For years, 20th Century Fox has been developing an X-Force movie. Interest in the project waxes and wanes, but its chance of becoming a reality has never been better thanks to Deadpool 2’s huge box office success. But beyond its joking use as a group name in Deadpool 2, what is X-Force and how could it be a worthy entry in Fox’s X-Men film series? Let’s take a look at what we know about the project and see if it reveals the concept’s potential for screen success.
Debuting in April 1991’s New Mutants #100, the paramilitary group known as X-Force was formed by Cable out of some members of the New Mutants – Cannonball and Warpath – and more recent additions to the book’s roster like Domino and Feral. The new premise, conceived of by artist and plotter Rob Liefeld, debuted in full that August with the bestseller X-Force #1. The group would double in size by issue #3, with former New Mutant Sunspot and Shatterstar adding their distinctive powers to Cable’s team of covert mutant operatives. Their principle enemy in the early days was the Mutant Liberation Front, led by Stryfe, a clone of Cable from a broken future.
In its early days, X-Force was a major sales success; leading to Liefeld’s appearance in a Spike Lee-directed Levi’s 501 commercial and eventual spinoffs for Cable and Deadpool (who also debuted in a later issue of New Mutants).
Cable left the team in issue #69, but some combination of early X-Force members like Cannonball, Boom Boom (a.k.a. Meltdown), or Sunspot would continue to be part of the group until #116, when writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred replaced the entire team and dropped the paramilitary angle for something far more poppy. Deadpool 2‘s Zeitgeist originates from this team, which became X-Statix after the first cancellation of X-Force. The title, the militaristic tone, and Cable would return in the years to come.
In 2013, Fox announced it was developing an X-Force film with Kick-Ass 2’s Jeff Wadlow attached to write and direct, while X-Men: First Class’s Matthew Vaughn and Lauren Shuler Donner were set to produce. It was penciled in for a 2017 release, and concept art emerged of Cable, Domino, Warpath, Cannonball and Feral as the team. Liefeld also mentioned at the time that Deadpool would appear in the proposed film.
But those plans were part of a different vision for the X-Men film brand and did not take into account Deadpool’s need to exist. As some may recall, the Deadpool movie was circling the drain until a demo reel of the film’s opening highway attack leaked online in 2014. The project was fast-tracked and changed the way people looked at X-Men spinoffs.
Now that X-Force is considered a Deadpool spinoff, the previous script has been abandoned. Ryan Reynolds, who began talking about Deadpool’s appearance in an X-Force film shortly after Deadpool’s debut, reportedly took over scripting duties alongside Joe Carnahan early last year. In September of 2017, The Cabin in the Woods‘ Drew Goddard was hired to direct the film.
The film will presumably see Cable (Josh Brolin) take Wade Wilson’s joke team name seriously and assemble a group consisting of Domino (Zazie Beetz), the Merc with a Mouth, and possibly some of the other classic X-Force characters. It is currently unclear if Shatterstar (Lewis Tan) will be among them as his life is still a punchline, from the standpoint of Deadpool 2. According to Deadpool 2 co-writer Rhett Reese, the team’s ambiguous morals will allow the production team to create a raunchier, R-rated X-Force than might otherwise exist. The writer also mentioned Goddard has a story in mind, but the script is far from complete.
The actors are game for the new movie. “I think he’s going to create something special,” Brolin told Rotten Tomatoes recently. He added that he looks forward to seeing the “Cable/Deadpool volley” evolve in X-Force.
Beetz told us she would like to explore more of Domino’s past, “considering where she came from” as established in Deadpool 2. She also thinks playing out the Cable/Domino relationship from the comics would be interesting.
Some reports indicate the film will go into production in October – which lines up with Goddard’s availability following work on his upcoming Bad Times at El Royale – but without a completed script ready to shoot in the fall, a force far more powerful than the Mutant Liberation Front may prevent X-Force from happening: Disney.
Because of regulatory hurdles and Comcast’s attempts to thwart the planned merger of 21st Century Fox’s media assets – including 20th Century Fox itself – and The Walt Disney Company, Fox is expected to make deals and plan films in a “business as usual” mode just in case the deal falls through. It would seem X-Force, alongside the beleaguered Gambit project and a Kitty Pryde film from Deadpool director Tim Miller, is part of that plan.
But there are also indications that Fox is preparing to step down production and end its 20-year ownership of the X-Men property with The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Both films were originally scheduled for release this year – February and November, respectively – but shifted to release dates in 2019 with New Mutants moving a whole 18 months to August 2, while Dark Phoenix is set to debut on February 14. According to the original merger timetable, the two companies should be in the process of consolidating assets and laying off redundant staff by the time New Mutants arrives in theaters. At that point, the X-Men and Fantastic Four will be returned to Marvel Studios and there is no telling what plans they may have once they control those characters.
In the case of X-Force, it may mean the film will be abandoned if it is not in production by the time the merger closes.
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope for X-Force in Deadpool 2’s $125 million domestic opening weekend, which, incidentally, finally knocked Disney’s Avengers: Infinity War out of the number 1 box office slot. It illustrates that while fans want the X-Men in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they also want Deadpool’s slice of the old X-Universe to continue. For the most part, integrating Deadpool and X-Force into the MCU would be a lateral body slide. The characters are supposed to be a covert team and therefore unknown to the Avengers. Deadpool’s acknowledged ability to recognize he is in a work of fiction means a Disney-produced X-Force could put a lampshade on the group’s suddenly altered surroundings with a joking snap of the finger. Reese even told us “[Deadpool] will exist in that world, no doubt about it.”
But would an X-Force under the new regime be a success?
The only real issue for X-Force and continuing Deadpool adventures is the brand’s R-rated appeal conflicting with Marvel Studios’ PG-13 mindset. If Marvel is prepared to make films it cannot market to all of its audience, Deadpool 2’s opening weekend proves it can be a smart financial investment.
The critical consensus around the Deadpool films would also back the choice to make X-Force. According to the Tomatometer, both films are Certified Fresh at 83% with Audience Scores of 90% for the first film and 86% for the sequel. People clearly like the irreverence of Deadpool, and with Reynolds in a key creative role on X-Force, it is easy to assume that tone will continue into that project as well.
Which also suggests it would be worth Fox’s time to get the movie into production while it still can. Despite the cracks in its “business as usual” mentality starting to show, closing out their X-Universe with The New Mutants is fairly risky. An 18-month delay is never a good sign for a film – even if the official reason for the delay is to make New Mutants more of the horror flick director Josh Boone wanted to make in the first place – and ending on a group of unknown characters would be a strange send-off to 20 years of X-Men films. But presuming Fox gets X-Force off the ground in October, Cable could show up in a New Mutants stinger scene to recruit Cannonball (Charlie Heaton) and Sunspot (Henry Zaga). It would be thematically appropriate to the source material and set up X-Force as Fox’s final financial and creative X-Men statement. Should the merger fail, it also sets up X-Force as the primary film series for the next decade.
Under either of these circumstances, X-Force is a worthwhile endeavor. Fox only stands to gain by fast-tracking it into production and Disney also gains by following through on its development. Meanwhile, fans of X-Force, Deadpool, Marvel, and the X-Men all win. But only Reynolds and his team can think of the appropriate punchline for this situation. It will no doubt feature in Deadpool 4.
X-Force is expected to be released…sometime in the future.