It's no secret that Marvel isn't happy with the fact that Fox owns the rights to its popular X-Men franchise, but there are many ideas in the House of Ideas, and it looks like Marvel might have one that can end-run around Fox and bring its own mutant-like characters to the screen.
If you've ever wondered why Marvel's X-Men – the most popular of Marvel's characters until the Avengers franchise took off – have never appeared in a Marvel Studios movie, you've got Hollywood lawyers to thank. It's a bit of a long tale, but we'll try to go through it quickly.
Put plainly, before Marvel Studios took off, Marvel was cash-poor and nearly incapable of making a good movie. Marvel movies prior to the current era were steaming piles – see the 1990 Captain America war crime below – and Marvel sold the film rights to several of its most popular characters off in an effort to get more money.
That's why Fox puts out Fantastic Four and X-Men movies. That's why Sony is the one milking the Spider-Man franchise for all it's worth. Given the runaway success of Marvel Studios of late, Marvel would love to have those properties back, but the two studios retain the rights so long as they make a new movie using the properties every few years.
Making it worse for Marvel is the fact that its deal with Fox reportedly isn't nearly as profitable as the deal it has with Sony. Worse still, Fox has been able to turn the X-Men franchise around with X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past, and the forthcoming Fantastic Four reboot might be able to do the same thing with a novel take on Marvel's first family.
What's Marvel to do, then? Well, again, they don't call them the House of Ideas for nothing. Marvel appears to have a plan to beat Fox, and that plan is The Inhumans.
You'd be forgiven for a bit of confusion when Marvel unveiled its Phase 3 slate of movies last week. In among the sequels for established characters and the solo flicks for highly-anticipated characters like Black Panther and Captain Marvel, Marvel also announced an Inhumans movie for November 2018.
The Inhumans are a secret race of superpowered beings that have been living among humans for millennia. Most of them don't even know they're Inhumans, and their powers only activate when they're exposed to a substance called the Terrigen Mists.
What's important, though, is that the power is already within them. They don't have to invent an iron suit or wield a mystical hammer or be exposed to gamma radiation. Also, their power sets are unpredictable. Black Bolt, the king of the Inhumans, has a voice that can level a city, while his wife Medusa has prehensile hair. Another Inhuman was mutated into a massive dog when exposed to the Mists, and another turned into a massive trans-dimensional door.
It's all pretty wild and out there, but think about the basics of the Inhumans concept: hidden race living among humans, wild and unpredictable power sets. Sound familiar? It should. That's basically the skeleton of the X-Men franchise.
While Fox works and reworks the X-Men, Marvel is trying to build its own infrastructure for mutant-esque heroes within its own cinematic universe. Marvel isn't coming out and just saying this, of course, but the hints are definitely there.
First, there was Marvel's introduction of the characters. Marvel studios President Kevin Feige set high hopes for the Inhumans from the jump.
"November 3, 2018 will introduce dozens of characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe," Feige said at Marvel's special event. "We really do believe the Inhumans can be a franchise or a series of franchises unto themselves."
"A franchise or a series of franchises"? Kind of like Wolverine, Deadpool, Cable, and the X-Men, perhaps?
If that's not convincing enough for you, though, you need only look to Marvel's comic line. The X-Men are consistently among the most popular of Marvel's comic characters, of course, but early October saw reports from a number of Marvel comic writers that the publisher doesn't want any new mutants to be introduced.
"I have to say, quite honestly as I understand it, now the [X-Men department] is forbidden to create new characters," writer Chris Claremont told the Nerdist podcast. "All because new characters become the film property of Fox."
Marvel, of course, is owned by Disney now, and the company is laser focused on maximizing returns for its own movies. For other studios' movies, though, they can blow in the wind. While Marvel hasn't been introducing any new mutant characters, they've rolled out a number of Inhumans, characters with powers similar to what you would see from X-Men. All that's missing is the Fox legal rights.
Marvel is doing something similar for the Fantastic Four. While Fox is rebooting the Four for film next year, that film won't see any accompanying marketing push from Marvel's comics. The Fantastic Four title is getting canceled next year before Fox's reboot even hits the screen.
Will it work? Well, that depends on what you mean by "work." A lack of new comic characters won't prove fatal for the X-Men movies because X-Men lore already includes hundreds, if not thousands, of mutants already, most of which are the film property of Fox.
More likely, the film future of the X-Men will depend on how Fox's outings fare at the box office. Same with the Fantastic Four. Given the success of the last two X-Men movies, it may be quite a while before Marvel gets its hands back on the merry mutants.
That doesn't mean Marvel can't try to throw a monkey wrench into Fox's plans, though. With the Inhumans, it looks like Marvel is going to try to do just that.