No X-Men and no Deadpool – but Marvel’s Phase 4 can be huge without them

The MCU's next juncture might be lacking big names but it doesn't need them to secure its future, says Morgan Jeffery

Ryan Reynolds stars in Marvel's Deadpool (2016)

It’s not the news that any fan of Marvel’s mutants, or its merc with a mouth, wanted to hear.

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“I have assessed the [Marvel movie] schedule for the next, give or take, five years and I don’t see Deadpool on it,” the character’s creator Rob Liefield told io9, going on to suggest that introducing the X-Men into the MCU isn’t high on the comic giant’s priority list either.

Liefield’s comments have made quite a stir online, but assuming he’s right, the news that there’ll be no new Deadpool or X-Men movies for at least five years won’t come as a huge surprise if you’ve been paying attention.

Marvel’s Phase Four movie slate is currently – after some rescheduling due to the COVID-19 outbreak – set to get underway with Black Widow in November, followed by The Eternals in February 2021 and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in May, with a third (as-yet-untitled) Spider-Man movie closing out the year in November. Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will then follow in February and March 2022.

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow solo movie 2020

Phase Five is a little more nebulous, but will definitely include Black Panther II – scheduled for a May 2022 release – and Captain Marvel 2 – out in July – with Ant-Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and new Fantastic Four and Blade movies also confirmed as being in the works. But no Deadpool, and no X-Men.

For fans eager for more of Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson after the success of his first two movies, or for the X-Men’s entry into the MCU to revive their flagging fortunes on-screen after the disappointment of Dark Phoenix (not to mention the endless wait for The New Mutants), it might seem disappointing for neither of these franchises to factor into Marvel’s immediate plans.

Avengers: Endgame was an epic climax to a decade-long story, so isn’t there a danger that what comes next – an MCU not only lacking Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America, but also big-hitters like Deadpool and the X-Men – might end up feeling underwhelming?

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It’s possible – but my money’s on Marvel sticking the post-Endgame landing and relaunching the MCU to great success even without those characters.

It’s worth remembering that there’s a good reason why we won’t be seeing mutants back on the big-screen any time in the next few years – the MCU is no slapdash effort but a highly strategic business proposition, plotted out years in advance, with Phase Four and quite probably much of Phase Five already firmed up behind-the-scenes when Disney bought FOX and acquired the screen rights to the X-Men and Deadpool. (The acquisition took place in March 2019, and by July of that year, Kevin Feige was already talking up plans for Phase Five and beyond.)

So the absolute earliest we were ever going to see the X-Men and Deadpool enter the MCU was going to be in a potential Phase Six – which, by the looks of things, would run from 2025 onwards. But that doesn’t mean that the next five years are a bust. Far from it.

A solo Black Widow movie has long been on Marvel fans’ wish-lists, while established players like Spider-Man, Black Panther, Thor, Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy are all set to return to cinemas in the next half decade, joined by new screen versions of familiar figures like vampire hunter Blade and “Marvel’s first family” the Fantastic Four.

Marvel's The Eternals cast
Jesse Grant / Getty Images

And while the likes of the Eternals and Shang-Chi are unquestionably lesser-known Marvel brands, the same could be same of the Guardians prior to their 2014 film debut. Even those heroes who went on to become the lynchpins of the MCU, whose loss now provokes concern – Iron Man, Captain America – weren’t considered Marvel’s big hitters pre-2008. These were very much B-list characters, the ones that Marvel Studios retained the rights to only because no-one else saw the potential in them, with Sony and FOX having snapped up the better-known Spider-Man and X-Men.

The absence of the X-Men wasn’t a problem for the MCU then, and it needn’t be be a problem now – hiring the right actors, the right filmmakers, adopting the right tone… all these things helped transform second-tier comic heroes into household names once. There’s no reason to suspect that Marvel can’t do it again.

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