The future of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies is bright. In the next two years and change, we will get Spider-Man: Homecoming (with Sony), Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers 4 and the Spidey sequel. That's a lot to be excited about, and a heck of a way to close out what Marvel Studios and fans alike are calling "Phase 3," because we comic book fans are creatures of habit and need things broken into easily-digestible slices.
Phase 1 featured the build-up to the Avengers. We met each of the heroes individually, or at least a couple at a time, learned about Loki and a looming danger in the background, and it all culminated in the invasion of New York and the Earth's Mightiest Heroes coming together to defeat a threat no one of them could conquer alone.
Phase 2, then, kicked off immediately following the Avengers, and brought us toward Age of Ultron. In this phase, we saw our heroes broken down to their cores, met new heroes in Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. Phase 3 has been/will be the largest yet, kicking off with Civil War and continuing all the way through the fourth Avengers film. But what comes next?
Well, fans have been clamoring for years for Marvel Studios to get the rights back to the first family of superheroes, the Fantastic Four. The 2015 reboot from Fox, who still own the rights to make films featuring the team and all their associated characters (more on that in just a moment), was by all counts abysmal. It scored a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 200 individual rotten reviews. Michael B. Jordan, who played Human Torch in that movie, moved on almost immediately, coming to the MCU as the villain of Black Panther, meaning he's not likely to return to that other Marvel Comics-based franchise (incidentally, remember, he's the second Human Torch to jump ship – Chris Evans played the role in two films before becoming Captain America).
The time seems to be right for Marvel to reacquire the rights to F4, as Fox doubles down on their X-Men movie franchise and lets it fall by the wayside. But while many may see Marvel in a position of power here, it might be Fox who holds the cards, as the MCU may very well need the Fantastic Four to move on.
When you look at the MCU so far, it's been following a bit of an action anime format – ever-increasingly difficult challenges that the heroes rise in ability to meet. Thanos, as a galactic-level threat with all-powerful weapons, is about the highest you can get. With that in mind, what threats remain for the increasingly powerful Avengers to take on? Remember, by the end of Phase 3, they'll have powerhouses like Vision, Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel at their disposal, heroes with cosmic-level powers that make fighting, say, the Masters of Evil, look more than a little lopsided.
Indeed, most of Marvel's best, and more importantly most powerful, villains that are left are primarily associated with – and thus the rights belong to Fox – the Fantastic Four. When Marvel fans think of "galactic" threats, chances are they think of Galactus, the eater of worlds – a villain of the Fantastic Four. Or maybe you remember the way Marvel Cosmic got brought back into high gear, when the Annihilation Wave wrought havoc across the galaxies – well that's led by Annihilus, a Fantastic Four villain. The Frightful Four as a group of villains has been up and down, but their power level has typically been higher than any other villain team. Super Skrull (the Skrulls in general), Molecule Man, oh and this guy named Doctor Doom are all in the Four's stable. If Marvel wants a character to build up to, and villains that are more three-dimensional than say a dark elf, the vast majority are over in the world of the Fantastic Four, and thus currently under movie ownership of Fox.
Marvel's one major hope is probably Kang the Conqueror – a villain who is primarily associated with the Avengers, but even he technically debuted in a Fantastic Four villain, under the identity Rama-Tut. His older incarnation, Immortus, is linked to the family team, too – heck, his name is Nathaniel Richards – yes, Richards. He was a member of the Brotherhood of the Badoon – and the Badoon have been confirmed to belong to Fox.
Still, Kang has been on the last couple of Avengers cartoons, and he's the main villain in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, a game that's focused on characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While he's a great villain – time-travel, association with basically every other hero in the Marvel universe, ability to quite literally see things before they happen thanks to that time-travel stuff, he's still only one (er, three-in-one but you get it).
It's clear that Fox just doesn't know what they want out of Fantastic Four at this point, and with a canceled sequel, a star who has left and nothing on the books, maybe it is time for them to send it back to Marvel Studios. But with as many as 2,000 characters reportedly in the Fantastic Fox contract and Marvel facing down a villain problem, they may have more leverage than they think.
But ultimately, Marvel will figure it out one way or another – they've earned enough credit with fans at this point for us to have faith. Still, it would be so much fun for these characters to come to the MCU, wouldn't it? Just imagine, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige at a special event, saying "It's time to talk about Phase … 4" and the Fantastic Four logo appearing on screen.