How one deal might supercharge the Marvel Cinematic Universe
It was during my second viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that it finally hit me.
My first viewing was at Cinébistro, a posh, adults-only theater that serves awesome food and fruity drinks. They have a full bar, though, so I was able to have a vodka tonic. I was accompanied by a lovely female friend who I dragged along because I enjoy her company. She does not know thing one about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) other than Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. are in it. She was a trooper, however, and she withstood the move and its FIVE mid-roll and end roll credits scenes. She’s aces in my book.
My second viewing was with Punisher and a mutual friend. It was a dude night, and the theater wasn’t as posh. Punisher and I had already seen the movie; our friend had not. This was our way to catch him up. It was during this second viewing that I had the epiphany.
Wait…Ego is a Celestial, a cosmic being. He’s not supposed to be here! What the hell is going on???
I thought I had stumbled on something pretty big on my own. Ego’s rights belong to Fox. Fox and Marvel must be working together! If he’s in a Marvel Studios movies, is Fox going to lend out other characters? Like, maybe, Galactus? Or the Fantastic Four? SHIT! THE X-MEN???
Turns out, I’m late to the party. In my research, I’ve found that many have pieced together the same theory as I in different ways. The thought process I used led me through a slightly different path, but it led to the same conclusion: Marvel Studios and Fox have SOME big deal going on. The fun part for all of this is trying to figure out what the plan is. I love thought exercises, so I was down!
History of the (Marvel) World
In order to explain the reason for the epiphany, and the reason why this is a huge thing, I have to discuss some history. It’s a bit convoluted and relies on suppositions in some cases, but I know where this has been going and I think I know where it’s headed. If I’m wrong, I will fall back on writer Gregg Easterbrook’s motto when he wrote Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN: “all predictions wrong or your money back!”
By now, everyone should know the story of how Marvel, near bankruptcy in the 90s, began to sell off its superhero movie rights to gain some coin. This is how Sony ended up with the movie rights to Spider-Man, Universal scooped up the Hulk, and Fox gained the X-Men universe and the Fantastic Four. With MCU firing on all cylinders today under the Disney umbrella, the missing Marvel heroes are a source of sadness. Now I’ll never see Deadpool, Spidey, and the Human Torch trading roasts (no pun intended) of each other.
Or will I?
SPOILER ALERT: I won’t. Not entirely.
Let’s Make a Deal
The MCU has benefitted from shared-custody deals with other studios. It’s how The Avengers was able to include the Hulk, whose movie rights still belong to Universal. And thanks to a shared-custody deal with Sony, Spider-Man is (temporarily) a member of the MCU. The thought of a shared-custody deal between Marvel Studios and Fox is not so far-fetched then, right? Well, except for the fact that both studios kinda hate each other.
Despite the animosity between them, though, I think some kind of deal has already been struck between Marvel and Fox. It’s something that’s been kept under wraps, maybe to be announced later this year. But some kind of deal has definitely been struck.
There have been some smaller deals struck already between them. When making Deadpool, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick in a bit of a bind. After perusing through the literal hundreds of X-Men characters to find one for their movie, they decided on Negasonic Teenage Warhead. I’m guessing it’s because of the name. I had dropped off from reading X-Men comics in the 90s and didn’t catch her arrival. But I LOVED that name!
Well, the name may have worked for Reese and Wernick, but her powers didn’t. In the comics, she’s a telepath and a student of Emma Frost. In order to change her powers, though, they had to ask Marvel for permission. You see, Fox may own the movie rights to the X-Men universe, but they can’t decide to change the powers of the mutants in the universe to suit their needs.
(I wish someone would’ve told the nimwits who wrote X-Men Origins: Wolverine that. What they did to Deadpool was unspeakable!)
Marvel’s reward for that deal resides in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Ego is a cosmic being. As part of the deal that gave them movie rights to the Fantastic Four, Fox also gained the movie rights to the cosmic beings that reside in the Earth-616 universe, Marvel Comics’ main continuity. In return for allowing the change to Negasonic, Marvel asked for and got the OK to include Ego in the Guardians movie.
