From the moment the mere possibility of Disney’s purchase of Twentieth Century Fox assets became public knowledge, fans have been salivating (sometimes quite literally) at the thought of the X-Men finally taking their rightful place alongside the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And now, that day is fast approaching, with some reports estimating that the merger will be complete – at least on paper – as early as next month.
But there are still a lot of lingering questions. In this case, the big one is what happens to the X-Men when the ink dries. We know the long term answer, of course – sooner or later, the film franchise will be rebooted by Marvel as part of their massive cinematic universe. But that’s just it. In the shorter term, there already is an ‘X-Men’ film franchise to deal with. At a minimum, ‘Dark Phoenix‘ and ‘The New Mutants‘ are both due in theaters this summer (in June and August, respectively) after what feels like years of delays. But Fox had a veritable cornucopia of spinoffs in development, the most notable being ‘Gambit‘ and ‘X-Force‘. What about all of those?
Rumors have swirled over the last few months that ‘Dark Phoenix’ and ‘New Mutants’ would mark the end of the franchise, which has been running since the release of ‘X-Men’ way back in the halcyon days of the year 2000 (when good comic book movies were much fewer and farther between and people actually said things like “the year 2000”). It’s certainly plausible. If nothing else, that storied cinematic saga has to end sometime. But the official word has been somewhat… nebulous.
But now we know. Following a TCA panel, Lauren Shuler Donner – who has produced every ‘X-Men’ film Fox has released over the last two decades – spoke with the folks at /Film about the future of the X-films. And in that conversation, one theme emerged very quickly. In fact, when asked about the franchise’s future, her response was fairly simple: “That would be between Fox and Disney.” But even as she signaled the likely end of her involvement with these characters, Shuler Donner was quick to voice her confidence in Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who worked with her on the first ‘X-Men’ film, noting that, “He’ got great story sense. He’s got a great ability to weave each world and weave those worlds together. I trust him and I trust that he will take care of the X-Men.”
So where does that leave all the spinoffs? Nowhere, most likely. Referring to both ‘Gambit’ and ‘X-Force’, Shuler Donner reiterated what increasingly sounds like a mantra: It’s all up to Disney. It’s not entirely surprising. ‘X-Force’ was still in the scripting stage and despite Fox’s obvious desire to make the movie happen, ‘Gambit’ spent years struggling to get off the ground even before Disney entered the picture. If ever there was a place to draw a line in the sand, this was probably it. But more than that, there’s also the question of how compatible any of these spinoffs would be with what Marvel is doing. I mean that not only in narrative terms, but in terms of their business strategy. As Shuler Donner pointed out, it’s not as if you could have just dumped those films on to Marvel’s slate even if you wanted to:
“The problem is you can’t have too many Marvel, ‘X-Men’, superhero movies out there because we will cancel each other out. Each one has to be distinctive and yet you’ve got ‘The Avengers’ to follow through. You’ve got so many distinctive story canons to follow through and yet we want new ones. But I don’t think you can have more than four. Four is a lot because people are going to get sick of them so we have to be careful. He has to be careful.”
And so it is that the films that were supposed to be a start of a new era for the ‘X-Men’ movies instead brought it to a close. But I suppose they did usher in a new era after all, though not in the way anyone would have expected. After all, every exit is but an entrance.
The X-Men are dead. Long live the X-Men!