Spoilers ahead for Avengers: Endgame.
As Marvel Studios heads into Phase 4, it’s a very different studio than the one that emerged on this day in 2008 with the launch of Iron Man. It didn’t produce record-breaking behemoths that changed the landscape of blockbuster cinema, and it didn’t have some of its most popular properties at its disposal. X-Men and Fantastic Four were over at 20th Century Fox, and now, through corporate consolidation, those properties are now available to Marvel Studios again. Although fandom has been vocal about reigniting X-Men, I’d argue that the better way forward is to first pursue Fantastic Four.
The case against moving ahead too quickly with X-Men has been well-made by Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos. The problem with bringing mutants into a world with super-powered people is that it makes the world far more complicated and difficult to explain. Of course, it’s not impossible, but keep in mind that in the comics, the rest of the Marvel Universe grew up with the X-Men whereas the MCU started thinking they’d never have those characters, so it never accounted for them. You can’t go with traditional X-Men lore that Charles Xavier and Magneto have been around since the 1960s with their conflict paralleling the civil rights battle between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
There’s also the issue that people know what a good X-Men movie looks like. While the quality has varied over the years, the X-Men franchise has been sustainable enough that there have been six X-Men movies so far (the seventh arrives next month with Dark Phoenix and maybe one day we’ll also get The New Mutants) and three Wolverine spinoffs not to mention two Deadpool movies. Meanwhile, there were two Fantastic Four movies in the mid-2000s that have largely been forgotten (I think the first one is surprisingly okay, but nothing special) and the 2015 reboot was a disaster. There’s no intense goodwill from the non-comics audience for the Fantastic Four, and that gives Marvel an opening.
Because the Fantastic Four have never been well defined enough in their previous on-screen iterations, it lets Marvel basically work from scratch. You could argue that the Fantastic Four’s reputation was damaged by previous movies, but Marvel has shown it can reboot characters successfully with how they handled Spider-Man after the Amazing Spider-Man fiasco. Also, while mutants stretch well beyond the X-Men, the Fantastic Four are contained. The team has varied slightly over the years, but the core group is pretty easy to define: Mr. Fantastic is brilliant and has the ability to stretch his body, The Invisible Woman can turn invisible and project force fields, the Human Torch can generate flames and fly, and The Thing is a big, strong rock monster.
The Fantastic Four aren’t just easy to understand; they also provide unique assets to the larger MCU. For starters, now that Tony Stark is no longer with us, you’ve lost one of the big brains of the universe. Thankfully, Reed Richards is the big brain guy, but not in the same way as Shuri or Doctor Strange or Hulk. He’s got his own personality that, depending on how they handle it, can be warm and fatherly or it can be so cold and scientific that it seems a little distant (I’d argue that warm and fatherly would be the way to go so that he doesn’t resemble Doctor Strange too much).
Additionally, the MCU has viewed its teams as makeshift families, especially the Guardians of the Galaxy. That dynamic has worked really well in making audiences connect with these characters, and the Fantastic Four offers a unique kind of family. Rather than a team of misfits, you have people who already knew each other and have suffered a similar fate when they get their powers. That puts them in a unique direction where they’re kind of like Spider-Man or Hulk where they didn’t ask to be heroes, so the responsibility was put upon them, but they also have attributes like Tony Stark where they’re scientists who want to figure out how to make the world a better place.
Most of all, we just haven’t seen a truly great Fantastic Four movie yet, and Marvel can do it without raising all the tricky questions raised by the X-Men. The Fantastic Four are contained, unique, and are waiting for the right filmmaker to give them the movie they deserve. Here’s hoping that they become a priority for Marvel Studios.