At this point, it’s pretty safe to say that the cinematic universe created by Marvel Studios with the Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Avengers films is an unqualified success. The idea of a single narrative thread spreading across multiple films, and now a TV show, has proven to be a hit with general movie audiences in the same way that comic book fans love reading the adventures of the Marvel Universe in comics every week, as well as proving that movie fans are just as obsessed with characters crossing over as their comic book fan counterparts are. As a result, it comes as little surprise that Warner Bros. is announcing that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman will all be appearing in a single film in 2015, likely laying the groundwork for a similar cinematic universe on scale with Marvel’s, since the kind of business done recently by films like Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World are the kinds of numbers studio execs drool over.
Now 20th Century Fox has announced its intent to create its own cinematic universe across multiple films with their comic book properties…which are Marvel comics properties.
Confused? Let me briefly explain.
Before the formation of Marvel Studios, the comic book company had to license its properties out to other film studios if they wanted to see adaptations of their characters on the big screen. 2000’s X-Men, the film largely given the credit of starting the golden age of the superhero film that we enjoy today, was one such property that was licensed to 20th Century Fox. It’s why Sony has produced every film featuring Spider-Man, and why Fox also made attempts with both Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. Iron Man had been lingering in development since at least 1990, bouncing from Universal to 20th Century Fox to New Line, before ending up at home with the newly developed Marvel Studios. Fox still had the rights to Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and X-Men, Sony still had Spider-Man, and Lionsgate had The Punisher, but pretty much every other Marvel character that had yet to be licensed stayed with Marvel Studios.
Now, Marvel Studios is the place where the majority of comic book films seem to be made, with new plans for characters that have never been in live action before now being developed. When 20th Century Fox failed to make a new Daredevil film and Lionsgate failed to make a new Punisher film, both of those characters reverted back home to Marvel. As for Spider-Man, the FF, and the X-Men though? Still at Sony and Fox, respectively.
Fox announced a while back that it had hired comic book writer Mark Millar to oversee its new adaptations of Marvel properties, essentially acting as the Kevin Feige of 20th Century Fox’s comic book films, and the writing was on the wall for what the studio’s ultimate intent was going to be. With the success of The Avengers and all of the films before and since from Marvel, it comes as no surprise that Fox is going to try and create its own distinctive Marvel Universe outside of the…main…Marvel Universe.
Does anyone else feel like this might be a Never Say Never Again situation?
This has the potential to be very confusing for comic book movie audiences, who will see the “Marvel” logo before each of these films, with zero chance of the characters of the Avengers and X-Men interacting. The first potential conflict and confusion comes in the form of Quicksilver, Marvel’s resident speedster character that has narrative ties to both the Avengers and the X-Men. The result? He’ll be appearing in both X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014 and in Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015, portrayed by two different actors.
Back when it was initially announced that Disney had purchased Marvel, I speculated on a podcast I used to be a regular panelist on that the deep, deep pockets of the House of Mouse could potentially shell out in an effort to unify the Marvel characters on film in one fell swoop. I figured that with “Disney money” now behind Marvel, we could be seeing an Avengers vs. X-Men film sooner rather than later. It’s now clear, though, that even if offered a fortune that could power a small continent, it’s very likely that 20th Century Fox isn’t interested in selling their Marvel licenses back if the potential exists that they could make small fortunes that could power two small continents.
The announcement of X-Men: Apocalypse for 2016 is undoubtedly interesting, and will likely be the first place that we’ll be able to see Fox’s efforts in creating a universe beyond the cast of the X-Men. The Fantastic Four reboot is quickly approaching, and it is cool to think about Wolverine and the Thing in one film, but it also seems like the potential to split the Marvel movie audience is a precarious decision at best. Even if there ends up being no split, many of 20th Century Fox’s recent efforts with Marvel films haven’t been nearly as well regarded as the ones released by Marvel Studios. In that case, if future X-Men or FF films end up garnering a poor critical reception, it may do damage to the overall Marvel brand going forward.
Ultimately, we all want good comic book movies, and if the result is more of those, then I will quickly shut my mouth. I can’t help but lament the missed opportunities, though. Seeing iconic moments like Captain America and Wolverine fight side-by-side during World War II, or Tony Stark and Reed Richards debating an obscure and advanced scientific topic would be absolutely terrific to see, but it now looks like we won’t be seeing those outside of the comics or animation anytime soon. This could be either really cool or really messy, and ultimately, the fans will help to decide which way the wind blows for the future of Marvel on film.
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