I’m inherently suspicious of anything and everything Rupert Murdoch does. If Murdoch is behind something then it is safe to assume that he wants ordinary people coming out worse in the deal and that somehow he is trying to make the world a shittier place. That doesn’t mean he always succeeds or that everything with “Fox” or even “News Corporation” written on it is cursed like some artefact from an RPG.
In the current Disney/Fox deal, the Murdoch empire is divesting itself of its entertainment properties and retaining its news properties. I don’t know what the full implications of that are but “Murdoch controls less’ sounds partly like good news, whereas “Murdoch ends up as the biggest shareholder in Disney” sounds like bad news. Of course, Disney only sounds good when compared with Rupert Murdoch. The deal is another step in Disney controlling a hefty chunk of IP. It isn’t exactly monopolistic power but it is reasonable to fear one corporation having that much cultural clout.
Given Disney’s chain of acquisitions (Pixar, Marvel, Lucasarts) the move also is of deep interest to multiple fandoms. Some fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are seeing this move primarily in terms of how the move will bring more of Marvel’s characters back under Marvel’s control. Given the success of the MCU, I can see why fans of superhero films (and I would count myself as one) would be excited. Yet, I don’t see it.
The specific result is that Marvel’s beloved X-Men franchise would now be owned by Disney and hence X-Men characters could become part of the MCU. This does not strike me as a good idea.
Within Marvel’s comic book universe, characters have swapped between teams and in and out of comic books. Notably Beast, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are characters who have been players in both The Avengers and X-Men. However, there is nothing particularly essential about those characters in either setting. Further, I just don’t think the premise of the X-Men works in conjunction with the rest of the Marvel Universe. I don’t think it has ever really worked in the comic books and I don’t see how it could work in film.
A comic book universe relies on somehow making superheroes whose basic premise is quite different work together. Marvel has juggled this by having elements that work together and elements that work as given character’s own domain. Thor can be a god-like alien being on Earth and exist side-by-side with Iron Man a human with fancy gadgets but their separate adventures put the characters in quite different worlds. Some suspension of disbelief is required to accept that these characters can have their own stories without every film requiring all the Avengers to turn up to help but the settings help and each character can have separate stories.
Now add the X-men. The X-Men aren’t the X-Men without the key premise that they live in a world in which:
- Some people get random mutant superpowers.
- That the wider population knows this.
- That the mutant population is feared and persecuted and suppressed.
Captain America has to be cool with this. I mean, obviously, he isn’t but for the X-Men to have their stories, basically The Avengers have to not do anything when the US government starts hunting people with giant killer robots. Also, the wider public has to be relatively OK with one bunch of super powered people and raging bigots about a different bunch. It has to be OK to get superpowers from a spider bite but not from a genetic mutation AND people have to believe that story (i.e. people don’t think Spiderman is a dangerous mutant).
Put another way, the X-Men and The Avengers as stories can’t share the same space but there isn’t a simple way of separating those spaces. With other characters (e.g. the Netflix version of Daredevil) local spaces can be created (e.g. a fictional Hell’s Kitchen) and the antagonists can exist in a world where there other kinds of superheroes – Daredevil fighting secret ninjas and/or an evil property developer can happen in a world where off-screen Captain America is fighting Hydra.
The flip side of this is the creativity that arises from restrictions. Marvel has made a success out of its own stable of films but it did so without having access to its biggest properties: X-men and Spiderman. Yes, it was nice for there to be Spiderman films that were not another rehash of his origin story and which give the character a bigger field to play in but it was not having Spiderman that pushed Marvel into the more creative decision – Guardians of the Galaxy for example.
Which brings me back to Disney. It was great seeing another Star Wars film yesterday and yes, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Infinity War but the obvious IP danger in Disney’s accretion disc style of aquistions is that it will become little more than a strip mine of IP rather than a source of new ideas.
If it avoids that trap then the popularity of its properties will only enable an economic behemoth bully governments and exploit its workers.