While there are both pros and cons to be found in Disney's deal to acquire 21st Century Fox, comic book fans are mainly looking forward to seeing the X-Men and Fantastic Four come under Marvel Studios' control. Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed this is part of the deal, stating Marvel is "looking forward to expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe to include X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool.” For obvious reasons, this has set fans' tongues wagging as they contemplate and debate how they'll be incorporated into the MCU.
Fans have wanted these iconic Marvel Comics characters to be seen alongside the Avengers since the MCU's inception in 2008. The chance of this happening has always seemed very slim since Fox had seen great box office performances with many of its Marvel movies. But no matter how unrealistic it was, Marvel and Sony reaching a deal to allow Spider-Man to join the MCU gave us all hope. But then Fox's approach to the characters changed, and in a way that differs greatly form Marvel's handling of its heroes.
In recent years, Fox has been building its superhero movies based on a more genre-driven approach. Deadpool is a raunchy and unfiltered action comedy movie, Logan is a Western-inspired and bleak drama, and the upcoming New Mutants flick is straight horror. Marvel Studios' movies, on the other hand, are relatively family friendly and PG-13 rated. It's obvious that the two studios have different ideas on how to build their respective universes, meaning their movies are different tonally.
Is It Time For Marvel Knights?
So, how can Marvel Studios successfully integrate darker, more adult characters and franchises into its incredibly successful universe? The company should look to the comic books for the answer. In 1998, Marvel Comics introduced the Marvel Knights imprint. Here, readers found creator-driven comics based on some of Marvel's more low-profile heroes, including Daredevil, The Punisher and Black Panther.
The basic concept behind Marvel Knights was to provide Joe Quesada and his team at Event Comics a platform to work exclusively for Marvel Comics, while giving them with the freedom to explore characters in a more standalone, self-contained fashion. This move was incredibly successful, eventually leading to Quesada being named as editor-in-chief for Marvel Comics. The approach to Marvel Knights changed slightly around 2006, when it began housing more high-profile characters in limited series. The concept of exploring and re-thinking Marvel characters from different angles still stood, though.
That's what Marvel Studios should do, now. Creating a Marvel Knights banner for the Marvel Cinematic Universe would allow for a distinct division between the PG-13 and R-rated releases. Since Marvel Studios loves to hang on to the premise that "it's all connected", Marvel Knights films could still take place in the overall narrative, and tie in to big ensemble events like Avengers: Infinity War.
It's been proven that R-Rated flicks based on superheroes can be a hit; just look at Logan and Deadpool. The former was the darkest and most self-contained of the Wolverine trilogy, and it was also the most successful. Deadpool went the opposite way and proved that even a dark, violent comedy can be an audience draw. There's undoubtedly a desire for these more mature takes on Marvel characters, so Disney should want to capitalize on the trend.
Marvel's Netflix Branch Is A Proven R-Rated Hit
In fact, the MCU already contains some hit properties that are R-Rated, though they're housed on Netflix rather than cineplexes. Marvel TV, ABC and Netflix have explored more adult territory with series such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. These series are some of the more popular Netflix Original offerings, so Marvel should feel fairly confident about bringing darker stories to theaters. A Marvel Knights banner would, in theory, even allow the titular characters from these series to hit the big screen, should Marvel ever wish to do so.
Not only would a Marvel Knights banner allow Marvel Studios to easily integrate Fox properties such as Deadpool into the MCU, it would provide a platform for characters the studio has the rights to but is currently doing nothing with. Blade and Ghost Rider (excluding Robbie Reyes in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) have had multiple live-action R-rated showings in the past, yet they don't share continuity with the MCU. It's arguable that these characters need a rating beyond PG-13 to really be brought back to life in all of their glory, and fans have been campaigning for their inclusion for quite some time.
The bottom line is, Disney has a history of releasing R-Rated movies, with offerings ranging from the Scream franchise to Pulp Fiction. Touchstone Pictures, another Disney company, has been responsible for releasing a number or R-rated features as well, starting with the studio's first-ever rated R film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, to Pretty Woman, Ruthless People and more. Taking this into account, as well as the hands-off approach Disney's Bob Iger has used with Marvel's Feige and Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy, it seems as if it's mostly up to Marvel Studios executives as to whether Deadpool remains an adult franchise, or if other heroes join him.