Kevin Feige is a man who knows a thing or two about comic-book movies. The president of Marvel Studios, he’s been the major driving force behind the preposterously successful Marvel Cinematic Universe – a film series that has so far grossed over $20 billion at the worldwide box office and helped to change the Hollywood landscape.
And with Spider-Man: Far From Home – the 23rd movie in the 11-year-old franchise and the official end of the three-phase ‘Infinity Saga’ – he looks set to repeat the previous movies’ success. The follow-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming and a conclusion of sorts to the events of Avengers: Endgame, this second solo outing for Tom Holland’s webslinger sees him striking out on his own, heading to Europe and taking on the monstrous Elementals – alongside his enigmatic new mentor-of-sorts, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
It hasn’t always been like this, though. Before Marvel became its own studio, Feige worked under former Marvel boss Avi Arad, helping to produce films such as X-Men, Daredevil and Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man. And his pet project was far from a sure thing when Iron Man first went into production – a risky prospect full of unknown quantities, many people wondered whether his plans for a sprawling shared universe were simply too ambitious.
Luckily, it was a gamble that paid off – and then some. Here, Den Of Geek sits down with the Marvel chief to talk about the making of Spider-Man: Far From Home, the gargantuan challenge of completing the Infinity Saga, and where the MCU goes from here.
It’s been a massive year for you with obviously Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and now Spider-Man: Far From Home bringing Phase Three to a close. How does it feel? Are you exhausted?
Not exhausted, no; it’s exhilarating. Between Captain Marvel and Endgame and from the early response to Far From Home, it feels pretty good. We’ve been working on these movies – and in particular, on Endgame and Far From Home – for so long that so much of my anxiety over the years was, “Are we going to be able to bring this to a conclusion in a way that satisfies us as filmmakers and storytellers and also satisfies the audience?” And just thinking about how disappointing it would be if we went “Ta-da!” and nobody liked it. Now that’s behind us, and it worked; people seem to have enjoyed it. Endgame needed to do quite well to be considered a success, but it has so far surpassed that, that it’s amazing. It feels good to have that in the rearview mirror.
One of the things that I was so excited about with Endgame and Far From Home was doing something that hadn’t really been done before, certainly with these kinds of comic-book characters, which was a conclusion, a finality, to a 23-movie Infinity Saga arc. But I was also equally excited that it would allow us to do something new, and to start a new beginning. And obviously, we haven’t talked [publicly] about [Phase Four] yet, but we’ve been working on that for years as well.
In some ways, Far From Home feels like a palate cleanser after Endgame, and it ties up some of that film’s loose ends. But it also very much feels like its own film. Is that important to you, to keep that kind of director’s voice?
One hundred per cent. And Jon Watts has such a masterful hold over the tone of Spider-Man and what makes Spider-Man, Spider-Man. The idea was always to do a film that directly connected to Endgame, but that lived on its own and presented Spider-Man on an even bigger canvas than Homecoming. And certainly, with the character of Quentin Beck/Mysterio, that opens up a whole other realm of possibilities – tapping into the Elementals gives us visuals much bigger than we’ve seen in any Spider-Man movie before, which we were excited about. It’s a movie tied directly into the emotions and storyline of Endgame, but it’s really about Peter Parker stepping out of the shadow of Tony Stark and the Avengers to be what Spider-Man deserves to be, which is his own hero.
What is it that made Jon stand out as the right person to be the custodian of Spider-Man? He seems to have a real kind of affinity for young people, as seen in these movies and his previous movie, Cop Car…
Absolutely, Cop Car, in particular, is a great movie – it’s tense, incredibly funny, and he gets these incredibly natural performances between two young actors and a great performance by a great actor, Kevin Bacon. He can manage that tone. But it was the numerous meetings we had with him and presentations that he did when we were meeting with him for the job that really won us over. Jon is incredibly well-read and he knows everything about everything, particularly movies and pop culture. He’s constantly absorbing it all, and that and that showcases itself in these films.
You mentioned the visuals – without going into spoilers, there are some bits in this film that really are visually spectacular. Is it kind of a challenge that you set yourself at Marvel, to push things forward on every film you make?
Yeah, for sure. And certainly with a character like Spider-Man, who’s appeared in various incarnations and so many times in films before. That’s why he goes to Europe – we wanted to take him out of the canyons of New York. I love seeing him and his classmates going on that boat into Venice; it’s such a different visual than you’ve ever seen before in a Spider-Man movie. They actually shot it there on location, which is so great. The finale in and around Tower Bridge in London has some of my favourite visuals of the whole movie – the creature that you see there and the big battle.
I don’t think we sit down and go, “We’ve got to up the ante. How do we make things bigger?” We always start with what the story is, what the emotional journey of the character is. But we have a pretty good knowledge of what we’ve done before and what other films have done, and we don’t finalise sequences until we are confident that we have at the very least done something new.
Going back to Spidey himself, Tom Holland seems to have been a casting decision that’s more than paid off. As much as this film is about Spider-Man stepping up, there’s an element of Tom having to step up too with some of the original Avengers actors retiring. Was that kind of duality in your mind when you were making Far From Home?
Yes, and that duality has always existed between Tom and the character, going back to the first audition he did with Robert [Downey Jr]. The dynamic between Tom and Robert was identical to the dynamic we wanted between Peter Parker and Tony Stark. And I think that continues now, with him stepping out of that shadow to become his own hero.
