of Bucky Barnes, Carol Danvers and Spidey himself, Peter Parker, so slotting Wolverine into a future team-up sequel shouldn’t be too difficult.
Here’s the main challenge: rebooting the X-Men – and how. Luckily, with the rights to the characters back at their spiritual home, Marvel Studios now has free reign to recast and reimagine its full roster of mutant heroes. But it’s not quite that easy; with great power comes great responsibility. Marvel has to acknowledge that moviegoers have had 19 years of mutant movies, which have already adapted some of the comics’ most iconic storylines. There is big-screen baggage there. Take X-Men: Dark Phoenix, for example: one of its biggest problems is that it’s repeating a storyline that was previously filmed just 13 years ago with The Last Stand, without making it suitably different or, crucially, better.
Luckily, Marvel already has experience in that area. After all, the way the studio handled Spidey’s introduction into the MCU was inspired. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man reboot suffered from comparisons to Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man, which had covered the hero’s now familiar origin story and Uncle Ben’s death only a decade beforehand. Marvel’s solution? Leave that out completely, catching up with the webslinger post-spider bite and family tragedy. They also seeded a new and interesting relationship with an existing Avenger, Tony Stark, to build up Spidey’s shared universe credentials.
In the comics at least, there are hundreds of connections and crossovers between the X-Men and the Avengers available to mine for future big-screen stories. Could we see a fresh-faced Ororo Munroe, aka Storm, pop up alongside her one-time comics hubby T’Challa in a Black Panther sequel, perhaps, ahead of an X-Men movie proper? (However she’s introduced, we hope the changing of the guard at least finally gives Storm the prominence she deserves.)
Only time will tell how the X-Men are rebooted, but then that’s the key. If head honcho Kevin Feige is to be believed, Marvel won’t be rushing anything. “For us, it’s less about specifics of when and where [the X-Men will appear] right now and more just the comfort factor and how nice it is that they’re home,” Feige said during promotional duties on Avengers: Endgame. “But it will be a very long time.” Hopefully, the new X-Men, whoever they are, will be all the better for it.