Avengers vs. X-Men? Disney-Fox deal could have creative consequences

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Dec 14, 2017

The X-Men could join the Avengers in the MCU. It's a whole lot bigger than that, with much wider ramifications — to be sure — but for genre fans, that's a key point of the Disney-Fox purchase.

The Mouse House has signed a deal worth $52.4 billion to pick up several entertainment assets from Fox — including the studio's superhero rights, such as the X-Men and Fantastic Four. The deal could also roll in lucrative TV rights and other assets, but for genre fans, the words "Avengers," "X-Men," and "Fantastic Four" are what make headlines.

For Disney, the agreement is only the latest in a long line of massive purchases that has consolidated some of the biggest properties in the world under the banner of Mickey, Goofy, and the gang. Disney picked up Marvel Studios back in 2009, then snared Lucasfilm in 2012. That deal put The Avengers and the world of Star Wars all under one roof. In the years since, Disney has turned them into (or back into) two of the biggest franchises in film history. There's no denying the deals have been a boon for fans, resulting in a new trilogy of acclaimed Star Wars films (and yet another unrelated trilogy beyond that), and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown to include more than a dozen films over the past decade. For what it's worth, Disney has arguably been an excellent steward of both franchises. They're both as successful as ever, and for the most part, fans absolutely love them.

For fans wanting to see a new studio take a crack at characters in the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes (which were sold to Fox decades ago for a pittance at the time), that can obviously be a promising proposition. Fox has struck out with most every attempt to turn Marvel's First Family into a big-screen stalwart (with the latest attempt an utter disaster), and with the rights to characters like A-list Marvel villain Doctor Doom tied up with that franchise, the prospect of seeing that world brought into the fold of a future MCU event could fuel a whole new phase of future films.

Fox has been far more successful managing the X-Men, spinning two mainline trilogies and a series of successful spinoffs (with more on the way) that date back almost two decades. The studio most recently struck gold with the R-rated Deadpool and Logan, and the flagship X-Men films have always been good-to-decent performers. Regardless, there's a not-insignificant contingent of fans who would prefer to see all these characters under the same umbrella, no matter how well Fox has done with the franchise. Marvel has managed to weave all these disparate corners together for decades in the comics, and there's just something mind-bogglingly cool for some when it comes to seeing what Marvel Studios could possibly do with every toy in the toy chest.

 

At this point, there's almost no doubt that Marvel can make a mint with these rights. They've already seamlessly co-opted Spider-Man into the MCU thanks to a Sony agreement, and Marvel's track record has proven the studio could find a way to make all these properties work in its homogenous but varied universe. If there's one thing Disney knows how to do, it's crank out solid films in major franchises that garner both critical and commercial acclaim. It's often high-level popcorn fare, but that's all it has to be. The studio has mastered the art of blending superhero stories with other genres, and it's created a veritable Marvel Machine. There's a reason Disney has owned the box office the past few years (and we haven't even mentioned the Disney Princess fare) — the studio knows how to do what it does very, very well.

Disney can certainly succeed with these properties — in regard to Fantastic Four, likely where Fox has failed a few times already — but do the gains of a shared universe outweigh the potential creative losses inherent in putting all these properties under one ever-growing roof? There's no easy answer.

Looking at Fox's track record, the studio has been willing to roll the dice on projects that would likely never have scored a green light at Disney — most notably the foul-mouthed Deadpool and the brutal, haunting Logan. Those are the types of projects you almost certainly wouldn't have seen birthed from Disney if the studio had the rights to those characters. Fox has actually been doubling down on that harder edge of the comic book genre with a Deadpool sequel, straight-up horror flick The New Mutants, and a few other X-Men projects in the pipeline. For good or bad, those aren't the types of films you would expect to see if Disney had the reins of the entire, complete Marvel Universe.

It might make for messy, competing shared universes, but having these characters in the control of different studios has made for more than its share of positives for fans over the years. Fox put the X-Men on the big screen eight years before Marvel ever got Iron Man off the ground, and the world of Deadpool and Logan is absolutely nothing like what we've seen from Earth's Mightiest Heroes. These varied studios have opened up the opportunity for diverse creative visions, with different directors and creative teams putting their own spins on these characters — without being beholden to a grand, shared-universe vision of what can and cannot be done.

It might be the stuff of geeky dreams to have Wolverine, Iron Man, Reed Richards, and Spider-Man all hanging out on the big screen together — but it could mean you lose the freedom to jump ahead to the end of Logan's brutal, broken life, or have a version of Deadpool that will make even the comic fans blush (even Ryan Reynolds himself is worried about this one). Or tell a freaky horror story about mutants trapped in an asylum.

Comics themselves have always flourished under diversity in approach, art, style, and writers. It's the reason there are DC fanboys, Marvel fanboys, X-Men fanboys, Spider-Man fanboys, and Walking Dead fanboys. There's room for all those things, and we need all those things for the genre not to become stale. Competition breeds innovation, and that landscape has taken us this far. But what happens when everything is coming from the same place?

Disney already wields an immense amount of pop culture power, and again, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The studio is on top of the world right now, producing some of the best comic book and genre fare on the planet. But what about when there comes a time when that might not be the case? There was a time when fans would've clamored to keep the original Batman movies going forever, back when Tim Burton was still pulling the strings. But give it a few bad sequels and even the biggest franchises can earn a mercy killing. There are plenty of fans who love the R-rated corner of the X-Men universe just as it is, but might not geek out nearly as much about seeing Thanos tossing moons around in the MCU. In a sense, Disney has created the status quo with the MCU, and studios like Fox have found innovation and success partially by raging against these past few years.

So what happens when one studio controls pretty much all the things you love? It's a scary thought. Maybe Disney will use Fox's assets to power another 20 movies that put the Fantastic Four on top and introduce a version of the X-Men that are so great nobody misses the original run. If so, yeah, that will certainly make a whole lot of fans very, very happy (not to mention make Disney a few more Scrooge McDuck vaults full of money).

But it's important to also consider what might get lost in this deal. Marvel can only release so many movies per year, and though fans might get a new-look Fantastic Four, it could be at the cost of a Doctor Strange or Ant-Man or Black Panther down the line. Marvel's lack of A-list properties is what pushed the studio to innovate with franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy in the first place, since Fox and Sony had picked up most of the top-tier characters.

It's that competition that has pushed these studio to create more and strive for something that will stand out from everything else.

That could become a problem when everything becomes the everything else. Potentially amazing crossovers be damned.