Nobody knows quite how Deadpool ended up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or rather EVERYONE knows how the merc with a mouth made it to Marvel on a corporate level – Disney bought 20th Century Fox – but we are yet to find out how the writing room crew are going to wrestle this one out in creative terms. Does Ryan Reynolds’s mischievous hero simply arrive fully formed from an alternate reality where everyone swears a lot more than they did in Thor: Ragnarok, and there is considerably more nudity, breaking of the fourth wall and hardcore violence? Will our chimichanga-munching antihero be forced to tone it all down a bit in the forthcoming Deadpool 3 alongside the returning Hugh Jackman as Wolverine? Or will he only need to behave himself once he’s inevitably involved in an ensemble movie alongside the rest of the Avengers?
Fans are naturally fascinated by the prospect of Deadpool’s fellow X-Men also crossing the Rubicon from Fox to Marvel Studios. We’ve already seen Patrick Stewart’s Professor X in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, though the one-time sorcerer supreme had to venture into an alternate reality to meet him, so there’s no guarantee Charles Xavier even exists in the MCU. The fact that Marvel went for Jackman over the option of recasting the role, even though the Australian actor had ostensibly retired after his “final” turn in 2017’s stripped back and furiously noirish Logan, suggests Kevin Feige and his team are open to cherry picking the more famous names from the Fox era. And there are constant rumours in the murkier corners of the geekosphere suggesting that various other Fox alumni might also be ripe for a comeback.
Should we really be priming ourselves for the return of Halle Berry’s Storm, James Marsden’s Cyclops and Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey in Deadpool 3? And more importantly, is this something anyone is crying out for?
There were some fine moments in the Fox years. Stewart’s chess battles with Ian McKellen’s Magneto in 2000’s X-Men and 2003 sequel X2 deserve their place in comic-book movie history, while Days of Future Past (2014) cleverly brought together the original X-Men cast with its rebooted counterparts, thanks to the magic of time travel. But let’s be clear here, this was a mercurial series of superhero movies: we also had to deal with dull, ill-conceived clangers such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Brett Ratner’s execrable X-Men: The Last Stand and 2019’s painfully pointless Dark Phoenix.
The ensemble nature of the X-Men movies meant it was always difficult for individuals to stand out. Imagine for a moment we’d got a Storm movie, or an episode focused entirely on Cyclops – we might have more big screen memories in the bank to inspire us to get excited about a return in the MCU. But the reality is that a lot of these characters felt barely fleshed out. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, from the later films, is a notable exception, but at the moment there is no suggestion that she is remotely interested in a return.
The early X-Men films arrived at a time when anyone suggesting the likes of Ant-Man, Thor and Iron Man could soon be getting multiple mega-budget outings at the multiplex would have been accused of quaffing one too many of Wong’s bottomless gin and tonics. If they all start rocking up in the MCU, the danger is that the delicate balance Marvel has concocted – where every new superhero usually feels fully grounded in terms of backstory – begins to waver.
The poorest recent movies in the MCU – here’s looking at you, Eternals – often reminded us of the worst of the Fox years thanks to their use of half-imagined, instantly forgettable protagonists. At a time when Marvel isn’t hitting the heights it once did on a regular basis, it seems like a bad time to start reintroducing stalwarts from a rival studio whose efforts you became famous for surpassing. With a bit of luck, these are just rumours. Feige and his team have every right to play in the X-Men sandbox – let’s just hope they don’t unearth a few hidden turds in the process.