If you’re a Marvel movies junkie, this time in history must be heaven for you. Sure, there have been missteps: a PUNISHER: WAR ZONE here, some DAREDEVIL there, a sprinkling of Tim Story FANTASTIC FOUR movies and the cherry on top that is the God-awful “Peter Parker dance number” from SPIDER-MAN 3. But it almost seems like “forgive & forget” is the mantra these days due to the latest installments in Marvel’s film franchises. The AMAZING SPIDER-MAN reboot, despite sometimes being seen as unnecessary, gave Spidey’s origins a darker edge and provided a different take on Peter Parker that has, for the most part, been accepted. The X-MEN movies got a much-needed overhaul with a solid prequel/reboot in FIRST CLASS and a strong, character-driven piece with THE WOLVERINE. And how can we forget all the well-placed plot elements and character-building solo films that Marvel Studios churned out over a 4-year period to make THE AVENGERS possible?
More than ever before, Marvel and its stable of characters have become a worldwide phenomena, a Pop culture handshake amongst not just comic book fans, but previously untouched demographics. Lovable jerk Tony Stark/Iron Man has become as iconic to the public as Batman. Wholesome “good guys” like Captain America are cool again. Little girls want to kick ass like Black Widow. TWILIGHT-levels of swooning for the Spider-Man/Gwen Stacy pairing are frequent. Men want to be as rugged and tough as Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. And women have an attraction towards Tom Hiddleston’s trickster Loki as if they could ever truly touch the heart of the “misunderstood” bad boy from Asgard. With a new TV show and more epic projects coming down the assembly line for Mutants, Web-Slingers, and Avengers alike, it seems like there’s no stopping the Marvel machine.
But there is one question that continues to play on the minds of purists and continuity buffs: will there ever be a true Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Thor, Cap, Hulk and Iron Man have all met and their adventures are taking place on the same playground financed by Marvel Studios and Disney. But what about Spider-Man? Is he ever going to get a chance to swing on the monkey bars with the Avengers as a reserve member? Will Wolverine and Hulk ever get to have a proper silver-screen throw-down? Heck, will we ever see a big superhero crossover spectacle the likes of SECRET WARS? In other words, are Sony and Fox ever going to be able to play nice with the Mouse in order to allow these estranged comic book brethren to become together on the big screen? I suppose the most widely-accepted answer to this query is, “Never say ‘never,’ but for now, the answer is ‘never.'”
Believe it or not, it almost happened. While there was no chance of Spidey showing up in May 2012’s THE AVENGERS, apparently Marvel and Columbia execs were ready and willing to work with Disney to incorporate Oscorp Tower into AVENGERS’ New York City skyline. Sure, it wasn’t a Peter Parker cameo like a lot of people hoped it would be, but that Easter egg would have acknowledged that despite the film versions of the characters being owned by different companies, they were willing to get in on the “shared universe” idea. Unfortunately, that little nugget never came to pass, not due to studio stubbornness, but because it was too late in post-production to render the building into the final backdrops.
And honestly, an Easter egg or cute reference here and there was probably all that we could hope for at the time. The X-Men and Spider-Man film properties are gigantic cash-cows for Fox and Sony and they would be out of their minds to just lend out the characters to joint-film ventures without making sure they’re earning some serious bank from it. As of right now, Fox holds the film rights to any and all of Marvel’s mutant characters as well as the Fantastic Four while Sony still plays host to the wall-crawler and his supporting cast and villains. Subtle “winks & nods” to these franchises in the MCU seem like more of a possibility (a character on the new AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. show tossed out an altered version of Spidey’s “great power, great responsibility” phrase, for example), but full inclusion of said characters could result in a legal nightmare of contract breaches and potential lawsuit fodder.
And then there’s this pair:
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver find themselves in the unique position of tightrope-walking the divide between Marvel Studios/Disney and Fox. You see, this brother & sister duo are mutants (the offspring of X-Men villain Magneto) while also serving as important members in the Avengers’ ranks. So while Fox’s claim on their character rights is still valid, Marvel has just as much right to use them in their films provided certain stipulations are followed:
1.) No mention of their father, the X-Men or even their classification as “mutants” can be made in an MCU film.
2.) Vice versa, no mention of their membership in the Avengers or other related characters can be made in a Fox X-Men film.
And it looks as though Quicksilver is going to be the first one to put these stipulations to the test. He is set to appear in May 2014’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, played by Evan Peters (KICK-ASS). However, AVENGERS writer/director Joss Whedon has stated many times that he plans to utilize both Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON set for a Summer 2015 release (Peters’ KICK-ASS co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson is allegedly in early talks for the role of the mutant speedster in that project). Now granted, the folks over at Warner Bros. are already setting things in motion for their new Batman franchise, but that at least has three years to distance itself from Nolan’s version. These two Quicksilvers are set to appear within a year of each other and, most likely, some essential traits will be sacrificed in order to meet the restrictions placed by the two companies. Thus, neither endeavor will be able to provide audiences with a fully-realized version of the character.
Unless…Marvel, Disney and Fox still have some aces up their sleeve. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is said to deal with time travel and ironing out inconsistencies within the X-films’ continuity. Who’s to say universe accessibility can’t be bent along with time? Maybe the rumors about the “Taylor-Johnson negotiations” are a smoke screen and the studios are setting up Peters’ Quicksilver to be the first Fox-owned character to cross franchises. This is mostly wishful thinking on my part.
For the time being, it looks as though Marvel/Disney will continue to develop their ever-growing collection of franchises while Sony and Fox look to hang on to their successful Spider-Man and X-Men properties for as long as they can. We may not see a fully-realized Marvel Cinematic Universe for a long time, but it looks as though some baby steps have been made. The rights to lesser-known characters such as Daredevil, Punisher and Ghost Rider have reverted back to Marvel, Sony appears to be a little more amicable to sharing and playing with the characters given the right project and, with a Fantastic Four reboot in development, Fox is apparently looking to consolidate their stable of characters into one shared continuity (making an “FF versus X-Men” concept more plausible as a crossover). And who knows? With DC Comics/Warner Bros. looking to bring their heavy hitters to the big screen with their own shared mythos, the rival studios may find that a little healthy collaboration can go a long way.
So is the current status of the Marvel Cinematic Universe perfect? No, but that doesn’t stop its various facets from being entertaining. In a way, the isolation of certain franchises reflects the nature of the characters within the realm of the comic book. Until recent years, Spider-Man has mainly been seen as a loner and the X-Men are a community unto themselves. Would it be fun to see them rub elbows with the likes of Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk? Of course! Would Doctor Doom, Magneto and Ultron make the best villain team-up in history? Without a doubt! Would a scene of Wolverine, the Thing, Captain America and Spidey sitting down for a game of poker be the best post-credits stinger ever? You betcha! But until such time as when the planets are aligned perfectly, I’m going to enjoy and experience everything that the Marvel movies have to offer.