Things are somewhat quiet on the Marvel Studios front. We’re just at the beginning of a slow leak of promotional images for this year’s offerings - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and the Sony collaboration Spider-Man Homecoming. Meanwhile, it’s Fox and their pocket universe of X-Men properties that have been dominating the more recent news cycle. In December, audiences at Butt-Numb-a-Thon got their minds blown by the first 40 minutes or so of Logan, production on The New Mutants and Deadpool 2 is ramping up now, and FX is airing Legion, Fox’s first X-Men TV show, the first week of February.
Where they are quiet is in regards to Fantastic Four, a franchise they don’t seem to be sure what to do with after 2015’s troubled reboot when down in superhero movie infamy. They’ve entertained talk about a sequel, though that seems highly unlikely, but have said in the press that they are committed to the license. The assumption was that Fox’s Marvel properties would crossover, chasing the kind of larger universe that Disney has had so much success with in their own Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So, what’s a studio to do with one successful franchise and another they want to keep around but don’t know what to do with? One possible answer might already be in the pages of Marvel Comics.
"Days of Future Present" was a 1990 comic book crossover that took place in the following over-sized Annuals:
Fantastic Four Annual #23 (by Walt Simonson and Jackson Guice)
The New Mutants Annual #6 (by Louise Simonson and Terry Shoemaker & Chris Wozniak)
X-Factor Annual #5 (by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove)
The Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (by Chris Claremont and Art Adams)
The individual annuals have all been collected into one trade paperback, titled X-Men: Days of Future Present. It’s a bit “all over the place” as these kinds of mega-stories go, but still provides a good framework for Fox, should they be looking to hold on to that Fantastic Four license a little longer.
What’s ‘Days of Future Present’ About?
Franklin Richards (the son of Reed Richards and Sue Storm) appears from the future, the same future the X-Men thought they prevented in "Days of Future Past," and uses his near-limitless mutant powers (which turn his dreams into reality) to shape our present into a world he understands. He is chased by Ahab, a cyborg who keeps an eye on the time-stream, relying on mutants that he turns into mindless trackers as his hunting “hounds.”
The Fantastic Four are first made aware of the adult Franklin when he tries to turn their lives into one that closely resembles his own from childhood. When Franklin attempts to recreate his time at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, as a member of the team known as the New Mutants and revisits an old flame/current X-Man named Rachel, it draws the X-Men (and the evil Ahab) into the struggle.
The crossover ends with two big revelations - that the relatively new X-Man (and former Ahab hound) Rachel is the future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey, and that Franklin was actually killed by Sentinels in the future and that the existing version of himself is nothing more than a projected dream from the moment of his own death.
X-Men comics from this time were weird, y’all. You really had to be there.
How Do You Market a Crossover Film After Fantastic Four Tanked?
You make it an X-Men film. In title, it’s already a direct sequel to one of their most popular movies, and it’s a story that just happens to have Fantastic Four characters featuring prominently in it, without it looking much like an FF movie.
One of the more attractive things about “Days of Future Present” to a Fox exec, beyond the poster-ready title, is that any connection to the FF is represented by an all-new character, Franklin Richards, the time-displaced adult son of Reed and Sue. The Fantastic Four characters are present, but not in a way that needs to involve them as a constant (and thus doesn’t have to look like a quasi-sequel to a movie that bombed).
There’s an action scene toward the end of the comics where the FF team up with the X-Men to stop some Sentinels, but most of the time, they’re around to provide bits of exposition. Ahab ends up temporarily turning Cyclops and Invisible Woman into hounds, but it’s a random change that isn’t necessarily character-motivated, meaning there’s no big reason to keep those two as hounds in a film adaptation.
And that’s the thing - this is simply a proposed springboard; not a gospel. "Days of Future Past" maintained the main idea of the popular comics’ storyline, without slavish dedication. We’re not proposing Fox follow the "Days of Future Present" comics to the letter (and honestly, it’s a very convoluted read - I’m not sure everyone was on the same page with regards to plotting); we just think that the use of Franklin Richards in the context of this particular story, and its sequel-ready title, provides a perfect inspiration for an X-Men/FF movie.
If Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, and Michael Fassbender Leave the Series, Then What About Star Power?
The great thing about Franklin Richards as the lead in ‘Days of Future Present’ is that he’s a perfect one-and-done role. It’s a role primed for stunt casting the hottest leading young actor. Ahab is also a one-off, and open to the same kind of attractive scenery-chewing casting as Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse.
The question does arise concerning Rachel Summers, a former hound from the DOFP timeline and daughter of Cyclops and Jean. She is a significant character in "Days of Future Present" and an X-Man who hasn’t been addressed on film. In the comics, she escapes from her timeline and keeps her identity a secret from her parents as a member of the X-Men. Assuming she is not going to show up in The New Mutants film, Rachel could literally be dragged to the present by the manipulations of Franklin, who wants his true love by his side in our “safer” reality, away from the war-torn anti-mutant future. At any rate, Rachel Summers provides another juicy role.
What About the Future of the X-Men Franchise - The New Mutants, Cable, and no Wolverine, etc.? Does it fit in?
It’s almost perfect for Fox’s future. It has no Wolverine and a lot of Cable and the New Mutants (as well as significant roles for Cyclops and Jean Grey). There’s been a lot of speculation on where Cable will first show up and who will play him - questions that will be answered by the time any potential crossover is being filmed. The New Mutants is slated to go before cameras this year, and the characters in it represent the future of the X-Men franchise (rumored to be leading to an eventual X-Force movie, with Cable in charge).
"Days of Future Present" has a big cast, but outside of Franklin, Ahab, Rachel, Cable, Cyclops, Jean, Reed, and Sue, the other characters are almost interchangeable. Sure, the cast of X-Men and FF have their little moments. You even get the trademark Predator handshake in one scene between Iceman and Human Torch, but these ancillary players aren’t key to the story in any significant way. Also, some bad news: do not expect the comics’ cameos by Dr. Strange and Spider-Man to make it into Fox’s film, should this film ever happen.
If Hugh Jackman was to return, there’s an opportunity to swap out Banshee’s role as Franklin’s favorite teacher at Xavier’s school, with Wolverine. The story provides a lot of opportunities like this since the secondary characters are motivated by the plot’s needs and not characterization.
Wasn’t There a Better Known Crossover Between the Teams?
Comics-wise, this is not a better X-Men/Fantastic Four story than the 1987 mini-series Fantastic Four Versus the X-Men, but it is one that fits Fox and their slate far better. The more popular mini-series sees the X-Men begging Reed Richards for help restoring a dissipating Kitty Pryde. He declines because the FF team is torn apart by a journal which intimates that Reed secretly knew Sue, Johnny, and Ben would be irrevocably altered by cosmic rays at the time of the team’s origin. The X-Men, instead, get the offer of a helping hand from Dr. Doom. It’s a great story, and well worth seeking out, but it relies much more on the Fantastic Four, in a way that Fox is likely financially uncomfortable with.
‘Days of Future Present’ allows them to stay the course for their X-Men plans while still holding on to those Fantastic Four rights with an iron fist...better yet, an orange, rocky one.