There are few power players in Hollywood right now riding as high as Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige, who has spent 13 years bringing Marvel Comics characters to the screen ever since he was given an inconspicuous Associate Producer credit on Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men.
Since then, he’s been involved in some capacity with every single Marvel movie that’s followed, both good and bad, but the turning point came in 2006 when many of the character rights of Marvel properties that had been auctioned off to save the company in the ‘90s were returned to Marvel. Marvel Studios then became something much bigger, a full-on production company where they could bring the Marvel Comics characters to the big screen without interference from the studio executives and production people who invariably would not understand the characters as well as Marvel proper.
Most SuperHeroHype readers will already know the rest of the story quite intimately as the 2008 release of Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk, led to the 2010 release of Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011 and then last year’s mega-blockbuster Marvel’s The Avengers. Together, those six movies have grossed $1.8 billion domestically and $4.1 billion (!) worldwide. That doesn’t even include the $300 million that Marvel Studios’ latest movie Iron Man 3 made in its first week internationally.
It’s become somewhat of a tradition for SuperHeroHype to get on the phone with Kevin Feige on the release of each movie and he was nice enough to take time out on the North American opening day of Iron Man 3 to talk to us.
Having spoken to Feige a few times over the years—even back to before the success of the original Iron Man--we’ve always found him to be an amazingly straight shooter, so that even if he gave us a vague answer, there’d always be some sort of underlying hint about the future. That was the case the last time we spoke to him just a few days before The Avengers came out (which you can read here), but this time we bounced between the past and future of Marvel Studios and got some great anecdotes about how they’ve arrived at Phase 2.
SuperHeroHype: Thanks for taking time out to talk to me. I know this is a busy day for you with Iron Man 3 opening in about 7 hours.
Kevin Feige: It is down to the wire, but happy to talk to you.
SHH: It must feel good to have a $300 million buffer from international before the movie even opens in the States, which is amazing.
Feige: You know it’s funny. We’re sort of getting used to this notion--and by we I mean the moviegoing public of the United States--getting used to the notion of starting internationally, right? So people here are thinking about how it’s doing, but it certainly helps, and this is what it used to be like the other way around. A movie would come out in the States and be a big success or not, and people would hear that buzz and it would spill over there. It is pretty amazing seeing all these headlines and internally here, you have to be reminded that the movie hasn’t opened yet. We’ve been getting congratulatory calls and Emails all week and I keep going, “Okay but the movie hasn’t opened yet here!” Knock on wood and let’s keep doing everything we can to ensure that we do well this weekend.
SHH: Well I’m glad it works out, but personally, as a North American, I’d rather see the movies open here first.
Feige: Of course.
SHH: I keep returning to Comic-Con 2006. Every time I talk to you or think of a Marvel movie, I keep going back to everything that was set up back then. I remember talking to Favreau about Adi Granov’s artwork and how that inspired the look of the movie. And that was from the “Extremis” storyline which you’re doing now. So was there always a plan to bring Extremis into the Iron Man world.
Feige: It’s funny you bring up Comic-Con 2006 because I did this thing for EW Capetown the other night and we talked a lot about Comic-Con 2006. That was the coming out party for Marvel Studios. We weren’t even in Hall H - I think we were in one of the other ballrooms, and you’re right. We debuted an Adi Granov piece of artwork and that was the only bit of artwork we had at that point, but we looked at the “Extremis” comic a lot and as you know, half of “Extremis” really is a retelling of his origin story with the incident in the cave and the Mark I and that provided a lot of inspiration for us tonally, a bit of the look, the dynamic between Yinsen and Tony Stark for “Iron Man 1” And Robert and John, we would always go, “This extremis stuff is really cool” and I would jokingly and off-handedly say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s Part 3. This was in the early days before we even started filming “Iron Man 1” so we had no idea. Part 3 seemed like a pipe dream at that point and I would say, “Yeah, we’ll save it for Part 3” and when it came to actually start working on Part 3 I went back to that. I said, “Let’s look back at this storyline because we had done Iron Man vs. a big guy in a metal suit, we had done Iron Man vs. a big guy in a metal suit with laser whips, and we had done Iron Man vs. a bunch of aliens in armor or metal suits. So we knew we didn’t want to do that again. We knew we did not want to have Iron Man vs. a guy in a metal suit at the end of the movie. That naturally led back to where it all started with Extremis.
SHH: Also the Mandarin, because I remember at the junket for the first movie, Jon Favreau was saying, “Well save Mandarin for the third movie.” There was a little hint of the character in the first movie but you didn’t tease it or anything. Was that third movie always going to be Mandarin or did you question whether or not he would work in the movie world.
