It may seem difficult to believe but there was once a time when Marvel Comics were in a bit of a bind. On top of having lost some of their top talent in the early nineties, a slump in the comic book industry forced Marvel to file for bankruptcy in 1996. Although they avoided going out of business completely (largely due to being purchased by Toy Biz) and launched all new Marvel titles, like the Marvel Knights imprint, the comics industry wasn’t what it once was and, in an effort to diversify and reap greater rewards from their vast library of characters, Marvel began selling the film rights to their properties to film studios.
20th Century Fox purchased the film rights in 1994 and, after a tumultuous development period that saw various scripts and ideas rejected, released X-Men in 2000. Directed by Bryan Singer, X-Men catapulted the titular Mutant team to mainstream success, kicking off one of Fox’s most successful and longest-running franchises.
With ten films released over the last seventeen years, the X-Men franchise became such a success that it seemed like Marvel would never be able to regain the rights to their characters in the same way they had with Daredevil and Doctor Strange. Even after the unprecedented deal was stuck between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures to allow Spider-Man to finally feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it seemed like Mutants would forever be apart from the most successful cinematic universe ever conceived.
Enter the House of Mouse. In 2009, a time when Marvel Studios had already established itself as an unquestionably successful movie-making juggernaut, Disney stepped in and acquired Marvel Entertainment, which included both the comics and the films. Backed by Disney’s already vast media conglomerate, Marvel was able to bypass the entire issue of working out some sort of deal with 20th Century Fox when, in December 2017, Disney simply acquired the film studio’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, and thus opened the door for the X-Men to become part of the MCU.
There’s a pretty large problem with this, though. Having been going strong since the release of Iron Man (Favreau, 2008), the MCU has established an entire world and history that is entirely independent of that seen in the X-Men film series. Unlike characters like the Fantastic Four (also (and, for me, more excitingly) acquired in the Disney/Fox deal), integrating the X-Men into the MCU is far from a simple premise.
For starters, it seems like it would be impossible to simply say that the X-Men films have occurred within the MCU; not only has there never been any mention of the world-changing events depicted in films like X-Men: First Class (Singer, 2011) but Mutants seemingly do not exist within the MCU at all. Instead, we have what are referred to as “Gifted” individuals, who are born with superpowers, or “Enhanced” individuals who are bestowed superpowers by some outside force.
I know that the MCU doesn’t really acknowledge or cross over with their television properties, but there was also a line in an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Various, 2013 to present) in which Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) specifically states that there has never been a legitimate clairvoyant ever discovered which, at the time, seemed like a pretty blatant dig at Fox’s X-Men films.
Plus, you know, there’s the fact that Quicksilver has appeared in both the MCU and the X-Men franchises thanks to some decidedly odd small print in the rights for the character during the initial deal. Considering the universe-changing implications of Thanos (Josh Brolin) unifying the six Infinity Stones in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers, 2018), it seems like the two movie universes colliding and merging is a very real possibility at this point.
However, I feel like this would be needlessly complicated. Honestly, the purchase of Fox by Disney couldn’t have come at a worse time; X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Kinberg, 2018), Deadpool 2 (Leitch, 2018), and The New Mutants (Boone, 2019) are all due to be released very soon; Legion (Various, 2017 to present) and The Gifted (ibid, 2017 to present) are both still running on television (though they have very little to do with each other or the X-Men films); not to mention the five or six other X-Men spin-offs apparently in the works. On top of that, for all their flaws, Singer’s would-be-prequel series of films (and the previous movies in the franchise) feature some of the best casting choices for popular X-Men characters.
Hugh Jackman recently retired from the role of Wolverine/Logan (although part of me always suspected he was retiring from playing the role full-time and would be open for cameos and short scenes, especially if offered enough cash) but has previously voiced his desire to team up with the Avengers. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are both great actors that are still young and virile enough to believably portray middle-aged versions of Professor X and Magneto, and other actors, like the delectable Sophie Turner and Evan Peters, are hot young fits for playing younger versions of Jean Grey and Quicksilver, respectively.
