Here’s the mistake Marvel might already be making with its mutants

Ms. Marvel/X-Men
Images via Marvel Studios / 20th Century Fox

The X-Men are on their way to the MCU. Since the beginning of Phase Four, Marvel Studios’ creatives have been slowly sowing the seeds for the Children of the Atom to make their belated entrance in the franchise, and in doing so they’ve taken a somewhat divisive approach to folding Fox’s former characters into this universe. Instead of simply unleashing the X-Men in all their glory, Marvel has opted for a two-pronged method for introducing mutantkind into the mix. And they might be making a huge mistake.

As of the time of writing, we’re about a month away from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever launching in theaters, bringing with it the first major mutant character to premiere in an MCU movie — namely, Namor the Sub-Mariner (Tenoch Huerta). As he’s often called the first mutant in Marvel Comics, welcoming the underwater monarch into the fold at this point is a neat move from the studio, but in many other ways the way they’re milking the mutants’ arrival on the scene is severely lacking.

But where is Marvel going wrong? Let’s take a look.

Too much nostalgia, not enough of the new

Professor X MCU
Image via Disney Plus

Fox’s X-Men franchise remains the longest-lasting superhero cinematic universe (at least for a few years) so Marvel was always going to have to address that when introducing the X-Men into their universe. But was it really the best approach to bring back two major stars from the Fox films in high-profile returns prior to the introduction of a fresh MCU-original team?

Earlier this year, Sir Patrick Stewart made his much-ballyhooed return as Professor X in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, cementing his status as the definitive depiction of Charles Xavier. Similarly, we’ve just learned the mind-blowing news that Hugh Jackman is unsheathing his adamantium claws as Wolverine once more in Sep. 2024’s Deadpool 3, again strengthening his hold as the biggest X-Men star of them all.

While Stewart may well not reprise Xavier again and Jackman’s DP3 could be his final final turn as Logan, bringing the pair of them back like this almost comes across as Marvel admitting that they can’t come up with their own takes on these popular characters that would be as good as what Fox gave us.

If we had already met the MCU’s Xavier or Logan, or at least knew when to expect them, this kowtowing to nostalgia wouldn’t be so much of a problem. Think Spider-Man: No Way Home, a nostalgic crossover that totally worked precisely because we’d already had time to fall for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker before Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire came back.

The new mutants we are getting are… weird

Man-Bull El Aguila She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Image via Marvel Studios / Disney Plus

Of course, Marvel isn’t just bringing back old faces and is also introducing a few fresh mutant heroes and villains into the MCU alongside them. The problem is that, outside of Namor, the choice of characters featured in Phase Four has been decidedly weird, mostly involving D-list names from the comics as well as one hugely controversial retcon.

A glance at all the mutants featured in the MCU so far reveals that it consists of obscure individuals like Ursa Major from Black Widow and She-Hulk‘s Mr. Immortal and El Aguila. None of these three have been explicitly confirmed on screen as mutants, but fans who know their stuff will recognize what they are from the source material, so they are no doubt deliberately being threaded into recent projects to do their bit to pave the way for the X-Men.

Obviously, though, the most notable new mutant to enter the fray in recent times is Ms. Marvel herself, Kamala Khan, with the teen heroine outed as a surprise member of mutantkind in her Disney Plus show finale. This was a huge deal for fans as Kamala is canonically an Inhuman, not a mutant. This concept has been confirmed to be the brainchild of studio prez Kevin Feige.

Having Kamala belatedly retconned as a mutant like this reeks of Marvel scrambling to establish the existence of mutants before the X-Men get here, especially when paired with the lackluster additions of those mentioned above.

The (not-so-distant) future is still unclear

Deadpool_2_Ryan_Reynolds_X-Men_Origins_Wolverine
Image via 20th Century Fox

The other frustrating thing about Marvel’s approach to mutants is that they’re leaving us in the dark about their long-term plans for the X-Men. Sure, we now know to expect Jackman in Deadpool 3, but we’re still none the wiser on if that Ryan Reynolds threequel will actually go ahead and reinvent the X-Men for the MCU or just trade off on playing with those two Fox fan-favorites.

While the Fantastic Four reboot is set to follow DP3 in Nov. 2024, there is no X-Men relaunch on Marvel’s current slate, so it’s possible we may have to wait until Avengers: Secret Wars for the team to properly make themselves known. All in all, the combination of the over-reliance on nostalgia, the peculiar choice of new mutant characters, and the haziness about the franchise’s future is just giving us the impression that the studio doesn’t really know what they want to do with the mutants.

Admittedly, it may seem churlish to complain that the MCU is being made up as it goes along, because it always has been — Thanos wasn’t going to be the big bad of the Infinity Saga until Joss Whedon decided to have him cameo in The Avengers, for example. But Marvel’s trick for its first 10 years was to make it seem like they knew what they were doing and this less-oiled approach to the X-Men is indicative of the studio’s shaky hold on the ever-expanding universe that’s blighted the post-Avengers: Endgame era.

If the MCU’s X-Men is going to make as big an impact on pop culture as Fox’s version, then Marvel needs to mutate their plans for these heroes.