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There was a boy, born and raised in New Jersey during the late ‘70s and ‘80s, who was obsessed with movies, then later became a comic book obsessive. For most kids, these might be distractions. For Kevin Feige, they were tools he’d someday use to reshape pop culture storytelling.
As part of EW’s double-issue dedicated to Avengers: Infinity War, we wanted to talk with the Marvel Studios president about where things go next.
But first, for those who may not know, here’s the origin story (the short version):
Feige went to film school at USC and one of his first jobs was as an assistant to producer Lauren Shuler Donner on movies like Volcano and You’ve Got Mail. When she made 2000’s X-Men, she gave Feige an associate producer credit because the kid was invaluable. He knew comic book lore the way Bruce Banner knows where to get durable purple pants.
The works of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and other Marvel pioneers were sacred texts to him, and Feige proved adept at helping filmmakers stay true to those classic stories without alienating the casual fans. In fact, his approach often turned those casual fans into hardcore comic book geeks.
He became president of Marvel Studios under the mandate that the company would no longer sell off film rights to the characters. They’d make the movies themselves. And Feige was pushing a very big, very risky idea: a shared universe — uniting separate heroes not just in one film, but again and again in movie after movie.
It sounded absurd to most Hollywood powerbrokers (Ant-Man? Is he, like, half bug?), but 10 years and 19 films (and counting) after 2008’s Iron Man, every studio wishes they’d thought of it first, and franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and longtime comic book rival DC are now establishing similar models.
Here’s what the 44-year-old producer had to say as Phase 3 comes to a close, and an unknown future awaits the Marvel Cinematic Universe: He talked about everything from diversity … to heroes reaching the end, and where Marvel needs to go in the next 10 years.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After Black Panther’s runaway success, you have to be feeling good about having so much Wakanda in Infinity War.
KEVIN FEIGE: That’s the grand Marvel Studios/MCU tradition of just being all in, right? All in on stuff we believe in, before the audience tells us what they think. You’ve heard us talk ad nauseam about the fact that we were in production on Avengers before either Thor or Captain America was released. Same thing with the whole third act of Infinity War being in Wakanda.
What role does Wakanda play going forward? It seems like kind of a new anchor point for the MCU. Can we expect a lot of the action and future stories to be connected there?
Anchor point is a good way of [describing] it, particularly as some of our other anchor points, Asgard for instance, are gone.
Thor: Ragnarok really demolished that stage. I like that you play rough with your toys. A broken and battered toy is one that’s been well loved and well used.
That’s a good way of putting it.
What can you tell us about plans for a Black Panther sequel?
Nothing specific to reveal, other than to say we absolutely will do that. One of the favorite pastimes at Marvel Studios is sitting around on a Part One and talking and dreaming about what we would do in a Part Two. There have been plenty of those conversations as we were putting together the first Black Panther. We have ideas and a pretty solid direction on where we want to head with the second one.
With Infinity War, you’ve talked about this being an endpoint or a climax. You’ve built up this world over 10 years, what are you looking to do to it with this film and next year’s follow-up?
Playing rough with toys, as you said. [Laughs] With Infinity War, it’s coming to a climax, coming to a conclusion of seeds with all the MacGuffins in various movies, and with Untitled Avengers a year later, bringing what will be that first 22 movie arc to a finality. That doesn’t mean there are no movies after that. Of course not. It means the movies after that will be changed. Again, it goes to the comics. Every great event in the 50 plus years of publishing history would have an impact on the individual books going forward after that.
Disney struck a deal to acquire Fox, which brings X-Men and Fantastic Four film rights back home to Marvel Studios. Have you had time to consider what you want to do with these now that they’re back in your toy box?
No. It’s all about getting Infinity War finished and out, starting Captain Marvel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Untitled Avengers, the next Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3. These are the ones that are keeping us busy. When and how that deal with Fox finishes and comes together and we’re told, “Hey, now you can start working on it. Now you can start thinking about it,” is when we’ll actually start thinking about it. I will say just the notion of having what, frankly, most other companies with [intellectual property] have all along, which is access to all of their characters, that would be fun.
Can you describe how Infinity War might reshape the tone of films to come?
You start to think differently about how the characters are interacting, what character’s stories are coming to a close, and what character’s stories are only just beginning. Those stories will continue. I think they’ll continue in surprisingly different and unexpected ways after these two Avengers films.
When we talk about resolution or a character’s story ending, are we necessarily talking about death?
People always will jump to that. That’s not necessarily what we’re talking about. I talk a lot, because I’m a big-ass nerd, about Star Trek: The Next Generation, “All Good Things.” That to me is one of the best series finales ever. That wasn’t about death. Picard went and played poker with the crew, something he should have done a long time ago, right?
One criticism you’ve gotten is when somebody dies in a Marvel movie, they tend to come back in some way. If it happens, will it be for real this time?
Yes. I mean, I could always list off the characters that we’ve killed in our movies that haven’t come back, but the big ones, which I know they’re looking at …? [Pause.] I would just say, yes. People need to be careful what they wish for.
You mentioned before that Marvel Studios was all-in at important junctures. What’s the dark version of the Marvel Universe where you had to activate a backup plan for Avengers if Cap or Thor hadn’t connected?
Well, not on Avengers necessarily. As we develop stories and develop scripts, you have to deal with the realities of deal making, and the realities of schedules, and the realities of budgets. We always have A, and B, and C plans. That doesn’t mean the B or C plan wouldn’t have worked. It just meant it would have been different.