To be clear, I’m not really writing this to list a bunch of fanboy recasting but, to me, it seems like the best and simplest course of action would be to allow X-Men: Dark Phoenix to conclude the original X-Men films and retool Deadpool 3 and The New Mutants to retroactively fit into the larger MCU. After all, they sneakily snuck a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier into Deadpool (Miller, 2016) and the very nature of Deadpool’s (Ryan Reynolds) metahumour allows for him to more easily slide into the MCU with wry commentary. I would then begin to lay the seeds of the X-Men and Mutantkind being revealed within the MCU over the rest of Marvel’s 2018 film releases but not launch a new movie until 2019 and 2020.
First things first, Marvel’s X-Men movie needs to separate itself from Fox’s series and the best way to do this is by expanding the title in a classic and timeless way, so I would encourage The Uncanny X-Men as the title of the first movie. Next, I would suggest that Mutants have always been a part of the MCU but Professor Xavier has used his incredible psychic powers to block their presence from the world. Some have suggested that Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) should retroactively be reclassified as Mutants and I am open to that; perhaps, after the fallout of Infinity War, the presence of Mutants and Wanda’s true heritage is revealed and Wanda could be our window into the world of Mutants as she seeks to discover her true origins.
The main idea I had in mind, though, was to take inspiration from Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) and, more specifically (as much as I hate to say it), the Harry Potter film series (Various, 2001 to 2011) and depict the X-Men as being young teenagers at Xavier’s school. Their presence shielded from the outside world by Xavier, the film would be a fantasy adventure following the classic five X-Men (Cyclops, Jean, Iceman, Beast, and Angel) as they learn to deal with their powers, their longing to join the outside world, and their teen angst and issues.
I have no real suggestions for casting of the X-Men or the kids but, as much as I like McAvoy and Fassbender, I wouldn’t mind seeing someone like Mark Strong or even Colin Salmon as Charles Xavier. Both are old enough to bring some longevity to the role and can play the wise, overly protective mentor to perfection.
I see Magneto filling a role very similar to Snape (Alan Rickman); he’d be Xavier’s confidante and closest friend, running the school alongside him, but their attitudes and ideologies would be as different as we’ve come to expect from the characters. I’d like to see them clash over the presence of superheroes and the threat it poses to Mutantkind and have Magento slowly, over the course of the film, plan to splinter away from Xavier’s teachings with five of his own students (Toad, the Blob, Mystique, Avalanche, and Pyro), who would all be bullies towards, or otherwise compliment and contrast with, the protagonists. As far as casting Magneto, maybe get Sean Bean or Pierce Brosnan in because these guys need to be in a major superhero role sometime soon. Also, I would rather they didn’t make Magneto a Holocaust survivor since I find it increasingly difficult to believe that age and time wouldn’t have already killed him. Instead, have his father or grandfather have been the one to suffer during the Holocaust and have him carry those teachings but not have witnessed them first-hand.
Okay, so let’s talk villains. I don’t really want to see a repetition of what we’ve already gotten; ideally, I’d like to see Magneto slowly rise into a villainous role over the course of the film and not become a full-blown Mutant extremist until the second or even third X-Men movie, after which he can transition into an MCU-level threat like Loki (Tom Hiddleston) did. At the same time, I would love to see Apocalypse be the ultimate threat for the X-Men but it’s possibly too soon after the character’s lacklustre portrayal in X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016), so let’s buy him some time and bring in someone we’ve never seen before: Mister Sinister.