Feige: Oh, no. We always questioned it and you remember the one bit of information other than that Adi poster we did at Comic-Con 2006 as Jon announced that Mandarin would be the villain in “Iron Man 1”... but he was for a long time! Until about three or four months until we started filming. He was the lead villain in the script and ultimately as we were looking at the storyline and we’d cast Robert and we were becoming much, much, much more interested in Tony’s origin more than we were in anything else. We just realized we were taking too much screen time away from Tony to focus on that version of the Mandarin in the early drafts of “Iron Man 1.” So we pulled him out and bumped up Obadiah to be the main bad guy. And then we would occasionally talk about the Mandarin and bring him in and it wasn’t until sort of midway through the development of the third movie that Shane and Drew Pearce had a notion of how to bring Mandarin to life.
SHH: Ironically, I never actually made it into the Marvel panel at Comic-Con 2006. I was there and I interviewed Favreau and Edgar Wright but never got in there.
Feige: Yeah, that was where he revealed the exclusive scoop that Mandarin was going to be in Part I.
SHH: I want to ask more about Extremis, because it’s an interesting concept. It’s something Warren Ellis came up with that’s a pretty heavy science concept. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but is it something that kids and the normal popcorn crowd can get, is it easy to explain compared to a guy in a suit of armor?
Feige: I think so, I hope so. I think another reason it makes more sense in Part 3, which is really if you’re keeping track of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s really Part 7 - we have five other movies between “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 3” and we’ve introduced things like Thor, like Super Soldier Serum, like Gamma-irradiated Hulk, like aliens coming out of portals in New York City. So I think the audience, moreso than “Iron Man 1,” which really wanted to root in a bit of the real world, audiences I think are now understanding that within the Marvel Universe, there’s all sorts of things that can go on including this kind of advanced biological science and that’s sort of how we start Extremis at the beginning of the movie. It's the theory and an experiment of Maya Hansen, played by Rebecca Hall, and how that’s been perverted over the years into what becomes the powered Extremis people later in the movie.
SHH: You’re very meticulous about how you’ve introduced things into the Marvel Universe whether it’s technology or magic. What aspect of the Marvel Universe would you want to introduce next that’s still out there and how can that be connected to what you’ve done before? Is there a way to bring Daredevil and street crime into this current world or is that too far off from what we’ve already seen?
Feige: No, I think that frankly would be easy. We’re still exploring the stuff that’s not as easy, which is we’ve been to Asgard, we’ve been through the Bifrost. We peeked a little bit through that portal at the end of the Avengers and now obviously in “Thor: The Dark World” and particularly in “Guardians of the Galaxy” we’re going full bore through that portal to literally the other side of the Marvel Universe, the entire universe, to explore the cosmic side of our characters and our storylines. That I think we’ve only still experienced the surface of that, and there’s much more to be done there.
SHH: Some of the cast have been saying that they don’t think there will be an “Iron Man 4.” Is it too early to make a statement like that? How do you feel about that? Do you feel it’s time to allow another character to step into the spotlight? Does Tony Stark need a rest?
Feige: Well, no, I think people say that because we’re not developing “Iron Man 4.” Currently, as you may imagine, Iron Man is a big part of “Avengers 2” and that’s what we’re focusing on and what Joss (Whedon) is focusing on. So where we go after that remains to be seen, but certainly, “Avengers 2” being the next appearance, the next storyline for Iron Man. Do I think there will be another Iron Man movie? Of course I do. Who will be in that movie and who will be a part of that movie? Who knows? And how far down the line will it be? Will it be right after “Avengers 2,” will it be a few years after “Avengers 2”? Who knows? For as advanced as we are in terms of the advanced planning that we do, we’re already looking out to 2015, 2016 and that’s further than most people look out. Beyond that, we’re still not sure.
SHH: It’s interesting how you changed the approach in announcing movies and dates. Phase 1 you kind of set the dates for all the movies building up to “The Avengers.” Phase 2 has been a little slower and tentative, trickling out information and doing reveals at Comic-Con. Do you know when you’ll need to start thinking about 2016 and beyond or do you have to really get “Avengers 2” done before worrying about that?
Feige: Well we want to at least get “Avengers 2” filming, and that will be filming early next year and at that point, we’ll start to consider Phase 3 and 2016 and beyond, but we’ve been deep into Phase 2 now for a couple of years. I went back and looked at some of the earliest “Iron Man 3” and they go back to when we were doing additional photography on “Captain America: The First Avenger” and Shane Black came in when we were on the mix stage of “Captain America” to have our initial “Iron Man 3” meetings but that was two years ago. With “Iron Man 3” getting into theaters into 7 hours as you say, “Thor” is cutting right now in our editing rooms here at the studio and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is filming here at the studio. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is prepping and starts filming in about 8 weeks in London, and Joss is working on his draft of “The Avengers 2” here in L.A. and that will start prepping in late summer/early fall. And Edgar (Wright) has been in and out of the offices as he finishes up his latest film and starts his rewrites on the “Ant-Man” script to get prepping on that before the end of the year as well. So Phase 2 is very much keeping us busy. (laughs)
SHH: Not to make light of my situation, but when you dated “Ant-Man” six months ago for November 2015, I told my editor, “I’m going to have to stay alive long enough to see this movie in theaters. I’m too invested in this movie happening at this point.”