Another deal that has to have taken place but has not really been talked about is fueling speculation – including my own. It involves Legion the crazy series that aired on FX, Fox’s sister network.
We Are Legion
Legion tells the story of David Haller. The series delves into his abilities and mental state. In the comic books, Haller is not only a powerful mutant but a schizophrenic. The comics have stated that Haller, known as Legion, has over 1,000 personalities in his head, and EACH ONE has his or her own power sets. That’s pretty powerful.
Well, Legion is a mutant, so of course, Fox own his rights…right? Yes and no. Fox owns the movie rights to the X-Men universe. Marvel, however, own the television rights. Fox has wanted to expand the X-Men into the small screen for a couple of years now. The impediment initially has been Marvel Studios, who have warred with Fox for some time now.
The war has been battled in the back-channels for years. Back in 2012, when Fox’s rights to Daredevil were about to lapse, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige tried to negotiate a deal with Fox. The original deals between Marvel and the other studios detailed that the studios had to make movies of the characters they had movie rights to every five years. After the weak showing of Ben Affleck’s Daredevil and even worse showing of Elektra, Fox was considering rebooting the character. With the deadline fast approaching and Fox not yet sure of the reboot, Feige made his pitch: we can extend your window for making a Daredevil movie. In return, loan us the Silver Surfer and Galactus to use in our movies.
Unfortunately, Fox blanched. They decided to let their movie rights to Daredevil lapse in 2013, reverting control to Marvel Studios. It was a good year for reunions; Columbia Pictures, Lionsgate, and New Line Cinema let their movie rights to Ghost Rider, the Punisher, and Blade, respectively, lapse as well. Of the four returned characters, only Blade has yet to see a revival of some sort. The revival of Daredevil, however, rankled Fox. His hit series on Netflix chafes the studio, who lost face after Marvel managed to do something they couldn’t: make Daredevil into a badass.
A “Fantastic” Mess
Things didn’t get better between Fox and Marvel after the absolute disaster that was Fant4stic. The reboot of the Fantastic Four was necessitated because of Marvel’s deal with Fox nearing its expiration. The absolute shitshow behind the scenes of the movie have been chronicled to death, so I won’t repeat it here.
(Note: No pun intended with the “chronicled” mention. I didn’t realize until after proofreading it that I inadvertently mentioned Fant4stic director Josh Trank’s movie Chronicle, which was definitely NOT a shitshow. I still kept it, because it’s still a little funny.)
Part of Fox’s anger with the Fantastic Four is that Marvel Comics had been actively marginalizing the super-team in its comics, finally canceling the series after 55 years of publication. They have also been doing that with the X-Men, slowly dwindling the number of mutants in the comics by killing them off, seemingly replacing them with Inhumans as Marvel’s oddities.
In Marvel’s defense, their actions were seemingly decreed by Ike Perlmutter, Marvel Comics’ CEO and professional curmudgeon. He was the head man at Marvel Studios, and he hated the fact that the movie rights of two of Marvel’s biggest franchises, the Fantastic Four and X-Men, did not belong to HIM. All of the submarining aimed at Fox – and plenty of other things that almost sank the MCU – came from Grumpy Ike’s office.
In 2015, control of the MCU moved from Perlmutter to Feigie. Fox was warmer to working on Feige, which has thawed relations some. The previous Negasonic-Ego deal is evidence of that. Could the appearance of Legion on FX be another example of that mutual thawing?
Possibly. Feige has proven to be a shrewd dealer, and he has helped broker deals between studios before. If it’s indeed the case that Feige helped broker the deal that allowed the X-Men’s TV rights move to Fox, could he be trying to make another play for the Silver Surfer, Galactus, and – hopefully – the Fantastic Four?
