X-Men Writer and Producer Simon Kinberg Preaches Visions of a Cross-Studio Marvel Cinematic Universe

20th Century Fox closed out their WonderCon presentation with an extended look at X-Men: Days of Future Past. A repeat of the previous CinemaCon footage, the massive action piece saw familiar on-screen mutants like Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman, Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde and Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus battle alongside newcomers like Omar Sy’s Bishop, Adan Canto’s Sunspot, Booboo Stewart’s Warpath and Bingbing Fan’s Blink, defending themselves against attacking sentinels with the ability to mimic mutant powers. Needless to say, the crowd was very responsive.

ComingSoon.net/SuperHeroHype spoke just after the presentation with writer/producer Simon Kinberg. He’s been with Fox’s X-Universe since X-Men: The Last Stand and is now involved with both The Fantastic Four as well as one of Walt Disney Pictures’ mysterious Star Wars standalone films. For the latter, he confirms that he’s looking at material in the “Expanded Universe” and for the former he preaches his belief that all big screen Marvel films — be they house at Fox, Sony or Walt Disney Pictures — have the chance to crossover on the big screen!

CS: Building a cohesive big screen universe is something that a lot of different franchises seem to be embracing these days. When you bring time travel into the mix, you sort of get to expand that to a multiverse. How complicated does that get from a writer’s perspective?

Simon Kinberg:
It’s complicated even just within “Days of Future Past.” Any time travel story has its own challenges because of the paradox of time travel. Anytime you touch something in the past, it’s going to ripple into the future. You’re like, “Okay, you’re talking about a future that’s been established in a bunch of different movies. Five movies, if you count the “Wolverine” films. Just that alone was very complex. Within the same movie, we’re telling a story where we have old and young versions of the same character and you’re intercutting between old and new versions of the same character. One of the things in the film that’s sort of interesting is Michael Fassbender — because he knew we were cutting between young and old Magneto in a way that we didn’t in “First Class” — he made his voice slightly more like Ian McKellen’s than it was in “First Class.” The notion was that it’s been ten years since “First Class” and people’s accents can change. Even down to the actors, they were aware of the complexities of telling this kind of story.

CS: We’re getting Quicksilver in “Days of Future Past” while Disney is using a different version of him for “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” At what point to you have to worry about confusing audiences with big screen universes that don’t necessarily sync up?

I think you just have to assume that people are sophisticated enough to figure it out now. When I was a kid, people wouldn’t have been sophisticated enough to figure out it. It would have been confusing for people. I think that now we live in a world where there are so many comic book movies. Audiences, I think, to some extent, largely are the casual fan. They’re about 80 percent of the moviegoing audiences that go to these movies. They probably don’t understand that Marvel movies are different than Fox Marvel movies and are separate from Sony “Spider-Man” movies. They don’t know about that kind of stuff. They’ve survived it even within the same franchise. I think there’s two or three incarnations of Kitty Pryde within the X-Men movies. There’s a few different versions of Bobby or Iceman and of Pyro. How many different Batmans have there been already? Audiences — I think especially young audiences today — are just a lot more sophisticated because they’ve grown up on the proliferation of these movies.

CS: In Marvel Comics, there’s also the idea of the “No-Prize” given to fans who can figure out solutions to plot holes and inconsistencies. Is that something that gets to be fun from a screenwriting perspective when trying to unify a massive franchise?

Oh yeah, for sure. Again, when I was a kid, there were not that many superhero movies. The genre movies were just starting to burgeon in the ’80s. I grew up really a kid of the ’80s. I remember the “Terminator” movies and how good at exposition James Cameron is. Now, you could probably leap over those explanations even faster because audiences sort of are more fluent with science fiction trips.

CS: It seems sort of like vampires. Time travel is something fictional, but we still share a collective understanding of how that fiction tends to operate. How to you go about telling the audience, ‘These are our rules.'”

(laughs) Someone in the movie says, “These are our rules for time travel.” At the beginning of the film, before they send Wolverine back, they make very clear to the characters — and more importantly, to the audience — what the parameters are of the time travel in terms of what will happen to Wolverine, specifically and the impact it will have on time in general.

CS: Is there a room that exists somewhere that’s filled with maps of what universe is what as far as all the potential timelines in “Days of Future Past” go?

Yeah! It’s called “my office.” The number of crazy NASA-looking diagrams I created for this and for going forward with the X-Men and “The Fantastic Four,” I’m very aware of how those things evolve.

CS: We also just learned that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is going to have a “Days of Future Past” tease in the post-credits. Is that something that could lead to a larger crossover?

Listen, I would love it. The dream to me – I almost feel like Martin Luther King or somebody. I see a world where everyone is joined together. The dream is, obviously, one day to do a Marvel movie that is with all the Marvel characters or at least a universe where they can dive in and out of one another’s films. Because that’s the way the comics were created, I think that’s the way the movies should actually be. For a series of business reasons, they aren’t. That’s not for narrative or creative reasons. The dream is that we could cross-pollenate and everyone would be building off the momentum of each other, which is what actually happens. We’re not in competition with each other. We actually can be helping the cause for all these different movies. It’s been shown that audiences have enough of a palate for them. We will have, within the span of a month and a half, “Captain America 2,” “Spider-Man 2” and “Days of Future Past.” I would hazard to say — touch wood — they’ll be three of — let’s not be too aggressive — ten of the biggest movies of the summer. They’ll probably be three of the top five or six most successful. It’d be cool if, yeah, one day we could do that. Maybe it starts with us and “Spider-Man.” Maybe it goes into sort of a TV show something at some point where the stakes are slightly lower. Then, eventually, you could build toward a shared movie.

