A more long term problem is that the newcomers aren’t newcomers. The bank of Marvel’s mutant characters (and their enemies and allies) to draw from is large, but not infinite, and most of them have been picked over for Fox’s movies and TV shows. The minor characters remaining might very well be enough to support a franchise on their own, except that fans expect certain beloved characters to be present, no matter how many times we’ve already seen them and no matter how much we may have complained about characters being continuously rebooted.
Hugh Jackman has now played Wolverine in eight movies over 17 years. You know who he is, and let’s give him due credit; he’s been a blessing. He’s also unambiguously done with the role now, which may lead fans to ask if there can be an X-Men without Wolverine. The better question is if there can be a Wolverine without Jackman, and the answer is yes. Remember the short, hairy, uncouth berserker who first appeared in the comics in the 70s? A generation of movie fans have never met him, and they don’t need another superhero heartthrob to take his place.
Logan isn’t the only character who could be successfully recycled with a makeover that stays true to the comics rather than previous film or TV incarnations. Storm can finally be tall and regal, torn between her natural leadership ability and her bond with nature. Rogue can have access to a variety of plot-based reasons to permanently absorb some additional superpowers, even if she never meets Carol Danvers. With the MCU’s grasp of special effects, there shouldn’t be any obstacle to designing a furry Nightcrawler, or putting a miniature dragon alien onto Kitty’s shoulder.
Of course, some of the characters have already been overused disproportionate to their relative importance in the series. In some cases, it may be better to just leave them out, at least for the first few years. Others may be necessary, but can’t be improved by changing Fox’s formula. Frankly, there will never be a better casting for Charles Xavier than Patrick Stewart, and the MCU is just going to have to work around that.
Classic X-Men themes still open for exploration in film go beyond individual characters, and even specific events. Fox’s movies put a big emphasis on the outcast status of mutants and the dangers of discrimination against them, but there was never anything like X-Factor, the team conceived by the founding X-Men to find and protect young mutants while pretending to hunt them for the sake of the public eye. X-Factor’s ultimate failure as its ruse backfired would make great fodder for a movie or two. So would Excalibur, one of several teams that were formed by “survivors” of the original X-Men after the others were presumed dead (pssst, they really weren’t).
If nothing else, it’s high time for the X-Men to head into space. Some of their greatest adventures have pitted them against hostile alien races like the Brood, acquired alien love interests like Lilandra or crossed over with spacefaring hero teams like the Starjammers. For an Earth-based institution, the X-Men have a strong tie to the cosmic Marvel Universe, and they’ve always seemed a little unfinished without it.
This is an exciting time for the MCU, and the anticipation of the big changes to come is part of the fun. Whatever Marvel Studios chooses to do with their newly acquired characters is going to be worth watching, but if they manage to pull off the balancing act it takes to make the X-Men new again, it could be much, much more than that.