Had those movies failed, would Avengers have become basically Iron Man 3?
The real answer is we were all-in. God forbid those films had [flopped] … I think the marketing probably would have been different [for Avengers] and maybe the way the film was cut together or recut with additional scenes would have been different, but it was all-in on that one.
What feels like the big gamble now?
Every time you do a film that doesn’t have a part two behind it or wasn’t a sequel. After Iron Man, and certainly after Captain America and Thor, and certainly after The Avengers, Marvel Studios could have made, theoretically, a nice game plan only making sequels to those movies. A lot of studios would love to have four franchises that they can keep doing sequels to. We specifically didn’t want to do that, because we wanted to keep bringing new characters to the forefront, because there’s an embarrassment of riches in the comic books.
Which of those new films felt like risks, felt uncertain?
You look at Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man … You look at Black Panther or Captain Marvel, that we have just started filming. One could consider those risks, whenever you’re doing something new and it’s not proven. Doing a third version of Spider-Man. Those are all things that have a certain amount of risk associated with them, but early on we decided we didn’t want to be just the Iron Man studio or just the Avengers studio. We want to be the Marvel Studio.
Years back, you listed all of those new movies as possible projects you wanted to make. Now most of them have happened. So, what’s on your wish list now?
Well, there are lots. There are lots. It’s a testament to the 8,000-plus characters in Marvel Comics. We still haven’t made or developed every character we saw when we flipped through a comic and went, “This would be cool. This would be a good story.”
Such as …?
We’re not ready to talk about what those are, but like the ones we’ve made in the first three phases, they’re ones that are either just great concepts for a film, great characters with great supporting characters, like Panther. New locations and lands that have cultural significance all their own, and continuing to tell stories that represent the world as it is, that represent people who perhaps haven’t seen themselves portrayed in this light in the past. We want to continue to do that.
You have Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, the first female title character in a Marvel Studios film, with Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck co-directing. Obviously, Ryan Coogler directing Black Panther was a landmark for representation. Will you get more women and people of color behind the camera as well as in front of the camera?
Yes. I think we’re seeing it shift from a very purposeful initiative to just a fact of life, to just a way of doing business. Then there are people we hired that we’re not ready to announce in all different capacities, particularly behind the camera. As Panther has so loudly declared, [representation] can only help you, can only help you tell unique stories, can only help you do things in a new, and unique, and fresh, and exciting way. If you do that, audiences will notice it, and appreciate it, and support it.
I wanted to ask you a little more about Captain Marvel. It’s set in the 1990s. How does shifting that timeline back open up new storytelling for the MCU?
We wanted to explore a period before Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury had any idea about any of the other heroes and crazy stuff going on in the world. You know, we first met Nick when he told Tony, “You’re part of a big universe. You just don’t know yet.” Well, we want to go back to a time when he didn’t know it yet, and really showcase and announce that Carol Danvers was that first hero that Nick came across. That meant she could be the singular hero, but place it within timing of the MCU. It also got us talking about different genres, exploring this notion of sort of the ‘90s action film. We hadn’t necessarily done anything like that before either, so there are definitely homages to our favorite ‘90s action films within Captain Marvel.
What defines a ‘90s action film? Like, what would be a few of the inspirations?
Well, not necessarily talking about any particulars of the story, but the action elements Terminator 2. That’s about as iconic as you get, looking at kind of those cool street level fights, street level car chases, and fun stuff like that. That being said, much of the movie takes place in outer space, as you might think a Captain Marvel movie would. Like all of our genre inspirations, there are bits and pieces here and there.
You opened Black Panther with a prologue set in 1992. I wondered if we might expect more hero stories to be set in that time period going forward?
I would say no. I mean, in terms of Captain Marvel and a young T’Chaka in ’92, no. That’s not where we’re headed. But we would talk about the ancestral plane sequence [in Black Panther] where, towards the end of the movie, T’Challa takes the herb again and encounters his father, where he’s like, “Hey, man. We’ve kind of screwed up, and I want to change it.” There’s that moment where all of the ancestors come behind T’Chaka. We would joke and go, “I want to see … what’s their story? What’s that story? Who was Bashenga, the first king of Wakanda? Who’s that third to the left, behind T’Chaka? What was their story in Wakanda in 1938? That would be cool.” It all starts as conversations like that. The more audiences want to see these stories, the more opportunities we have to explore different places and time.
Usually, we get three stand-alone movies for a single hero, then some team-ups. But is there potential in Black Panther beyond that? I see people saying, “I want a Dora Milaje movie. I would like a Shuri movie.” Do you see more potential there, or do you think you’ll stick with that kind of three-act structure that you’ve followed in the past?
I think there’s lots of potential. It’s a balance between leaving people wanting more and then giving them too much, but I would watch a movie about any of those characters you just named. I think Shuri’s astounding, and you’ll see much more of her in our universe. Okoye, I think I’d watch three action films just Okoye. I’m not saying we’re doing that, but I’m saying that we’re intrigued by them. Frankly, as I’ve said before, finishing these first 22 movies is really all we’re thinking about at this point.
We already talked about X-Men and Fantastic Four coming back to Marvel. Is there any character that’s still outside your purview, or have they all come home?
There are some with a couple of other players involved that would have to be negotiated with. Then, of course, Spider-Man is still with Sony, independent of our agreement to do the films together. But most of them are home now. If that Fox thing happens, yeah, that’ll be the majority.