Days of future present: Where the X-Men franchise should go from here
After 19 years and 12 movies over the course of three trilogies — not accounting for the two outlier Deadpool movies — it would seem, based on all empirical evidence, that the X-Men franchise we’ve come to know has come to an end with Dark Phoenix. That’s not the official word on the matter, mind you. The official word is Fox has no official word. Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox went into effect this year, so now the Hollywood home of the Avengers welcomes the X-Men under its umbrella of already countless superheroes, leaving fans and entertainment press to presume the X-Men will somehow be incorporated into the monstrously profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But when you’ve already burned through a few of the most well-known X-Men comic book arcs in the previous films — one of which, The Dark Phoenix Saga, was tackled twice in X-Men: The Last Stand and this month’s latest — where does a group of once oppressed, ostracized mutants go from here? Based on where the pieces currently lie, we have a few thoughts, hoped-for storyline adaptations, and general geeky babble.
Kill your darlings
First things first, let the timeline die, the one that supposedly connects 2000’s X-Men, 2019’s Dark Phoenix, and all the films in between. Just kill it. It doesn’t make sense and any attempt to piece it all together leads to madness. The time-traveling, altering-of-history events of X-Men: Days of Future Past were meant to erase some of the more egregious errors of past franchise installments (specifically The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but it ended up causing more plot holes than necessary. Just kill it. Jennifer Lawrence didn’t seem to like wearing the Mystique getup anyway, and now she doesn’t have to worry about playing the character again.
Now that that’s out of the way…
A new kind of mutant
Remember when George Lucas was once content to leave Star Wars in the hands of Kathleen Kennedy and hide himself away in a garage to make “experimental films“? X-Men should do that.
Some of the best X-Men movies seem like they exist in their own worlds. Deadpool, leaning into the natural absurdity that comes with the Merc with the Mouth, took a chance on an R-rated superhero movie, broke the fourth wall, and broke into our hearts. Logan, following suit with the R rating, went Western in giving Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine his last hoorah. (A bloody good time, says 100 percent of X-23s.) And The New Mutants, a horror spin-off stuck in a consistent state of getting pushed back to a later release date until we all but forget it’s happening at all, feels like a continuation of that spirit, even though reports of reshoots don’t seem to paint a nice picture.
Director Josh Boone once mentioned Stephen King vibes to EW, as well as his own upbringing by “Evangelical Southern Baptists” for parents. The results, as we’ve been slowly gathering from that one teaser and additional reports coming out, felt like a haunted house story involving five mutants at a secret government facility. It could still be, if it sticks with this new 2020 release date, something unique that we haven’t seen before from a superhero movie.
Take a note from Sony (off making standalone Marvel movies around Spider-Man villains without actually including Spider-Man), and forget how these movies connect with each other, only that they do and pay no attention to the continuity behind the curtain! Let Deadpool be Deadpool, The New Mutants be The New Mutants, and make crazy X-Men tone poems that are wild and weird and mean something more than a CG Phoenix Force obliterating aliens into ash.
Or, speaking of Deadpool… Let’s re-focus the franchise on the one thing that seems to be working.
With Ryan Reynolds as the new face of the X-Men franchise, Fox could finally move ahead with the long-developed X-Force movie and the Merc’s sexually frustration with Colossus can keep on sparking. There’s even a connection between Deadpool and the New Mutants in the comics, wherein Wade Wilson made his debut in the pages of Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s The New Mutants #98, wherein the young mutants were once under the tutelage of Cable and eventually became the strike team X-Force.
The Marvel multiverse
With the arrival of Spider-Man: Far From Home comes confirmation that there is indeed a multiverse to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the idea direct from the comics but with a Hollywood twist that there are an infinite number of parallel realities that exist alongside our own. As we learn from Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio in the Far From Home trailers, (assuming he’s not lying because he’s a villain in the comics and all) the dealing with the Infinity Stones in Avengers: Endgame caused beings from other realities to bleed into Peter Parker’s earth. All of this is a complex way of saying there could be any number of realities wherein the X-Men and the mutant phenomenon exist. There’s even specific comic book stories that deal with that.
