LOS ANGELES — Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has a lot to smile about.
The 44-year-old producer is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Marvel Studios and the release of Avengers: Infinity War — the 19th film in an interconnected series that has included such heroes as Iron Man, Captain America and, more recently, Black Panther.
Over the last decade, Feige has essentially built up Hollywood’s most bankable brand that has fetched over $14.8 billion in worldwide box office with every new release branded an “event.”
“I would say we dreamed of this,” Feige tells Sun Media in a Beverly Hills hotel.
“I would say while we were doing the first Iron Man film, there were two thoughts in our heads. One was, ‘Get it done and get it in theatres.’ The other goal was, ‘Make Tony Stark a household name. We wanted to get people who didn’t read the comics or see him in the cartoon series to realize he’s one of the coolest superheroes that’s ever existed.”
To play the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man, the studio tapped Robert Downey Jr., who a decade ago was only a few years removed from two drug arrests in 2000 and 2001.
But Downey and Feige succeeded in making Iron Man a hit, giving birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“The secondary goals that we dreamed about was to bring the interconnected universe from the comic books up on to the big screen,” he continues.
“At that point, Avengers 1 was a far-off distant dream, but this has always been in the back of our heads.
“When we were casting Guardians of the Galaxy and looking for Star-Lord, we were saying things like, ‘You know, if things go right, we have to find a great actor to play Peter Quill because someday that actor might have to do scenes with the Avengers.’
“We sat around and said things like that. And now, here it is.”
Feige, whose comic book chops helped land him an associate producer credit on 2000’s X-Men movie, is now eyeing a Marvel movie slate that goes well into the 2020s.
And thanks to Disney’s acquisition of Fox (which owns Marvel characters like X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool), he might just be making superhero movies until the day he dies.
This summer, Marvel will release Ant-Man and The Wasp and next year it will release Captain Marvel (with Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/ Captain Marvel) before Avengers 4 closes out what he calls a “22-film narrative arc.”
A sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming with Tom Holland will kick off a whole new slate of Marvel stories in July 2019.
With Infinity War eyeing a record haul at the global box office this weekend, Feige talked to the Sun about making the biggest superhero movie of all time and what’s next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The MCU kicked off 10 years ago with Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man. What made him the perfect actor to front Marvel’s superhero franchise?
He’s an unparalleled talent. He’s an amazing actor. He has an amazing personality and an amazing persona that we thought could be tapped into in an amazing way.
We knew he was a great actor and we knew he was unbelievably charismatic and he’d be able to bring Tony Stark to life in an unbelievable way.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the MCU would not exist without Robert Downey Jr.
You’ve been building up this world for 10 years. What does Infinity War and next year’s Avengers 4 represent to fans?
I think with Infinity War and Untitled Avengers 4 next year, certainly for us, we have two of the biggest and most unique adventure films that have ever been made. We’re certainly working with the biggest canvas that we’ve ever painted on. At the same time, I think it’s an amazing honour to have so many characters that so many people care so deeply about.
And while the spectacle and action is fun and is required, it’s seeing these characters and seeing them change and seeing them grow and seeing them interact with heroes they’ve never met before that’s the real fun of these movies. I hope people will watch Infinity War and then perhaps watch the next Avengers film next year and realize that what they’ve seen over 10-plus years is an unprecedented character arc, at least for film. Unprecedented character arcs for these heroes, whether they’ve been around for three years, five years or all 10 years.
You’ve talked to me about Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 kicking off something new. I know on our visit to the set of Infinity War last year, Robert Downey talked about tapping out. Are the changes that are about to happen in Infinity War and Avengers 4 finite?
I would say that almost all of them are permanent changes. We pull examples from comics all the time and I would say in the comics sometimes characters come back to life the next day, and sometimes characters that they swore would never come back — Bucky Barnes will never come back to life — come back and it’s awesome like in the Winter Soldier. I don’t know what’s going to happen in five years or 10 years, but in terms of the more immediate future that we’re building and creating now, they will be finite.
How different will Infinity War and Avengers 4 be from one another and is Thanos the main villain in both?
I don’t want to be that specific about it. I will say that tonally, in ways that people will not be able to tell until they see Avengers 4, tonally they are very different movies by design. But they connect very directly; as directly as any of our films have been connected. So Infinity War is a complete story, but people are going to want to know what happens next right away.
How do Ant-Man and The Wasp and Captain Marvel connect Infinity War and Avengers 4?
You’ll see. For the most part they are very much their own adventures, they’re very much their own standalone stories, but they will connect in ways that will be apparent when you see them and will be very apparent in Avengers 4.
Why did you choose to set Captain Marvel in the ’90s?
The answer is, you’ll see in the storytelling of the movie (laughs). But it allows us to play in an area that we have never played in before and tapping into a ’90s action genre was fun for us and being able to see an earlier part of the MCU before Nick Fury knew anything about aliens or anything about super-powered people and also tapping into the Kree-Skrull War, which in the comics was a huge part of the comic mythology, seemed like a fun thing to try and a fun way to give Carol Danvers her own standalone origin story.
Black Panther was a massive hit, both with comic book movie fans and casual moviegoers alike. Are you constantly looking for ways to bring new people into the MCU?
Absolutely. We’re trying to appeal to people who just want to go see a movie on a weekend and we want to appeal to people like us who want to delve deeper. The movies need to work for both, and since Iron Man 1 that’s what we’ve wanted to do. Really, it was only comic book fans that knew who Iron Man was back in 2008. Even a lot of comic book fans didn’t know who the Guardians of the Galaxy were in 2014. So we always want to tell stories as if no one knows who they are. We approach it as if there’s no fan base. Let’s make a movie that’s going to build that fan base. At the same time, we’re fans, so we’re not going to do anything that betrays what the core elements of character are in the books.
But certainly Panther is a wonderful example of attracting people who not only aren’t fans of comic book movies, they’re people who hadn’t been to a movie in a long time, period! Selfishly, as the producer, I love that, and I hope all those people come out to see Infinity War and get invested in the MCU going forward and then look back and say, ‘What have I missed?’
I always ask you about the blueprint. Going forward, the movies that Marvel has coming five, 10 years from now, are they always going to be threaded back to the beginning? Is the MCU a world with no real end?
Yes. … It’s a world I hope continues far into the future in the same way all of these storylines have continued in the comics. We’re one decade in. In the comics, some of these heroes are five, six, seven decades in. So I do hope they continue for a long time.
But, storylines can come to an end. The best stories do come to an end. Return of the Jedi was an ending for a long time and as a 10-year-old in 1983 that carried me through 30 years until there was a sequel. That hasn’t happened before in the superhero genre. A new actor comes in and a new storyline starts right away. We wanted to do it this way because we think that the best stories have a definitive ending to a storyline. That’s certainly what’s going to happen next year with Avengers 4.
The Universe, the world, many of the characters we’ve introduced will continue onward in unexpected ways, some of which I don’t even know yet. But bringing a definitive conclusion at the 22-film mark, and just over 10 years, seemed like the right thing to do.
Avengers: Infinity War is in theatres now.