Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers, and the Future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The head of Marvel Studios shares what he can on Thor, the upcoming Avengers epics, Captain Marvel and more...

It’s very rare that a studio executive makes him or herself available to the press, but Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige does it regularly — pretty much every time Marvel releases a movie, in fact. And press folks like us clamor to speak with him; after all, he is the man with the plan, the visionary producer who has been at the center of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe since that cosmos was hatched in 2008 with Iron Man.

Thor: Ragnarok is Marvel’s 17th film and perhaps the God of Thunder’s most fun-filled outing yet, but not only does the movie go all-in on its comedic aspects — thanks to director Taika Waititi and a game cast headed by natural funnyman Chris Hemsworth — it also channels the amazing contributions of artist/creator Jack Kirby and writer Walt Simonson to the Thor canon and the Marvel mythology itself, once again proving that Marvel is proud of its ink-and-color history and willing to incorporate it as often as it can into the same-but-different confines of the MCU.

That MCU is about to change radically, as Phase 3 of Marvel Studios’ long game is culminating in the next two years with Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and the game-changing Avengers: Infinity War and the still-untitled Avengers 4. Den of Geek had a chance to touch on all those films with Feige recently, sitting down with him at the Thor press day to discuss the Prince of Asgard’s latest adventure, what could happen beyond the end of Phase 3 and more.

Den of Geek: What made taking Thor 3 in a more comedic direction the right choice for this series of films?

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Kevin Feige: I think we have often found ourselves at a crossroads where we get to a part 3, and we have found that using it is an opportunity to pivot, to do something unique, has served us well. It’s what Shane Black did on Iron Man 3, it’s what we did in making Captain America 3 as Civil War, it’s what we’re doing with Infinity War as the third Avengers film: using it as an opportunity not just to keep doing more of the same, because it worked before, but to do something different. The things we wanted to do different here was bring in new players from the Thor universe — Hela and Valkyrie, primarily — but also have Thor interact in his own film with another Avenger. Almost all the other characters had done that, Thor hadn’t necessarily. Chris Hemsworth would remind us of that quite often, saying, “Who am I getting? (Chris) Evans is getting the entire Avengers (in Civil War)!”

We hit upon the idea early on of bringing Hulk into space, we saw him go off in the Quinjet at the end of Age of Ultron. There are great Hulk stories that involve him in space, Planet Hulk being the clearest inspiration, and said, “We think we can maybe use that gladiator Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok.” That was important. Also, showcasing Chris’ ability to be funny. You look at the Avengers films, at the previous Thor films, and there are moments. He smashes the coffee cup down and says, “Another.” He hangs the hammer on a coat rack in Dark World and people lost it, people love that side of him. We wanted to see of more of it. People already know he wields Mjolnir, he’s the only one worthy to lift it, the blonde hair, that is now ingrained. That used to be very important, that used to be what Thor was, so now let’s cut his hair, lose the hammer, rip the cape and see where it takes us.

You mentioned having the Hulk in this film, and Doctor Strange has a couple of moments in this movie too. We also saw Tony Stark show up in Spider-Man: Homecoming earlier this year. Is that the way forward for future films? Does it give you more flexibility from a storytelling point of view and even from a creative point of view with the actors and their availability?

That’s one of the advantages, but it really does vary. You look at the first movie we put out this year, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, that was its own thing, its own set of players. Black Panther is very much insular, it’s the world of Wakanda and T’Challa’s story. Ant-Man and the Wasp is very centered on the mythology of Ant-Man and focusing on those primary characters. Then Infinity War of course is almost everybody. Captain Marvel, we haven’t talked much about it, but Nick Fury plays a part in that. There’s some other connective pieces to an era of the MCU that we haven’t seen before. It really varies, it depends on the story that we want to tell, but having all of those toys in our toy box when we’re putting our storylines together is one of the great privileges of having a now 17-film catalog of amazing actors, of amazing characters.

You’ve mentioned in some other interviews that you might not talk in terms of phases anymore after the next two Avengers movies mark the end of Phase 3. Does that also mark the end of using Avengers films as cornerstones of each phase?

I think that’s fair. I think the future is unknown, the future is going to be a clean canvas and maybe there will and maybe there won’t be similarities. Certainly we will continue past Untitled Avengers in May ’19. Certainly there’ll be characters that we’ve introduced that will continue. Certainly we’ll bring new stories and new characters out, but what the primary focus is for us right now and the primary takeaway should be is Untitled Avengers being a finale and a culmination to those first three phases and, unbelievably still to me, a 22-movie overarching, interconnective narrative epic.

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When do we learn the name of Avengers 4? Will there be a card at the end of Infinity War that says, “Coming next year”?

It’ll be if not exactly then, soon thereafter.

Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!

Getting back to Thor: Ragnarok, this movie feels more than the others like it was designed to channel Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson in really direct ways.

Yeah, both of those people have been influences on all of the Thor movies. I say Jack Kirby has been an influence on every movie for obvious reasons, creating so many of the amazing characters, but this one we really wanted to showcase the colors, the shapes, the direct designs of Kirby from the costumes on Sakaar to the hallways to the doorways to the detailing on the walls, exactly Kirby. Taika loved the idea, embraced the idea, would show inspirational Jack Kirby pages to the art department. They would do a version of it and Taika would go, “No, do this.” It resulted, I think in a very unique look.

The notion of gladiator battles, there have been a lot of gladiator battles in movies and even if you look at the way it was drawn in the comics, very dusty, very sort of Attack of the Clones, John Carter of Mars, Gladiator, dusty and sun-bleached. We didn’t want it, we wanted to do something different, something unique and Kirby was the way to do that. You have a gladiatorial arena that looks nothing like any of those other examples of “gladiator battles” and tapping into Kirby was the key.

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Did Tessa Thompson really lead a battalion of Marvel actresses into your office and talk about an all female movie?

It wasn’t in my office. We were on the lot at Pinewood in Atlanta, and yes, I got tapped on the shoulder and I turned around and there was almost every great actress that we were working with. Of course that’s something we’d consider. It would have to be after Avengers 4 and in that new canvas that I talked about, but it’s a very impressive thing to see all of those powerful characters together, just standing there in person. It would be amazing.

Captain Marvel is going to explore a different era (the 1990s) in the MCU. With the Skrulls part of that story and based on their nature as shapeshifters, does this give you an opportunity to possibly play around with the timeline and/or reveal things that have been happening in the MCU all along that we haven’t seen?

Yes, but I wouldn’t say that’s the primary motivator of it necessarily. “Tony Stark’s been a Skrull the whole time!” We’re not doing that, but we do think it will be fun to see a period before Iron Man, before Nick Fury was aware of the myriad of threats from elsewhere that Earth would have to deal with.

With the success of Spider-Man: Homecoming and the collaboration with Sony, has that moved the needle at all on the possibility of doing the same kind of situation with Fox for the Fantastic Four?

No, there have been no discussions since Spider-Man or before Spider-Man. But we do have Spider-Man in the MCU, which is pretty exciting!

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Thor: Ragnarok is out in theaters this Friday (November 3).