WARNING: Contains spoilers for Deadpool 2

Back in July 2014, the idea that some foul-mouthed, fourth wall-breaking upstart in a red costume would be (or need to be) an unlikely saviour of Fox’s X-Men universe would have seemed crazy.

The genuinely excellent Days of Future Past had just come out to critical and commercial success. It built on the work of prequel First Class while also moving on the story of the original trilogy, even rewriting the timeline to effectively erase the events of the much maligned The Last Stand. As for Deadpool, he had made an infamously bad appearance in 2009’s disappointing spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Ryan Reynolds had his crack at playing the character and (for reasons not his fault) it ended up a total stinker.

Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

Then came his leaked test footage of a proper treatment of Deadpool, the consequent take-up of a standalone film by Fox and its release in February 2016 which sent shockwaves through not only the comic book genre, but the box office. It became the highest-grossing film in the X-Men series and the highest grossing R-rated film ever. Just three months later, X-Men: Apocalypse bombed – mainly because it was pants. Suddenly, the Merc with a Mouth was hot property – with a sequel already greenlit and fan favourite anti-hero Cable confirmed to appear. The X-Men needed to take a long hard look and mutate into something that could keep up.

Now here we are, with Deadpool 2 out in cinemas and featuring a host of Easter Eggs, surprises, cameos and genuinely intriguing plot developments. Wade Wilson has not just shown up his more esteemed colleagues once by fluke, he’s made himself the character Fox’s superhero universe needs to build the team around.

Let’s start with one of the most hilarious cameos: when Professor X, Beast, Cyclops, Storm and Quicksilver quietly close a door in Xavier’s mansion to avoid Wade. While an inspired moment doubling down on a gag from the first Deadpool, it has a greater significance. The X-Men (not just Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) are aware of Deadpool – they just don’t want to deal with him. But it’s confirmation the two worlds are connected. As is the surprise appearance of Juggernaut AKA Cain Marko, Charles Xavier’s stepbrother, who refers to this family connection. With Future Past‘s ending negating Vinnie Jones’ notorious portrayal, and Juggernaut seen surviving what seemed like a ‘shocking’ death, there’s a chance for more to be done with him in any future instalments.

Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

Next, there’s X-Force, the ‘super duper team’ here put together by Deadpool to fight Cable, and then ultimately, the Juggernaut. Via some more outstanding cameos, we’re left with a roster of Deadpool himself, Cable, Domino, Russell/Firefist, Colossus, Negasonic and her girlfriend Yukio – and increasingly dangerous taxi driver Dopinder. The line-up’s mainly young, genuinely diverse and rich with both comedic and dramatic storytelling potential. No wonder an X-Force movie is in the works, and likely to come before a Deadpool 3.

Finally, and most importantly, there’s the Essex House for Mutant Rehabilitation, the orphanage that Russell and Domino both grew up in. The name Essex has cropped up before, in the post-credits scene of X-Men: Apocalypse in the form of a shady corporation involved in the Weapon X project and in Logan when it’s established Essex Corp. created X23 (Dafne Keen’s Laura). Fans of the comics will know Nathaniel Essex as a supervillain otherwise known as Mr Sinister, so it’s just possible that those three movies have been sewing the seeds for him to become the series’ Thanos-style Big Bad. There’s a rumoured link in 2019’s New Mutants, potentially with the facility that’s set in (despite Jon Hamm’s portrayal of Sinister reportedly being cut) and it’s also thought Jessica Chastain’s villain in Dark Phoenix could in fact be the gender-swapped Miss Sinister. In the comics, he/she is obsessed with Jean Grey (Phoenix) and Scott Summers (Cyclops) so this could well happen.

Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

In which case, could Chastain’s version (or another iteration) be the antagonist of the X-Force movie? Could Sinister’s vast power be enough to bring the X-Men and X-Force (and therefore Deadpool) together? It’s an exciting prospect, if more of a hope than an expectation at this stage. With all the great characters and story strands brought together in Deadpool 2, next February’s Dark Phoenix has a lot of work to do to keep the original X-Men team (now into a seventh film) as dynamic and relevant.

Director Simon Kinberg, long involved as a writer and producer, has said he sees it as the start of a new trilogy. This is up in the air with Disney’s mooted takeover of Fox dragging on (a move which could ultimately see all of Fox’s Marvel properties in the MCU, à la Spider-Man) but honestly, do we need two more X-Men films anyway? After the mess that was Apocalypse and now already taking a second stab at the Dark Phoenix Saga, is there really much more new ground to explore? Plus, Hugh Jackman hanging up his claws as Wolverine means the most iconic and interesting character is gone, with it taking a brave executive to recast that part. It feels like the end of an era, a changing of the guard, with Deadpool now the MVP – the one with the chimichangas to take things forward.