Ever since James Gunn’s firing from Guardians of the Galaxy 3, the rumor mill has been churning stories about Taika Waititi directing the final installment of the trilogy. Thor: Ragnarok clearly drew influence from the Guardians corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so that rumor drew a whole lotta love from the fans. Just a little Led Zeppelin joke for you.
James Gunn recently signed up to direct a sequel to one of the worst superhero movies of all time for DC, so a Marvel return definitely isn’t happening. Career suicide might be though. And Taika Waititi, out of respect for Gunn’s Guardians vision, has politely shot down the aforementioned rumors.
Waititi did, however, state his desire to continue working with Marvel and he suggested he’s already had conversations about new projects. My guess is that those conversations are about about the upcoming Eternals movie. They are odd enough characters to match his sensibilities and they could potentially launch a Guardians-eclipsing franchise for Waititi and Marvel.
But what if, true believers, Taika Waititi is actually being courted to relaunch the X-Men franchise?
As Disney consumes Fox like Galactus consumes planets, the X-Men occupy a strange existence in the minds of the movie-going public. Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool movies are money-makers (and pretty damn good), but too risque for the Disney’s family-oriented brand. The core X-Men characters are on life support with Simon Kinberg’s looming disaster, Dark Phoenix. The word on the street is that New Mutants, once a tentpole event, will be quietly dumped onto Hulu. The various other spin-offs – X-Force, Gambit, Kitty Pryde – haven’t made any real progress. And, most importantly, producer Lauren Shuler Donner just publicly acknowledged that she’s handing over the reins to Kevin Feige.
All of this is to say that I can’t imagine a scenario in which Disney tries to preserve any continuity with the Fox movies – particularly because the MCU is internally consistent and the X-Verse has a narrative that makes as much sense as Donald Trump trying to explain infinity.
So, what does Marvel do with a property that’s as least as important and valuable as The Avengers?
First, pay Kevin Feige whatever it takes to secure his services for the rest of his life. Then upload his consciousness into the cloud. He’s currently Hollywood’s most important asset and we’ll need him forever, thanks.
Second, find a creative vision that’s totally different than the one Fox had for X-Men. The original X-Men movie was an allegory about how society disenfranchises certain populations. It was a smart way to get audiences to take the concept of mutants seriously, but it also established a fairly somber tone that has carried through the franchise with two exceptions – Deadpool and Apocalypse.
What makes the Marvel movies brilliant is that their writers and directors know how to the strike the right balance between humor and heaviness – and no matter what, they make sure the audience has a ton of fun. (Dark Phoenix does not look fun.)
One of the best examples of that balance is Thor: Ragnarok. It’s a movie that splits its narrative between the genocidal destruction of a longstanding civilization and a gonzo-absurdist gladiator tournament on an alien planet. On paper, that simply shouldn’t work. But it does because Taika Waititi injects authenticity and heart into every moment. He knows when to go for belly laughs, when to go for tears, and when to blast “Immigrant Song” in an effort to get me to stand up and cheer so loudly that the usher kicks me out of the theater. That’s the sort of versatile storytelling that an X-Men movie needs (and deserves).
Also, Ragnarok shows that Waititi understands the dynamics and dysfunction of a team. With the formation of the Revengers – which happens pretty late in the movie – he creates great interpersonal character moments that payoff in narratively meaningful ways.
So, I’d like to see what Taika Waititi could do with a contained X-Men story.
Focus on the original Uncanny X-Men team – Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Angel..and add Korg, please – then use that group to carefully bring mutants into the MCU. Take a break from Wolverine and Deadpool for a while, sideline all of the B characters (including Mystique), and treat Magneto like Captain America treated the Red Skull – iconic but not absolute.
Disney has one chance to get X-Men right and they have the man for the job waiting in front of them.
And if it doesn’t work out, then give Waititi the Fantastic Four instead!