At the end of 2008’S Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson appeared as S.H.I.E.L.D. spymaster Nick Fury and said: ”Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe…. I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.” Boom! That was the sound of fans’ minds detonating. Then Robert Downey Jr. made a similar cameo at the end of The Incredible Hulk. From there, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America laid the groundwork for The Avengers, which brought them all together. Within Marvel, that became known as the end of Phase 1. Iron Man 3 kicks off Phase 2. Marvel president Kevin Feige reveals what’s currently in the works — and what’s possible down the road.
Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8)
Fearing for the safety of his human love (Natalie Portman), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings her to the celestial realm of Asgard, though there’s still plenty of danger there. After seeing the first trailer, some fans remarked that the film, directed by Game of Thrones‘ Alan Taylor (picking up the reins from Kenneth Branagh), has a distinctly Tolkienesque vibe. ”Alan is bringing a grittier, more textured patina to the designs of the worlds, and to Asgard in particular,” Feige says. ”It’s less to chase either Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings — because you’re not going to catch up. But part of the fun of Thor over the other characters is he doesn’t have to stay on Earth. We visit a few of the other realms in this new movie.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014)
While the first film was a World War II action-adventure, the new one, directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, is conceived as a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller — in tone, if not time period. ”We weren’t going back to World War II,” says Feige, especially since Chris Evans’ hero was introduced to modern times in The Avengers. ”Cap cannot travel in time. So while Tony can go home to Malibu and Thor goes up to Asgard and Hulk can sort of ride the rails, Cap was stuck. So Cap does stay with S.H.I.E.L.D. because he has nowhere else to go. But he’s not necessarily comfortable there.”
The title refers to an assassin who’s a fan favorite from the comics — a resurrected and brainwashed version of his best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), last seen plunging off a train. ”Just as he’s given permission to let go of the past and to focus on the modern world,” says Feige, ”a ghost comes up.” Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jackson’s Nick Fury return for major roles, while Robert Redford (an icon of ’70s conspiracy thrillers himself) joins the squad as S.H.I.E.L.D. veteran Alexander Pierce. But all is not well between noble Cap and his rule-twisting colleagues. ”With the Greatest Generation in World War II, there’s a tendency to reflect on that period and say, ‘Things were black and white back then, and now it’s hard to know who the bad guys are,”’ Feige says. ”We wanted to play on that a little with Cap being uncomfortable with the way S.H.I.E.L.D., and in particular Nick Fury, operates.”
Guardians of the Galaxy
(Aug. 1, 2014)
Probably the most daring and outrageous of Marvel’s Phase 2 slate, this one’s based on a cult-fave comic introduced in 1969. Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt plays Star-Lord, the half-alien leader of a law-and-order team that includes genetically engineered gunslinging varmint Rocket Raccoon, a giant fighting tree creature named Groot, knife-wielding green muscleman Drax the Destroyer (wrestler Dave Bautista), and the assassin Gamora (Zoë Saldana), the last survivor of an otherwise extinct alien race.
”Guardians takes place within the continuity of the [other movies], but it’s on the other side of the universe,” Feige says. ”We’ve always wanted to do a space movie. I’m obsessed with Star Wars, I’m obsessed with Star Trek.” Will audiences warm to oddball intergalactic characters who’d be quite at home in the Star Wars cantina? ”I believe people are going to respond to Chris Pratt and to an alien Zoë Saldana — because they did respond to that one time before [with Avatar],” says Feige. ”And to a tree and a raccoon who, it is certainly our intention, will steal the whole movie.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Marvel universe expands to TV with this projected ABC series focusing on the non-superpowered humans of the global police force S.H.I.E.L.D. Joss Whedon exec-produced, directed, and co-wrote the pilot, in which Clark Gregg reprises his role from The Avengers as the highly efficient Agent Coulson. (It remains unclear how he manages to survive his seemingly definitive fate in The Avengers.) Given how many characters Marvel Studios controls, and the fact that they only want to produce two films a year, could we see some of the as-yet-unused heroes turn up here? ”The show would open up another outlet for some of those characters,” Feige acknowledges. ”Maybe they guest-star. I think they’re avoiding the cameo of the week on that show, which is very smart.”
The Avengers 2
(May 1, 2015)
This is the crown jewel of Phase 2. ”All of the Avengers from the first movie will be back and they will be the core team, but what’s fun is that the roster shifts,” Feige says. ”It was always the intention to have a story line that brought in, obviously, new bad guys and potentially new heroes.” Speaking at the Iron Man 3 premiere last month, returning writer-director Whedon said he had finished a first draft and it included a brother-sister team. A source close to the movie confirms it’s Quicksilver, who can move with incredible speed, and his sorceress twin sister, Scarlet Witch. When asked, Feige kept mum. ”I’m not confirming or denying,” the producer said. ”The draft could change six months from now.” One challenge the filmmakers face is avoiding hero overload. ”If we’re going to add new characters, there’s going to be a reason and they’re going to be a major part of the movie.”
(Nov. 6, 2015)
Phase 3 will kick off with Ant-Man — a long-in-the-works film about a hero who creates a suit that allows him to size-shift at will. (He also carries technology that helps him communicate with insects and other small-but-dangerous creatures.) Writer-director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) has been working on the project since before the first Iron Man. ”Frankly, now we have to rewrite it,” says Feige, explaining that the film needs to more closely align with the ever-changing Marvel cinematic universe. They also need to cast the main character. ”We’ve talked about various names over the past eight years,” says Feige, ”but as you can imagine, they keep changing as time goes by.” Marvel hopes to begin production early next year.
Daredevil, The Punisher, Blade, and Ghost Rider
These heroes have all returned to the Marvel fold after the expiration of licensing deals with other studios in the past several years. (Others — including the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four — are still active franchises for other film companies.) ”Whenever a character comes back to us, it’s usually because the other studios don’t want to make the movies anymore — and that usually means the [previous] movies may not have been particularly well received,” says Feige. ”They all have potential, but we’re not going to say, ‘We got it back — make it!”’ Marvel Studios has not mapped out its full Phase 3 slate yet, but the company tends to gravitate toward heroes who haven’t yet gotten stand-alone screen stories elsewhere.
Over the past 20 years, there have been various attempts by others to make a movie about this mystical character, a physician who becomes one of the world’s most powerful sorcerers. Feige has been suggesting this as a future film for a while. ”Within the next year or so we’ll really start the advanced planning on post-Avengers 2, and I would love Strange to be a part of that,” Feige says. ”There’s a whole supernatural/magic dimension going on in the Marvel comics that we haven’t ever touched on.”
It’s not easy being green. There’ve been two stand-alone Hulk movies, but Mark Ruffalo’s take on the character in The Avengers was the first that seemed to click perfectly with fans. At this stage, though, a solo film remains on the back burner. ”There’s not a script in the works or anything, but we are talking about it,” says Feige. ”All the Hulk energy right now is on Avengers 2, but Mark is signed up.” And Feige smashes any rumors that Marvel will make a film from the Planet Hulk comics, in which the monster is banished to an alien world. ”What we’re excited about exploring and expanding is Mark — and Bruce Banner is not in Planet Hulk at all. The fun of Hulk is his interaction with humans.”