You mentioned the 23-movie Infinity Saga, which is kind of unprecedented – we haven’t really seen anything like this done before. What have you learned across the course of this huge journey, and how has it shaped you personally?
Well, it’s been the better part of 20 years of my life – this August I’ll be coming up on 19 years at Marvel. And it’s been very different, very unique from the X-Men movies to the Sam Raimi movies to becoming our own studio to becoming part of the Walt Disney Company. So it’s been an amazing journey. And I don’t know, I mean, 23 movies is great. But in some ways, I always say that every movie you make may as well be the first movie you ever made. We have the great privilege on these films of starting with a stack of comics, but really, it’s a blank page. It’s a blank whiteboard in our conference rooms – we start to sketch out what we want to see. And they’re all new challenges every time.
That’s what’s exciting about it, and that’s what makes it so damn hard. But the best thing about it is the team that we’ve developed in front of the camera with the amazing cast, but particularly behind the camera, with the filmmakers and the writers we work with, but also with the team at Marvel Studios, which is a very close-knit team. Almost all of us have been together eight, nine, 10 years or more. And we only have one goal in mind every time we go into work, which is: what’s a cool idea that we want to see on a Friday night in a movie theatre?
How did Jake Gyllenhaal feel about joining the Marvel team? Especially as someone who was even touted as the next Spidey himself at one point…
From our point of view, we were just lucky that he agreed to do it, because we had a feeling he’d do an amazing job with all the different aspects of Mysterio. He’s also such a smart actor and such a smart storyteller in his own right, that so much of what works, particularly in the first half of the movie, is all Jake. That chemistry between him and Peter Parker is all down to Jake’s notes on the script and his thoughts about how Beck would interact with Peter. We’ve wanted to work with him for years. And, and there is sort of this fun meta quality of that backstory from rumours of him taking over as far back as Spider-Man 2. And it’s funny how that just works. Not that most people even know about that. But yeah, there’s a fun sort of undercurrent to that narrative as well.
I think he was excited to join the universe but wanted to be sure that he was going to be additive to it. And we knew he would be. And what’s great is he just saw the movie recently – we had dinner with him last night, and seeing him respond to the movie was great. We always say when actors join our movies, that’s a big responsibility on our part, because they’re trusting us that the costume, the visual effects, the ever-evolving storyline that we’re constantly changing and that’s constantly evolving through production is going to all come together, and it’s going to work. And I always get nervous that it won’t work and that the actors will go, “I trusted you guys! What did you do to me?” And it was fun again that we had that conversation with Jake, where he was like, “I’m so happy. Yeah, it worked.” Partially because he’d seen the movie, partially because he’d been doing press for the past few days and talking to people who responded very well to the movie.
With this franchise, specifically, there were obviously some conversations with Sony that had to happen to get this off the ground. How much of a game-changer was that? Was there a sense of studios putting aside their rivalries for the good of the fans?
Absolutely, it was great. And it was a testament to Amy Pascal, who saw the value of it. Amy cares about Spider-Man and Peter Parker more than almost anybody on the planet. And just as much as any of us at Marvel do. And I think that was showcased in her willingness to do that agreement between studios, because it was best for Spider-Man. Certainly, we had ideas of what we wanted to do with Spider-Man and, and then the fact that we got to do it and find a great filmmaker like Jon Watts and find an amazing actor like Tom Holland and incorporate him into the MCU is definitely one of the highlights of my time at Marvel.
The superhero movie landscape is very different now to when you worked on the first X-Men movie, where comic-book movies weren’t really afforded the same respect they are now. How has it been for you as someone who’s worked through the whole thing, seeing where we are now, in terms of how mainstream it has become and how audiences are reacting to it?
Well, I’m very happy about that and I feel very satisfied that the hard work we’ve done over the years has paid off. I’m also occasionally shocked when I think back to those early days when on the first X-Men film, there were no expectations. It was the opposite. In the early days of film blogging, I remember reading people say, “Well, it’s a Marvel movie, so you know, it’s going to be terrible.” And we’re thinking, “Geez, that’s harsh! We’ve got to figure it out.” Because they were basing that on the films based on Marvel characters up to that point, which didn’t have nearly the track record that Tim Burton’s Batman or Richard Donner’s Superman did. And even going back to when we became our own studio, people were thinking, “Oh, how sad, Marvel is trying to make their own movies, but they don’t have the rights to any of their big characters.” And I remember thinking, “Yeah, but we have almost all the characters, and all the characters that make up a little thing called the Avengers.” Which again, most people didn’t know about, or think about.
So the fact that we’ve changed that is nice. But there’s also part of me that likes it when we’re the underdog. I liked it when people would think, “How’s the Captain America movie going to work?” Or: “How’s the Thor movie going to work?” Or even after the success of Avengers, and we announced something like Guardians Of The Galaxy? “What is that, a tree? A raccoon? What are you doing?” I like that. I like when we’re in that position that people are wondering, you know, “What the heck?” – and we get to surprise them. We get to try to surpass an expectation. And certainly with all the things that we’re working on now and the next group of films – which we’ll announce soon enough – I hope we get that same response. People getting excited about characters they’ve already seen before being thrust into new adventures and new storylines, but also characters they’ve never heard of yet – and wonder, “What the heck is that going to be about?” That really excites us.
Spider-Man: Far From Home hits UK cinemas on 2 July.