How To Not Screw-Up Introducing X-Men Into The Marvel Cinematic Universe

By James O Malley on at

Enormous news for nerds today as Disney has confirmed that it is buying 21st Century Fox for more money than it is possible to comprehend. But leaving aside the important questions around competition law, monopolies and what this signals for Disney's corporate strategy, there's something more important: The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Deadpool and other characters will finally be able to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While this is obviously very exciting, it is also something fraught with difficulty: The MCU has an unbroken run of 17 successful films. So how can the X-Men be brought into the fold without the universe collapsing under its own weight? So here's my take on how Disney should avoid messing things up.

1) Start from scratch. Yes, even Wolverine.

The current X-Men franchise dates back to the first X-Men film in 2000. Well, sort of, anyway. Everything rebooted with First Class in 2011, and then that reboot was undermined with Days of Future Past in 2014, which merged the two previously independent continuities. As things currently stand X-Men continuity is such a mess that Deadpool breaks the fourth wall and makes jokes about it in his film.

So the solution is simple: Start over. Don't use the same actors, or continue any of the existing stories. This is a hard reboot of X-Men - in the MCU, all of the previous X-Men stuff never existed and never happened. Send Cyclops and company down the same memory hole to where Amazing Spider-Man is now stored and never speak of it again.

Oh, and I definitely mean this should include Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. We know that the role is iconic - and Jackman has made the character his own, in the same way that Christopher Reeve is Superman, or that Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. But including Jackman would just be too confusing for casual viewers and wouldn't make sense - and would pollute an otherwise currently consistent MCU. Don't do it, Disney.

2) Don't do anything with time travel.

What the MCU has done masterfully so far is that it is has so-far introduced mystical or cosmic elements into the universe without undermining the logic of cause and effect: In Doctor Strange there's a hand-wave about how all of the world-bending fight scenes taking place in some other mystical space - which is necessary otherwise you'd expect Jessica Jones to start asking Luke Cage if he remembers when all of the buildings turned upside-down, and so on. Similarly, though Ant-Man visited the "quantum realm", his actions were still bound by time being linear. So far, so consistent.

By contrast, one of the reasons the current X-Men film continuity is in such a dire state is because of the introduction of time travel. Once a character can go back and change events, it ruins everything: It means nothing matters as time travel can bring dead people back to life - so it destroys any stakes the film may have. It also creates issues with multiple timelines - which is the authentic one?

I know time travel and multiple timelines is pretty common in comics - but for a film audience, it would simply risk being too confusing. And frankly, it would undermine the storytelling. So let's stick to mutants who can change the weather, have knifey hands or are good at throwing playing cards please, Marvel.

3) Make mutants a "new" phenomenon within the MCU.

Integrating a fresh new set of X-Men characters into the MCU should be relatively straightforward. But there a handful of complications: Previously, the MCU has introduced the Inhumans, who have served as de-facto replacements for mutants, given the X-Men pantheon were unavailable. Luckily, everyone agrees that Inhumans are a bit crap - and as far as I can tell, they can be broadly safely ignored. Given the wide range in ways that people in the MCU obtain their powers, having a new group appear who get them in a different way seems broadly acceptable.

The question then is how do you suddenly make mutants appear? Given that we've been following the adventures of the Avengers, and crucially SHIELD, for many years now, it would seem odd that they have never been mentioned. So it strikes me that the best way to introduce them would be to make them new. The new X-Men characters have only recently started to develop powers.

Hell, it would be easy to tie into previous MCU events. Perhaps the Chitauri carry the X-gene and during the clean-up for the Battle of New York, the alien remains somehow infected and altered the DNA of a handful of people? It can still be genetic - think of this as a modern day version of the hypothesis that life of Earth was first sparked by matter from another planet.

Or... what if it turns out the X-gene was inside people all along but somehow only activated by Thanos once he got hold all five Infinity Stones during the second act of Infinity War?

The other element of the MCU which could help kick things off is the Sokovia Accords. This agreement, as we've seen, has forced "enhanced" individuals underground. In addition to controlling the Avengers, according to Agents of SHIELD it has the government trying to register people with powers. This sounds an awful lot like the Mutant Registration Act - something which X-Men has explored before. And if people want to avoid registration or interference from the state... then they might need, say, a School for Gifted Youngsters, which can act as a sanctuary.

Hell, if Disney wants to premise the first MCU X-Men film on this, then it would have plenty of contemporary resonances: What if President Ellis is replaced by a boorish, Trump-like figure who is as overtly hostile to mutants as Trump is to Muslims? The knock-on effect of this would be that an actively hostile or unpleasant government would add extra layers of complexity to future Avengers adventures too (would Tony Stark be so willing to work with a government that is persecuting a mutant minority?).

4) Don't break the established conventions of the MCU.

The acquisition of Fox comes at a particularly interesting time for superhero films. As Marvel has experienced continued success, Fox has struggled. The latest X-Men was bad. But there are signs that Fox had hit upon a new trick: Doing things differently. Both Deadpool and Logan were applauded for changing up the usual formula. The New Mutants, due next year, is being positioned essentially as a horror flick.

I suspect this will be my most controversial point: But in order to bring these properties into the MCU, unfortunately they're going to have to start being a lot more conventional again. Sure, Logan would have worked in the MCU perhaps - but Deadpool, with its 4th-wall breaking and vulgarities probably wouldn't. It just doesn't feel right.

I can (just about) believe that a talking racoon exists in the same universe as a slow-paced dark drama about the traumas faced by war veterans. But fourth wall breaking just feels wrong.

So when Marvel does reboot the Fox properties, we should probably expect something more conventional. But this doesn't mean they will be necessarily boring: Think about how Spider-Man: Homecoming rebooted and reinvented the character, and might have given us our best Spider-Man yet.

And that's all I've got.

So come on Disney. You of all people should know that with great power comes great responsibility. Please don't screw this up.