A little over a decade ago, the idea of a vast, interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, populated by iconic characters who crossed freely between each other’s films and sometimes teamed up at pivotal points, seemed like little more than the late-night fantasy of fanboys and girls with way too many comic books on their brains.
But now, 10 years and $5.9 billion in worldwide box office later — after the MCU was born with the release of Iron Man in 2008 — that universe is here to stay and has changed the landscape of the motion picture industry.
That first decade culminates this week with Avengers: Infinity War, a colossal experiment that pulls together nearly every character Marvel has introduced in its previous 18 films, including the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, to stop the mega-villain Thanos from murdering half the universe with the power of the Infinity Stones.
The man who has been at the forefront of that giant swing for the pop culture fences, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, is still steering the ship, with three more movies (Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and Untitled Avengers) coming out between now and next May, and at least 10 more films due out by the end of 2022, including a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming. A pending merger between Disney and Fox may also expand the MCU ranks by bringing the X-Men and Fantastic Four home.
All this was on our mind when we sat down with the always friendly (but often cleverly ambiguous) Feige at the recent press day for Avengers: Infinity War.
Den of Geek: We’ve heard a lot of speculation about what may or may not be in both these movies. Was everything on the table in terms of who might live, who might die, whether you might go into a different universe or time travel or anything, without obviously getting specific, did you consider everything?
Kevin Feige: Yeah. I mean, the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries is huge, and is all-encompassing, and provides an enormous amount of inspiration material to pull from, some of which we did directly, some of which we were just inspired by. All of which we were inspired by. Choosing to do two movies that connect a year apart that bring to a conclusion many elements of the 20 movies before them was daunting, but is what we wanted out of this. It’s what we wanted out of these two films.
How we do it, how it happens, I think some people have guessed correctly, some people have guessed incorrectly. Some questions will be answered when they see Infinity War. Some questions will not be answered until they see the next Avengers film next year.
But putting these character cards on the walls of the various development rooms we had over the two and a half, three years that we working on the movie, it was amazing. And I will say, I’m not sure we even would have attempted these movies without (screenwriters) Chris (Markus) and Steve (McFeely) and without (directors Anthony and Joe Russo). Because the four of them together have an understanding of our cinematic sandbox more than anybody else, and deeply care about all of them, and feel ownership over all of it versus over any particular one character. And they have the stamina to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for years and years.
How does it personally feel for you to get to this point, after 10 years? I was just thinking how the first Marvel Studios Comic-Con panel wasn’t even in Hall H.
It’s overwhelming. And I do remember that Comic-Con a lot because it was the first time I was ever — it was the first time anybody connected the dots that Marvel Studios had. A lot of the mainstream press at the time, the big story for them was Marvel’s gonna try to make their own movies, but they don’t have the rights to X-Men, they don’t have the rights to Fantastic Four, they don’t have the rights to Hulk — at the time — they don’t have the rights to Spider-Man at the time. So what are they gonna do? They gonna go to the B-listers and C-listers.
Smarter people who knew these characters more, who were in that audience at Comic-Con, did ask, “So, you have the rights to Iron Man, you have the rights to Captain America, you have the rights to Thor. Could all that add up to Avengers someday?” To which we said, “Yes. I mean, that would be …” But it seemed like a dream. In 2006, we were just like, “Hope we can deliver an Iron Man movie for 2008.”
So getting to a place where we’re looking at this poster, where we have all those amazing characters on the panel we had this afternoon. We did a thing in October that we call the class photo where many of our filmmakers and many of our cast members were all together there at one time. It was amazing. And for somebody like me, who’s always looking ahead, and always looking to the future, and always trying to forge new ground and do something new and fresh, to just stop even just for that morning and look around, it was amazing. It was astounding.
You mentioned some other characters from another Marvel universe — the Fox one — that may potentially be folded into yours within the next year or two. Have you given thought to how that can change the landscape going forward?
No. I mean, no more so than I have over the past 10 years when it was just a pipe dream. But in terms of specific thinking or planning, no. We’re focused on getting Infinity War in front of people, finishing Ant-Man and the Wasp.
We’re not even halfway through production on Captain Marvel. We start filming the next Spider-Man film this summer. And then putting together, which we’ve already shot, the final Avengers movie, Untitled Avengers. That is keeping us extremely busy, and until we get a call from people far above me saying, “Okay, it’s done, you can start thinking about it,” I don’t have time to think about it.
Let me ask you about some of those projects. What’s the tone of Captain Marvel, would you say?
I would say, like all of our movies, the tone will vary. There’s some very funny things in the movie. There are some very scary things in the movie. There’s some very emotional things in the movie. We are tapping into, in a way we haven’t before, the Kree-Skrull War from the comics. It is very much a cosmic film that also has earthbound elements because of the setting.
And as you know we’ve revealed that it’s set in the ’90s. (Directors) Anna (Boden) and Ryan (Fleck) are tapping into their shared love of sort of ’90s action films to a certain extent that just allows us to play in a fun new arena. But that film is entirely about introducing audiences to Carol Danvers and to a hero who is more powerful than any hero we’ve ever introduced.
Will Captain Marvel and Ant-Man sort of be a bridge between these two Avengers films?
Yes. I mean, I think it’s a great combination. There are elements in Infinity War which will play into both Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel. There are elements in those two films that will play directly into Untitled Avengers. But both of them are essentially 90% or more standalone movies.
I understand that the next Spider-Man movie is kind of a more global story. Does that have an impact on who your villain is, and how you chose him or her?
We’ve chosen a villain, and I think the story line is fairly impacted by the locations we go to. We love the notion of taking Spider-Man to places around the world that we haven’t seen him in before. And we have a villain who I think will play into that nicely.
Last time we talked, you said we might not see the sort of formal phases of the MCU that we’ve seen in the past. But will you be still be announcing the next slate of 6 or 8 or 10 pictures at some point?
We’ve talked about it, I think, but certainly we won’t do anything until after this time next year. We’re focused on the five movies we just talked about, the five movies that are in the works, and getting the culmination of 22 movies out with the next Avengers movie. After that, I think we’ll announce where we’re going.
We did a very big announcement in 2014 where we announced a lot of movies, and we added a few movies to it after that announcement. But it really felt important that we deliver on that before we do a big showcase of whatever is to come. And that’s one of the main reasons we’re not going to Hall H at Comic-Con this year, because Ant Man and the Wasp will have just been released, Infinity War will be out, Captain Marvel will have just finished filming, Spider-Man will have just started filming, and we’re not gonna be making any other announcements. So we’re gonna wait until Comic-Con next year.
I just got the last question signal, so let me go back to the Fox thing briefly. You did a great job bringing Spider-Man back because the two movies before that (with Andrew Garfield) didn’t do as well. Spider-Man: Homecoming reset the character without retelling the whole story. With something like the Fantastic Four, which has taken its knocks, do you feel confident that you can kind of reclaim that property if you get the chance, and reboot it without necessarily telling the whole story again?
I think those characters and many of the characters that are in our comics have great potential. Just great, great, great untapped potential. How it happens, when it happens, who’s gonna do it, I don’t know.
Avengers: Infinity War is now playing.