Feige: It’s been a long time coming, it sure has!
SHH: But I made that joke and I regret making that joke now, but I have to ask: Why is Marvel so dedicated to making this movie happen after all this time while Edgar finishes up other movies? I mean, projects in Hollywood die right and left faster and for dumber reasons while “Ant-Man” has stayed alive. So why are you so dedicated to making this movie?
Feige: (laughs) Well, it’s for a couple of reasons. The primary reason is because I met a very talented filmmaker who was about my age almost ten years ago, we got along very well. He had a movie called “Shaun of the Dead” which hadn’t come out yet and he said he really wanted to meet to talk about “Ant-Man”… and this was even before we were on the studio. This was just at the dawn of us even discussing becoming our own studio. But we met with him, he had a cool idea and when we became our own studio, we hired him and Joe Cornish, who as you know, went on to do “Attack the Block” and become a very talented filmmaker in his own right. At the time he hadn’t done much at all but we really believed in him and we believed in Edgar and they delivered a draft that was sort of unlike anything we’d done before that was sort of wholly Edgar and wholly Marvel and a very fun spin on the Ant-Man mythology. And if you’ve seen the in-progress test we showed at Comic-Con last year and there’s been some clips of it we’ve released. People go like, “Ant-Man, is that a joke? What happens? He talks to ants?” And Edgar and his team put together this test of basically just Ant-Man going down the hallway and it is so kick-ass and so bad-ass, people instantly go, “Oh, I get it! Now we see what it can be.” And that of course is only 1% of what the movie is, but it’s certainly enough to get people to realize, “Oh, that’s why you’ve been thinking about this for so long.”
SHH: I want to touch upon “Captain America” for a second. Just by coincidence, I was watching this doc last night about “Arrested Development” and of course, the Russo Brothers directed it. So far, I feel like they’re the most unconventional choice Marvel has made so far, especially for a story like “Winter Soldier,” which is dark espionage. Can you talk about that decision and are they going to bring some humor to the darker material?
Feige: We always like to break and up until people started seeing the new “Iron Man” movie, people were accusing us of going “All Dark Knight” with it and I kept saying, “That’s not what we’re doing.” It’s sort of how we were advertising it, but in the same way, we really believe that humor is necessary and to have a whole range of emotions over the course of a movie. You can get frightened, you can get deeply emotionally attached, but all those things happen more if you’re laughing and engaged throughout the journey. That being said, the Russos are incredibly talented filmmakers and have that full range. You don’t get Robert Redford if you don’t have a vision that can explain to him before he signs up to your movie. This is on top of Scarlett Johansson and Sam Jackson and Chris Evans. Everyone now as we’re in the middle of our fifth week of production and it’s going extremely well, they’re bringing a lot to the table. I like that our unconventional choices, they’re only unconventional until the movie comes out and then every studio in town hires our filmmakers and they go onto bigger tentpoles from there. I’m very happy when that happens. Kenneth Branagh is starting his second post-“Thor” franchise at Disney now with “Cinderella” and he finished “Jack Ryan” for Paramount and when we were hiring him, people were wondering what was going on. The Russos I think will surprise a lot of people but they’re just incredibly hard-working, incredibly talented and keeping their heads down five weeks into making a great movie.
SHH: The huge development last year was Disney buying Lucasfilm and adding it to their roster, similar to what they did with Marvel a couple years ago. Does that affect you guys at all and how will that play into the future when there will be “Star Wars” movies taking up screens normally dedicated to Marvel?
Feige: Well, we’ll see. We’re definitely doing our own thing and that’s what’s been so great about the relationship with Disney. As they said, “We’re purchasing Marvel because we like what you’re doing. Keep doing it. And that’s been three years now and that’s certainly what they’ve allowed us to do, so I hope that means I can get into an advanced screening of a new “Star Wars” movie, that’d be fun (laughs) but I don’t know how much more it will effect us than that.
SHH: Well, “Make Mine Marvel!” Cause I’m a Marvel guy all the way.
Feige: I know you are, Ed. Thanks so much.
SHH: Best of luck with this weekend although I’m sure you don’t need the luck.
Feige: And you’re going to be around for “Ant-Man Part 4.”
Iron Man 3 is out now everywhere.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)