In the Marvel comic-book world, readers have enjoyed hundreds of stories where their favorite heroes join forces – Spider-Man joining Captain America, Iron Man aiding the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four getting an assist from The Hulk. In the world of movies, however, it is a markedly different story. Many of these team-ups are impossible given the way things have shaken down with the rights to the characters and the very competitive studios that produce the films.
Over the last several years, Marvel Studios has come into its own in a major way. Their incredibly auditions and ambitious plan – to create a string of huge blockbusters all occupying the same universe, then tie them together by weaving the same characters in and out of the films – has paid off with remarkable dividends. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it has come to be known, features the characters Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and The Hulk, among others. All of the films featuring those characters are produced by Marvel Studios, and have been astoundingly successful both critically and commercially. The seemingly impossible task of creating a film universe has been achieved, with Marvel Studios films already scheduled through 2016.
So why is it impossible for a character like Wolverine to interact with The Hulk? After all, the two famously fought in comic books. While the two are part of the same universe on the page, on-screen they are indelibly split. There was a time when Marvel was not making movies, and had to sell the character rights to other studios who would then produce the films. The X-Men were sold to Fox; Spider-Man to Sony. Now, Marvel may be regretting its decision, since their own characters have become their greatest box office competition.
There are some instances where the answers to which studio owns which character are murky at best. Take, for instance, the conundrum that arose recently. Because the characters all interact in the comic book world, some of Marvel’s heroes fall in a gray area. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were the children of Magneto, who is the greatest enemy of the X-Men. They too were enemies of the X-Men, until they turned to the side of good and joined The Avengers. This makes them characters related to both properties. So which studio gets to use them? As it turns out, they both do, especially when they get competitive.
Marvel is allowed to use those two characters in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, but due to the rights issues they are not allowed to explain the origin of their superpowers – like the X-Men, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are mutants, but Fox owns the rights to mutants and will not let Marvel use that term – which leaves the Avengers filmmakers in the odd position of having to talk around the characters’ origins. Not to be outdone, Fox immediately announced that they too would be including Quicksilver in the upcoming film X-Men: Days of Future Past – meaning fans will have the incredibly strange experience of the same character being introduced on screen within a year of each other, but interpreted in two wildly different ways.
This fierce rivalry between studios and reluctance to let each other use even simple terms like “mutant” is why the news that the X-Men would be featured in the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2 all the more surprising. Unfortunately, the characters will not actually be meeting – a sneak preview scene of the forthcoming X-Men film will simply appear during the end credits of the Spider-Man film. Why on earth would these highly competitive studios agree to promote another’s material? It turns out that Fox had a contractual hold on Marc Webb, the director of the Spider-Man films. In exchange for allowing him to be available, Fox required Sony to promote X-Men: Days of Future Past during The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So while Spider-Man meeting Iron Man on the silver screen may not happen any time soon, knowing that these studios can make small deals with each other may give fans enough hope to dream that maybe one day, a meet-up like that will be possible.
Commentary by: Alex Warheit