That possibility is dicey. First of all, Feige doesn’t have the power to approve TV projects. That belongs to Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb. Loeb is part of the Marvel Creative Committee, which includes Perlmutter. The Committee parted with Feige after the dustup between them. Loeb himself has poo-pooed talk of crossover between the TV and Cinematic universes. If the two Marvel divisions can’t even talk about working together themselves, how much clout could Feige bring to the table regarding Marvel TV properties going to Fox?
Second, the public disgrace Fox suffered when Daredevil became a hit on Netflix hasn’t been forgotten. It’s safe to say that Fox will not let another Marvel property escape their grasp, even one so toxic as The Fantastic Four. Despite three cinematic black eyes, there is value in the property – if used right.
Hope Springs Eternal
Still, there has to be something bigger at work here. Marvel isn’t going to just hand over the TV rights to the X-Men universe without trying to eke out something to their benefit. Then I read reports of Kevin Feige teasing possible crossovers between the MCU and Marvel TV universes. The X-Men, who have been marginalized by Marvel Comics for a while, are making a sudden resurgence in the comics with X-Men: Blue and X-Men: Gold. Could it be that the Marvel’s brain trust made up and are playing nice again? Is it possible Marvel sat down with Fox and hammered something big out? Does that mean Feige may have received his wish in return for loaning out the X-Men on TV and returning them to the comics spotlight?
Then I remember another little tidbit I found out while researching all of this: the Watchers were also in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. They are also cosmic beings. However, their rights are part of a shared-custody agreement between Marvel and Fox, same as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They also share custody of one other entity: The Skrulls. For brevity’s sake, let’s just say that the Kree, introduced in the original Guardians of the Galaxy, do not get along well with the Skrulls. Think Hatfields and McCoy’s, but on a galactic scale. With the Kree already established, it’s a given that Marvel is chomping at the bit to pit the Skrulls against them.
Fun fact: the Skrulls have also had a beef with the heroes of Earth. They have battled the Avengers on a few occasions. But their biggest grudge with Earth – just like Galactus and, originally, the Silver Surfer – has been with the First Family of Marvel Comics: The Fantastic Four.
Suddenly, I think it makes sense.
I think the unthinkable might actually happen: The Fantastic Four might actually be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Fiege and the brain trust at Marvel may have found a way to pull off the second-biggest shared-custody deal Fox and Marvel can make. (Sorry, X-Men is way bigger, and Fox is not giving THAT one up!) Moreover, Marvel Studios could have the pieces in place to make a Fantastic Four movie work. They already have partial custody of the Skrulls and the Watchers. Maybe the deal includes Galactus and Silver Surfer since the MCU has been on a cosmic kick recently. Those could be two huge movies in and of themselves, seeing them team up with the MCU’s other heroes.
Of course the biggest nugget of them all – Doctor Doom – is too huge to be part of the deal, right? I mean, what is a Fantastic Four movie without Victor von Doom? It’d be like a Batman movie without The Joker. Except that there have been successful Batman movies with The Penguin, Catwoman, and Scarecrow. Hell, just having the Fantastic Four join the Avengers or Doctor Strange in a movie is heady enough.
Also, keep in mind that The Vulture is an iconic Spider-Man villain, but his rights were not included in the Spidey-to-MCU deal. What if, like Sony, Fox’s deal includes a provision that sees Marvel and Fox collaborate on a shared-universe Fantastic Four movie? Maybe Doom is introduced there. Maybe Reed Richards, patriarch of the FF, joins minds with Stephen Strange and figures out a way to defeat Victor. You know, similar to how Tony Stark is trying to mentor Spider-Man and maybe they work together.
Who is against such a deal? Marvel? Fox? I’m willing to guarantee the fans won’t be mad one bit! The only downside to all this? My poor, wonderful female friend may be dragged back to Cinébistro to watch more movies she may not be interested in. At least the food’s good.
Seemingly, what was considered impossible a few years ago may be coming true. Many who are way smarter than me seem to agree on many points. Hell, I’m not even mad that I didn’t think of it first. I’m just giddy thinking about the possibilities.
Of course, it could be something else. As I said before: “All predictions wrong or your money back.”