Sinister, perhaps accompanied by the Hellfire Club, should play a similar role to Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) in X-Men: First Class in that he is a publically-known Mutant extremist who is aggressively striking against humanity. His radical methods only fuel Magneto’s own desires for Mutant supremacy and he could use his telepathic abilities to infiltrate Xavier’s school and help turn some of them to his way of thinking. Indeed, I would suggest that Xavier doesn’t want his students to ever go out into the world as superheroes and actively discourages such thinking, meaning that Cyclops and the others would recognise or uncover Sinister’s plot and rebel against their mentor, suiting up as X-Men to combat Sinister and his minions and, through their actions, announce the presence of heroic Mutants to the world and begrudgingly change Xavier’s mind. I would’ve loved to see a quirky actor like Jeff Goldblum in the role but, seeing as he already portrayed the Grandmaster, maybe Marvel should try and rope in Liam Neeson for the role?
I know what you’re thinking, though, “what about Wolverine?” and you’re right, Wolverine should have a place in Marvel’s X-Men movies but not until the sequel. I would take inspiration from the All-New, All-Different X-Men story from 1975 and have Sinister take his revenge by having his newest henchmen (Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue, Psycloke, and Sabretooth) kidnap Iceman, Beast, Angel, and Jean Grey and disable Xavier in such a way that Magneto is forced to spearhead an aggressive recruitment drive that adds Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Banshee (or Shadowcat) to the team. In addition to having to whip the rookies into shape and struggle with being a leader, Cyclops would continue to face in-school opposition from Magneto’s Brotherhood after Magneto goes a bit Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) on the school to enforce his world view.
In the midst of their attempt to rescue their team mates, the X-Men would discover that Sinister is using genetic engineering and science to boost his powers, thereby bringing his new acolytes under his control. The X-Men would free them in their rescue attempt, leading to Wolverine and Sabretooth realising they’re hated rivals and the X-Men’s ranks being bolstered by rescuing Sinister’s prisoners. I have no idea who to cast as the new Wolverine but I would also prefer him not to officially join the team or attend the school; instead, Wolverine should wander the MCU so he can fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Sabretooth, and maybe get a solo movie where go goes up against Omega Red and/or teams up with Deadpool.
After the events of the second movie make it clear that Magneto’s intentions are far from noble, he would be a full-blown villain for the third X-Men movie, leading his Brotherhood and actively opposing the X-Men. The MCU’s opinion of Mutants as a race to be feared and hated would be directly attributed to the actions of Sinister (whom Magneto should kill in a display of power to take his place as the X-Men’s primary threat) and Magneto, which would result in the Sentinels (which could be derived from Stark technology) being deployed to end the Mutant threat once and for all. A climactic battle between the X-Men, Brotherhood, and Sentinels could result in Jean transforming into Phoenix to end the conflict and the X-Men relocating to Genosha. Or, given the involvement of Sinister in this hypothetical new trilogy, Magneto could be bumped to the primary threat in the second movie and the third would involve Apocalypse’s resurrection.
As for the X-Men’s costumes, I would take inspiration from Ultimate X-Men and the X-Men: Evolution (2000 to 2003) animated series (fitting considering that Evolution was very school-based, just as I’d like to see these new films be) to produce outfits that are functional and realistic but also with that comic book tint that the MCU is known for in their outfits.
It’s not an ideal situation as it’s a shame to have to completely recast all of the X-Men characters but it’s surely easier and simpler than attempting to use time travel or the Infinity Stones to rewrite history and integrate the existing X-Men films into the MCU. Integrating the Fantastic Four is so much easier; you just have them return from being lost in the Negative Zone for, like, twenty years or something but the X-Men are so vast and the implications of their presence so game-changing that it would be difficult and, frankly, a little insulting to either just wedge them into existing continuity or debut Mutants as a new thing kicked off from the Infinity War fallout.
But to say that Mutants have always existed but their presence has been hidden by Xavier and the government (Weapon X, for example) and are now being exposed? That seems a much more fitting way to recast and reboot the X-Men franchise. The only real issue is that Disney obviously spent a lot of money acquired Fox so will they be able to wait to capitalise on that purchase? Can they afford to take their time and introduce the X-Men in a smart and logical way or will they be forced to swamp the MCU with X-Men and Wolverine movies in order to profit from the purchase? Time will tell but, until then, I’ll continue to live out my Colin Salmon vs. Pierce Brosnan fancasting.