CS: How much say do you have towards building something like that within the studio? You’re involved with “The Fantastic Four” as well.

I am, yeah. I’m the writer and producer of “Fantastic Four” and I write an produce the “X-Men” movies. I’m very involved. Fox has been very generous with letting me be one of the main authors and voices in the process. I mean, there’s other people involved, too, of course. There’s Lauren Shuler Donner, the original producer of the franchise and others. But yeah, they’ve really entrusted me to help craft the story that would have it make sense how these things can coexist and ultimately, maybe, cohabitate in movies.

CS: How is “Fantastic Four” coming along?

It’s great! It’s two weeks away from shooting. I was in Baton Rouge the day before yesterday. I’m going back tomorrow. The cast shows up this week. The script is in really good shape. I think it’s going to be a really neat, special different movie.

CS: Do you give yourself sort of homework assignments of going back and reading or re-reading various iterations of the characters you’re bringing to life on the screen?

Yeah! I mean, it’s the most fun homework assignment of all time! Going back and reading them. I’ll watch some of the cartoons sometimes, too — especially with “X-Men” — because I think some of those are really well told. I’ll sort of ingest everything I can. In the case of the “Star Wars” movies, I’ll also look at the expanded universe. There’s also a point where you’ll have to cut yourself off or else you’ll never produce new work. But yeah, that’s the most fun part of it for me. I mean, in some ways it’s even more fun than making the movies.

CS: What about the other films in the franchise that pre-date your overall involvement?

Oh yeah! I know those movies so well. “X2” remains my favorite comic book of all time. But I do. For inspiration and for ideas, I’ll go back and watch those two movies. Especially because we were bringing back the original cast for this, I really studied those films more than I already had since probably when I made “X3”.

CS: There’s a lot in “X2” that you can tell was inspired by Bryan Singer’s love for “Star Trek” and elements that sort of pay tribute to that franchise. Dealing with time travel in “Days of Future Past” seems like ripe territory for doing that again. Will we see that on display in the background?

I think it is. Bryan is a huge, huge “Star Trek” fan. I think, inevitably, there’ll be some of that in evidence. I know he was really excited to tell a time travel story. I think there is some inspiration there.

CS: What’s the difference for you writing something original like “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” versus working in an already existing universe like Marvel or “Star Wars”?

It’s different because there’s sort of a different depth that you’re beginning with. You still have to, as a writer, immediately go to the place of finding the best story to tell and the best way to tell it. You also have to make the decision about who the main character is and what the story is you’re telling. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” was an original script for me. I wrote it from scratch. Once I came up with the idea for it, the only difference, really, is that I had to learn and get to know those characters better because I hadn’t grown up with them. I hadn’t grown up with hundreds of comic books or, in the case of doing “X-Men,” a sequel to a movie or to hours of other of movies. Really the advantage you have in doing a sequel or an adaptation is that you already know the characters. You already have relationships with the characters. It’s easier to write in their voices.

CS: There’s an awful lot of comic books spilling off onto the small screen. Do you think that’s a route that the Fox X-Universe could take?

It could. There’s so many X-Men stories to tell and you can’t tell them all in movies. They’re serialized and, if you think about it, comic books are better suited to television than film in some ways simply because it’s a serialized medium following a character every issue, every week. The stories change. I think it would be cool. I think it would be neat. It makes sense, given that Fox has a network as well. A couple networks. Maybe.

CS: As a fan whose interests seem to cross a lot of genre franchises, is there a character that you’ve always dreamed of writing for?

Well, dream of all dreams is sort of what I’m living now. X-Men was my favorite comic growing up. We’ve hit the characters in the X-Men that were sort of my favorite characters. Outside of the X-Men franchise, I would say that my other favorite was Batman. If I ever had a chance to work with Batman, that would also be a dream, but they’ve already got a lot of good people working on that. I’d like to see them keep doing it. I just love Batman as a character.

CS: Do you keep up with comics now?

Yeah, but the truth is, a lot of the new comics that I read now are the more homework assignments following “X-Men” or “Fantastic Four” and the spinoff characters. There’s a lot there to read. In terms of brand-new, original books, not that many.

CS: It seems like one of the other tricky things about writing these character is keeping up with the sort of majority pop-perception of all the characters.

Yeah, although the pop perception now is more a reaction to the movies than to the comics. That’s what I tend to track in writing the film. Again, when you start writing a script, you start with, “What do I want to see as a fan? As someone who loves these characters?” It’s less about some poll asking, “Who’s the character everyone most wants to see?” I mean, I read all that stuff because I like to procrastinate. I do care about what other fans think as well. It just tends to come sort of from the heart for me.

X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters on May 23.