21st Century Fox announced over the weekend its plans to charge full-steam ahead in 2018, revealing a packed superhero film calendar for the year. Director Josh Boone's "New Mutants" is slated to arrive April 2018, followed by David Leitch's "Deadpool 2" in June, and "X-Men: Dark Phoenix" in November.
By any metric, this is a big move, but perhaps nearly as big is the casting Josh Brolin as the time-traveling mutant Cable, a character who not only played a key role in developing the New Mutants in the Marvel Comics source material, but also in transforming much of the young heroes into the military mutant response team known as X-Force. (Ironically, Fox's planned "X-Force" film has seen its production pushed back.) With all these new properties in development, and without Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in the mix, is Fox truly taking the approach of out with the old and in with the new?
With Jackman and Patrick Stewart both bidding farewell in "Logan" to the roles that not only helped to define their careers but also the X-Men movie franchise, the door closes on the Bryan Singer era. Stewart joked that he'd consider playing Charles Xavier again if he were to share the screen with Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool, but it's difficult to take him seriously, considering the ending director James Mangold's acclaimed film provided. So, in many ways Fox's announced 2018 slate feels like the next step for the X-Men (or phase, if you prefer Marvel Studios parlance), and it also opens the door for new leaders to step up to the fore.
This is where Brolin's Cable comes in, not just as a mentor to the New Mutants, but in a role allowing us to move beyond the complicated relationship between Xavier and Magneto, portrayed first by Stewart and Ian McKellen, and then by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. As longtime producer Lauren Shuler Donner acknowledged last month, that future -- at least for the X-Men films -- simply can't rely on on the Xavier/Magneto dynamic. While the two characters remain “essential” to the world of the X-Men, “there are other stories to tell.”
Those could very well involve Mystique, who emerges in "Apocalypse" as team leader, training a new generation of X-Men: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Storm and Quicksilver. If this fresh roster provides a road map for the franchise, then additional house-cleaning may be required. While Magneto and Mystique aren't necessarily needed anymore, Xavier is. As in the comic books, he and Cable can be the leaders, representing two paths toward the same future. (It should be noted that Jennifer Lawrence has expressed little interest in returning, but considering Mystique's shape-shifting power, this is a problem that's could be easily solved with a solid re-casting.)
After training the New Mutants in the comics, Cable kickstarted "X-Force," a much more aggressive and relentless team of mutants. This film has been pushed back from next year's slate, but seeds have already been sown in the lead up to "Deadpool 2." This sequel will feature Domino (to be played by Zazie Beetz), who was one of the early members of Cable's X-Force squad in the comics. She was also his on-again/off-again girlfriend, although it's yet to be seen if Fox will go that route on film. That the team will supposedly be introduced on some level in "Deadpool 2" points toward Rick Remender's highly-popular "Uncanny X-Force" run as possible source material for the eventual "X-Force film." The series had Wade Wilson as a core member of the team, and built on the partnership he has developed with Cable over the years.
But it isn't just these two Cable-oriented teams that Fox could be looking to carve a path for. In addition to X-23, Rictor, a seismic-powered mutant, debuted in "Logan." Though he was a founding member of X-Force, he was a key member of "X-Factor," which featured Jamie Madrox a.k.a. Multiple Man and his team as a detective agency trying to safeguard the future of mutants.
To be more accurate, Mangold's "Logan" introduced an entire team's worth of genetically engineered mutants, young characters who sought haven in the fictitious Eden. While Fox could harbor plans to explore the post-apocalyptic future of the X-verse, remember - Cable is a time-traveler, so what's to stop the studio form introducing a fully trained X-Force team from the future into the franchise's modern day stories?
With "X-Men: Dark Phoenix," writer (and possibly director) Simon Kinberg has a chance to make up for the mistakes of 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand," in which elements of the seminal "Dark Phoenix Saga" were shoe-horned in as a subplot, and Cyclops and Xavier were killed off for no apparent reason. Singer delighted in undoing those decisions in 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past," a crowd-pleaser that nevertheless failed to capture the magic of its predecessor, director Matthew Vaughn's "X-Men: First Class," which took the aging franchise -- and its key characters -- back to the very beginning: the 1960s. This redo now provides a chance to not only have Jean Grey endure and overcome, but also reposition her alongside Cyclops as the heroic duo we've read about for decades, and whom we haven't seen on-screen since "X2."
More obviously, there's the idea of Dafne Keen's Laura/X-23 as the new Wolverine. Her X-23 stunned fans because she didn't merely hinge on thrilling them with brutal violence, but on the emotion the young star conveyed, mostly through stares and grunts. Much like our previous X-Force theory, the fact that Cable can time-travel opens doors for her to be brought in to fill the Wolverine-sized hole Jackman's departure left -- with a little retcon or minor continuity tweaking of course.
The Gambit solo film also remains in the pipeline, and we recently saw Colossus (who was sparingly used in the old movies) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead received with praise in "Deadpool," which means that Fox could be ready to risk bringing new faces to the forefront of the franchise. If that happens, perhaps villains like Mister Sinister, hinted at in "Apocalypse," will finally make his anticipated movie debut, truly breathing fresh life into Fox's movies.