Unless you were paying attention to or freaking out about other things (like the FCC’s recent decision to repeal net neutrality), I think the other topic of discussion over the past few weeks has been the news that Disney is set to acquire Twentieth Century Fox. Well, that deal has closed, and the terms and conditions of it all are being worked out right now. I’m here to break it down for you.
Basically: Disney consolidates Fox’s properties into their own studio, gaining everything in the movie space that Fox owns. Yes, nerds – this means the X-Men can now appear in Avengers films, and Iron Man and Wolverine can interact on the big screen. It also means that Disney owns the rights to Fox properties like Kingsman, Avatar, Percy Jackson, Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and many others (don’t worry; the CEO of the House of Mouse, Bob Iger, has already assured us that the Merc with a Mouth won’t be watered down to a PG-13 rating).
In fact, I don’t think this deal means that all the Fox X-Men properties will suddenly be Marvelised, and turned into a cohesive sludge that relies more on humor and fun than it does on telling a good story. I think there is a very good chance that Fox will remain Fox, the same way Lucasfilm is still Lucasfilm and Marvel is still Marvel, just under the Disney banner. That means that Fox will still have the opportunity to make darker, riskier blockbusters like Deadpool and Logan.
Now, we’ll talk about the less substantive aspects of the Disney-Fox deal before we delve into the real meat of the issue – why we shouldn’t be celebrating this.
First, let’s touch on what this could mean for the MCU. Is this the illustrious, secret Phase 4 that Kevin Feige has been keeping so close to the vest for so long? Just a few weeks ago, Bob Iger revealed that there are nearly twenty Marvel films set to go into production in the next several years. Disney is heavily in the Marvel business, and it doesn’t look like they’re leaving that camp anytime soon. And why would they? The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a cash cow, grossing over $5 billion in annual revenue worldwide. Who would want to abandon that pile of money?
But Disney knows nerd hearts like the backs of their hands, and they know that most fans of the MCU have been clamoring to see the mutants reunited with their brothers and sisters. Ever since Sony worked out a deal that allows Spider-Man to appear in the Avengers flicks, everyone has wondered and waited with baited breath for Fox to make a similar deal. But we didn’t quite expect it like this.
I would be surprised if the X-Men are integrated into the MCU as early as phase 4. I mean, you’ll likely see a rebooted slate of X-Men films, and an entirely new cast with the exception of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool, who can easily hop between universes (here’s hoping they keep Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as well, who’s said that the only way he’d ever return is if he got to interact with the MCU). And you can bet your bottom dollar that these new films will have extensive references to past MCU events, characters, and locations. Disney is paying a lot of money to acquire Fox, and they’re going to squeeze every penny they can out of this deal.
But I think it would be a bit early to introduce such a large group to the MCU as-is. I mean, the X-Men take time. It’s been twenty years since Fox’s X-Men properties, and they’ve just barely scratched the surface. So I can imagine that Kevin Feige will want to go deep into the wealth of comics and tap storylines that haven’t been fully done justice because they were incomplete. Avengers vs. X-Men, anyone? (I wouldn’t be surprised if this was Avengers 5.) Feige has spent years building up the Avengers as a team with solo flicks and team-building exercises – he’ll likely do the same for the X-Men.
Why am I so convinced he’ll reboot? Well, Feige won’t want to play by established rules – he’ll want to build his X-Men universe from the ground up, and that means completely starting from scratch. Not only because there are certain things fans are dying to see, but because it just makes sense from a story perspective.
Now, the X-Men aren’t as reliant on solo properties as the Avengers, so I think you’ll probably see more team-up films than solos. Maybe an X-Force movie (which Fox already has planned). A smaller X-Men title that only stars the younger members. Something similar to that. But we’re pretty much guaranteed to get a Wolverine movie, a Magneto movie, a Professor X movie, a Mystique movie and maybe even a Storm movie (fingers crossed). And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if one or more Avengers had cameos in each of these films.
But you can bet all the money in your wallet that by at least 2020, the X-Men will be in the MCU in some way – even if it’s just the seeds of a larger story. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do reshoots to have them referenced in Avengers 4. Hey, it’s still shooting; there’s time to work that in, right? (And while they’re at it, can they include the Defenders for crying out loud?)
Speaking of the Defenders: part of Disney’s deal with Fox was that Disney receives Fox’s stake in Hulu. They already had a minority stake, but this would bring them up to 61% ownership, meaning they’d have a majority stake in one of Netflix’s biggest competitors. That’s a huge deal. Of course, Disney is already launching their own streaming service, so this begs the question: what do they do with Hulu?
And that’s where the Defenders come in. Though Marvel’s Netflix formula has worked so well (for the most part), I think darker Marvel content like Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist will be moved to Hulu, while lighter Marvel content like The Runaways will go to Disney’s streaming service. It makes sense – they can keep the lighter, more family-friendly content to the thing with their name on it to keep up their brand recognition, and leave the more adult fare to Hulu.
As for the Fantastic Four: I have a sneaking suspicion that even if Fox hadn’t sold to Disney, they’d have let the Fant4stic’s rights revert back to Marvel. I mean, it just makes so much sense. And while I’m personally not eager to see the X-Men in the MCU (I just don’t think they fit, to be honest with you), I would love to see the Fantastic Four. I think they would fit perfectly with the Avengers, and it wouldn’t seem forced or trying too hard. And because it only takes one movie to properly handle the Fantastic Four, I would expect a film starring the group to be released as early as 2021.
Now, what does this mean for Fox’s other properties like Avatar and Kingsman? As I said, I believe Disney will pick and choose which properties they want to keep their name on. The more risque, adult ones like Kingsman and Deadpool will stay under the Fox name, while the more family-friendly ones like Avatar will become fully part of the Disney brand. Disney already owns a part of the Avatar world with their Pandora attraction at the Disney World; this would only increase the viability of that venture.
As for those of us who want to see Percy Jackson rebooted: I’m not sure of the likelihood of that. The success of Wonder Woman and Thor Ragnarok shows that audiences are still willing and open to accept mythology in blockbusters, and I think the fast-paced humor of the books could fit with the formula Disney has crafted in its Marvel movies. But the original two films did underperform, and I’m not sure how interested general audiences would be in revisiting the material. We’ll know their decision in the next few years.
But aside from all the nerdier aspects of this deal: what does this mean for Hollywood, and for the world at large? Well, it’s very troubling. If this deal goes through – and the odds are that it will, given our current administration – then Disney will own at least 41% of revenue in ticket sales. That’s a third of the yearly box office, which is amazing. It’s also very troubling because it’s becoming clear to me that Disney is monopolizing Hollywood.
Bob Iger has become very gun-shy with blank checks. There were rumors about Disney acquiring Sony, then rumors about them potentially purchasing Apple. Both of those deals could still go through, which would bring this officially into monopoly territory. But moreover, thousands of people employed by Fox will likely lose their jobs in this deal. Disney has a well-oiled machine running already; why would they change their formula to accommodate the employees from Fox? Sure, they could get hired by Netflix or Hulu, but I’m not so sure that will happen.
And you have to realize, no matter how much you want to see the X-Men interact with the Avengers on the big screen (and as I said, I’m not too thrilled about that), that this is not something we should be okay with. If Disney continues on like this, they’ll become a giant behemoth that swallows up all creativity. There will be no room for innovation, and no competition – and that’s terrifying as a film fan because that means everything will end up being the same.
This deal is likely inevitable, and I’m sure much good will come of it. But before you get too excited, remind yourself that this is playing with a fire that I’m not sure any of us should want to see stoked. Disney is becoming much too powerful, and I’m afraid of the consequences if they continue on as they are.