TRADE: THE UNIFIED THEORY

September 30, 2018

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Can Deadpool live in a Disney world? Star Ryan Reynolds will surely find out soon | 20th Century Fox
Can Deadpool live in a Disney world? Star Ryan Reynolds will surely find out soon | 20th Century Fox

Is Disney, that kingdom of magical family fare, about to embrace the R-rated superhero?

In quick-and-efficient votes, Disney and 21st Century Fox shareholders approved Disney’s 71.3 billion dollars buyout of some big Fox assets, including Fox’s film and TV production studios, Variety reported.

The deal is expected to be completed by the middle of next year, with Disney having already received Justice Department approval.

That means that Fox — the film studio that launched the second wave of superhero cinema in 2000 — delivers its stable of darker, sometimes ultra-violent comic-book crime-fighters to Disney, which has kept its Marvel Cinematic Universe squarely in the PG-13 lane.

Fox’s hottest properties include the X-Men and Deadpool, as well as the creatively adrift Fantastic Four franchise. The studio’s X-Men character films, including Deadpool, have grossed 5.7 billion dollars worldwide.

How a Disney-Fox deal could rock the superhero universe

As Marvel and DC have often topped the box office with PG-13 films, Fox in recent years has carved out its own corner with such popular R-rated superhero movies as the Golden Globe-nominated Deadpool and the Oscar-nominated Logan.

Now, major franchises that helped first make Marvel Comics a publishing powerhouse in the ’60s and early ’70s can share the Disney stable — decades after the rights to these different properties were parted out to several studios, as each tried to gain big cash and traction in Hollywood.

Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) deserves as much credit as any film for kicking off the current era of massive superhero franchises, eight years before the MCU dawned with Iron Man.

Since the rise of Marvel’s film universe, fans have clamoured for studio crossovers to unite Marvel characters on the screen. One step in that direction has paid off handsomely in the past several years, as Sony struck a deal with Marvel for Spider-Man’s solo and team-up movies. Marvel helped Sony revive its Spidey franchise, and the three films so far that have suited up Tom Holland as Peter Parker have grossed more than 4 billion dollars worldwide combined.

Now, perhaps Disney can work similar magic with the Fantastic Four. The franchise’s first two films did decent box office more than a decade ago, but in 2015, the third film was a creative and commercial dud.

But when it comes to Fox’s successful titles, one question looms significant: Will Disney, given its family brand, be willing to release R-rated superhero movies — even under some sort of “new Disney” banner?

If Disney pressures Deadpool to dilute its four-letter language and double-fisted brutality, Ryan Reynolds’s team might baulk — and many fans might walk.

Look for Disney, as wise as any studio about turning superheroes into profits, to brand and market the migrating Fox properties in a way that retains their sense of being adult fare — even if the films can skirt an “R” rating and squeeze just under a PG-13 rating. Boundaries will be tested, but Deadpool is the only Fox franchise that has been released exclusively with an “R” rating.

Beyond that, the deal should excite Marvel comic-book fans. After all, who doesn’t want to finally see an Avengers and X-Men crossover movie?

At last, the franchises are assembled.

— By arrangement with The Washington Post

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 30th, 2018