Notably, 2015’s Secret Wars from Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, Ive Svorcina, and Clayton Cowles saw the destruction of the universe when alternate realities were smashing against each other in “incursions.” Based on what little we know from Far From Home, it seems a different version of that is already happening in the movies with the arrival of an alternate universe Mysterio dropping into the Avengers’ world.
Okay, back to the comics… the collision of these realities found some of the most notable Marvel heroes from alternate dimensions on a place called Battleworld, molded together from pieces of different realities. Who’s to say the Avengers and another team who call themselves mutants couldn’t find themselves in this same space on the big screen?
Avengers vs. X-Men
Avengers vs. X-Men was another Civil War-esque comic arc that saw, as the title suggests, the Avengers and X-Men warring with each other over the re-emergence of the Phoenix Force (that thing at the center of this summer’s Dark Phoenix). Here’s another geek-out about how it could be tweaked for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What if mutants do exist in the world of the Avengers? What if many of them have been mistaken for “enhanced,” what they once called Wanda and Pietro Maximoff? What if, with all the drama surrounding the world’s reaction to the Avengers and the Sokovia Accords, they decided to lay low? Another thought, what if the Infinity Gauntlet snaps did more to the current reality than allowing for dimensional crossovers to come together? Each snap game with a distinct energy signature, one the Avengers were able to track to Thanos’ secret garden at the beginning of Avengers: Endgame. Could that energy have triggered reactions in certain individuals?
What would happen now if mutants came out of the closet? Would the Avengers see them as threats? They might, especially if someone like Magneto started wreaking havoc. Would the world governments task the Avengers with keeping them in line?
House of M
Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff is by far one of the most powerful characters in the MCU, but her powers are different from her comic character’s. In the movies, her powers are contained to telekinesis, a degree of telepathy, and mind manipulation by way of altering molecular polarity. In the comics, she has the power to alter reality itself, a chaotic ability that led to one of the most significant storylines in Marvel Comics.
House of M saw Wanda losing control of her powers to the point where she becomes a threat to everyone’s existence. As the heroes are deciding what to do, Wanda unleashes her powers again and creates a whole new reality, one in which her family (father Magneto, brother Pietro, and sister Polaris) rule over all civilizations and mutants are now the majority of the population. Only two people have memories of what the world used to be before Wanda remade it in her image: Wolverine and a young girl named Layla with the power to awaken others to this realization.
This arc, as it turns out, was one story ideas the writers of the Hollywood MCU had on their wish list of adaptations for Avengers 3 and 4. “I think House of M would be awesome. But you’ve got to earn it,” longtime Marvel movie screenwriter Stephen McFeely told The Hollywood Reporter this month.
With the Disney+ series WandaVision, starring Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, in development, there are unconfirmed rumors the show will introduce the character’s reality-warping power set. During a Disney+ presentation earlier this year, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige also said, “A post-Endgame MCU will be extremely different and extremely focused on Disney+ tying into our future movies.” What if WandaVision paves the way for House of M and what if it also has something to do with an introduction of mutants?
Bulking up the Avengers
In another alternate reality we’re envisioning for the X-Men movies, these folks take a break. Feige told io9 in an interview that there is a five-year plan in place for Phase 4 of Disney’s Marvel movies — which includes The Eternals, a Black Widow movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, and the Disney+ series. An introduction of the X-Men to the MCU “will be a very long time” from now, he said.
So, why not let this supergroup take a back seat while Disney can tap some of the characters that are a part of their world in their ever-expanding sandbox? We could see this including certain villains (like Fantastic Four big bad Galactus) or, in a more unrealistic hope, certain heroes.
For one, we still haven’t seen proper dues paid to Storm, first played by Halle Berry in Fox’s X-Men run and later by Alexandra Shipp. And with Black Panther now one of the most lucrative and highly lauded aspects of the MCU, maybe now’s a good time to tap Storm’s connection to the King of Wakanda on film in future sequels. Just saying.
Whatever the future holds for X-Men, Feige and his team at Marvel haven’t led us astray yet.