Let’s catch up a second. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been populated with a roster of characters that, while great, were nobody’s first choices for hinging an entire franchise on. Why is that the case? Well, in the 90s, Marvel was in serious jeopardy and faced falling out of existence entirely and suffering the same fate that smaller publishers in the comic book world had already succumbed to. To survive, Marvel held their prized possessions (the above assets as well as Spider-Man) and auctioned them off to the highest bidders, which for moviegoers meant that the X-Men and Fantastic Four ended up with Fox Studios and Spider-Man over at Sony.
Both studios had a fair and lengthy crack at the whip, and ultimately we got some good, some bad and some excellent superhero films made. But while these movies were being churned out, Marvel, with its plucky attitude, launched their franchise off the back of little old Iron Man in 2008, which nobody expected anything from, certainly not the grand scale of epic storytelling we’ve witnessed thus far and especially not seeing multiple characters from separate films share the same universe, that was simply preposterous. Of course, the MCU would lynchpin its success on the “team-up” chapters in their 22 film story with the likes of Avengers: Assemble (2012) blowing minds of comic book nerds (including me) everywhere. We never thought we’d see the day where Iron Man and Captain America shared screen time and dueled against the forces of evil, not in a million years and now look where we are, Endgame has too many heroes to even count.
Other studios took note of this and realized that they too enjoy having trucks of money dumped on their lawn, so attempted to copy the Marvel formula. DC failed spectacularly, it speaks volumes when their equivalent of the Avengers, the Justice League (which includes Batman and Superman) didn’t even get close to $1 billion, yet a film about Doctor Strange performed better both critically and financially. Next up was Sony. Five Spider-Man films, two of which were great (Spider-Man 1 and 2 by Sam Raimi), one awful (Spider-Man 3, somehow by Sam Raimi) then one good film (The Amazing Spider-Man by Marc Webb) and then finally another mess; The Amazing Spider-Man 2, again by Webb. Not as a direct result of the failure of the Spider-Man sequel by Webb, but it certainly didn’t alleviate the pressure, Sony was in hot water, needing big money fast and decided to strike a deal with Marvel (now owned by Disney) to “share” the rights to Spider-Man and essentially get a payday and also share in some success that Marvel was serving up. Bingo; the friendly neighborhood hero is back where he belongs and enjoying screentime with all of our friends in the MCU. With an amazing debut in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man’s portrayal by Tom Holland has lifted the character back into the forefront of attention. Keep in mind this success as we turn our attention over to Fox Studios.
Three Fantastic Four Films. One was decent, two were shocking. Marvel’s first family are in desperate need of yet another reboot (this will be the third time) and this alone is cause for optimism of their inclusion into the MCU umbrella. Lastly, we have the X-Men. What a mixed bag this has been. To start with, I’ve got a very obscure relationship with these films. On the one hand, I absolutely love some of the entries, specifically Loganand Days of Future Past but there are some brutal abominations out there (here’s looking at you, X-Men 3: The Last Stand) that really leave a sour taste in the mouth. Added to the mix is my personal grievance with the films, even the ones that I love, they’re just not my X-Men. There’s no color, all of the suits are these boring and generic blackout “stealth” getup’s that don’t scream superhero at all and further still, don’t let you distinguish between who’s who or really let you get a bond with a character. Then there’s the whole problem with Wolverine. One of my all-time favorite characters in any comic book and brought superbly to life on-screen by the glorious Hugh Jackman, yet at an astonishing cost; the films all feel like they’re “Wolverine and friends.” You never get to see major characters (like Cyclops, who’s the leader of the X-Men) have their moment and shine, it’s all about exploiting the cash-cow of Wolverine and sacrificing richer and deeper storytelling, which worked up to a point but guess what, it’s not lasted and with The Dark Phoenix (which has yet again botched the epic tale of Jean Grey being possessed by the Phoenix Force) we’re finally done.
That leads us neatly into what can the X-Men do in the MCU and how they can be served the on-screen justice they so clearly deserve.