Under Kevin Feige‘s guidance the Marvel Cinematic Universe has blossomed into the one of the most popular, well-loved, and financially successful set of films ever produced. He’s an undeniable force in the industry who clearly understands what fans want to see. Earlier today, before hitting the stage for Marvel’s Hall H panel, I had the opportunity to sit down for a group interview with Feige. He talked about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, the possibility of Netflix/MCU crossover, plans for Thanos, actor contracts, releasing more movies per year, and a lot more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
KEVIN FEIGE: No that wasn’t in the first pitches or anything like that, but I would say certain soon into the development of the first movie, as happens on a lot of movies, you start talking about what’s next. What could you do? Ultron came up very early on in there. Joss was just legitimately like, “What do you mean ‘what do you do?’ You do one thing. It’s Ultron.
So you’ve been designing towards this movie maybe more so than anything else Marvel’s done so far?
FEIGE: I think yes for a handful of reasons. One, because there’s certain images and story beats from Ultron’s appearance in the comics that we’ve loved for so long and that because we always knew that’s what would be the next villain we’ve been thinking about and beginning to prep. Also because it’s now the culmination of phase two. So every choice that was made in Iron Man 3, The Dark World, and Winter Soldier, was all to make those movies as good as we could make them, but also knowing that it means things would be very very different at the start of Avengers 2 than they were at the end of Avengers.
Are we going to get any Thanos in Avengers? How much of a long play is that? I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy and there are some teases there, but it’s clear that when he gets a movie it’s going to be a big deal.
FEIGE: Right. I’m glad it feels that way. That’s the idea. He’s not a part of Avengers 2.
Is that going to be the Avengers 3 game plan? Or do you think you can continue that on farther?
FEIGE: I think Thanos does what he wants and shows up where he wants to. And I’m not going to tell him otherwise, so you don’t know exactly. Smirking at the end of the first Avengers. By the way, we’re still making Avengers 2, so nothing’s definitive one way or the other actually.
FEIGE: It was basically just another step forward based on what we saw in Avengers. So in Avengers you didn’t see anything. You saw the back of his throne and you saw his turn into camera 3/4 smirk. We wanted Ronan to be the bad guy. We wanted to focus in the creation of the guardians team itself, so we didn’t want to spend too much time with Thanos, but we wanted to showcase that there’s a guy behind the guy behind the guy behind the guy. The emperor in Empire Strikes Back to Darth Vader. So we wanted to see a little bit more of him, see him and hear him for the first time. And just to get, which is one of my favorite shots in the whole movie. Him leaning back in his throne and smirking, which he does on every cover of every comic, which is cool.
There’s a trend toward the advancement of characters that are very CG, but have recognizable voices. Rocket and Groot are very believable characters. You have infinite characters that you could introduce and not have to rely on big name casting. Is that developing where you’re going in 3 and 4?
FEIGE: Well, Yeah. Utilizing technology is what all these movies are about. I would say that the technology – it’s not just, certainly with Thanos, it’s not just a vocal performance. It’s a facial performance. Like Mark Ruffalo with Hulk. It’s not just Mark Ruffalo with Hulk. It’s not just him grunting it’s him acting, it’s his face. That’s what Thanos is and that’s not what Rocket was or Groot necessarily. But it’s casting both. Andy Serkis is the king of that obviously and I’ve not seen Dawn of the Apes yet, because I have no time in my life, but it’s amazing and it’s about both. Its not – oh good, we don’t have to hire a big actor now, we’ll just have a voice come in. You want a great performance and the reason we were comfortable moving forward with seeing as much Thanos as we do in Guardians is because we had a great actor who was willing to put the dots on his face and do the performance.
FEIGE: Yeah, for sure, absolutely. James Spader is more than just the voice. I think you’ve heard Joss talk about that a lot. He was on set for every single one of his scenes in those mo-cap rigs that you’ve seen, with the cameras coming around pointing at his face. That, again, was another reason we were ultimately comfortable pulling the trigger on Ultron. Yes, we liked him. Yes, we talked about him a lot. The fear always was that there are a lot of robots. There are a lot of robots in the world. There are a lot of robots in movies. How do we make a different one? One, you have Joss Whedon write dialogue for him. And two, you have James Spader bring him to life. Through his body language and his verbal lines.
Once you get all the newer properties launched, Guardians, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man. Could you ever envision doing something so massive to bring in all tyour characters? Almost like a Mad Mad Mad World version.
FEIGE: [Laughs] We’ve joked about that. The Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad world. I don’t think it’s about setting the Guinness book of world records for the most characters in a movie. That’s daunting and that is rife with opportunities for disappointment, which is kind of what we always wanted to avoid in our connected universe. But yes, every character that is introduced in the MCU that gives the opportunity for that character to pop up in other properties in unexpected ways.
We saw a multitude of more announcements, release dates. Five and another one. Could you talk a little bit about how that extra one got added at the very end and how many of those we can expect to learn about today?
FEIGE: No and No. No, the last one was just a scheduling thing. There were other studios that were moving their chess pieces around on their chess board, which is why that had been in the works. Which is why that 2018 dates came after the initial release.
Is that changing maybe when we could see The Avengers 3?
FEIGE: Well we haven’t really talked about when we’ll see Avengers 3. I presume we’d like to stick to three years between Avengers movies like we did. So it will probably be three years between Avengers 2 and Avengers 3.
FEIGE: Yeah, we’ve only really announced up through Ant-Man, but if you look at 2014 and 2015, let’s hope that Guardians succeeds when it opens next week, but I do like the idea of an existing franchise with The Winter Soldier, that we had this year, doing unexpected things with it, taking it to new unexpected places. And then the second movie of the year being an entirely new franchise. An entirely new storyline. Next year we’re doing the same thing with Age of Ultron and with Ant-Man. I see that could continue where it fits.
How difficult is that as opposed to just dropping everything and rebooting? Battling all that continuity.
FEIGE: It’s fun. The comics lay the groundwork for all of it of course, for ways to do it well and for ways to avoid it. Continuity kind of collapses on itself in the comics every few decades and I think we want to be wary of that in how we tell these stories and how we look at the interconnectivity. I love the notion that you could just watch all three Captain America films as a self contained trilogy, or you could watch Avengers 1 and 2 and be up to speed more or less. You could watch the Iron Man films as a trilogy, but you could also watch them in each phase, also watch them one day in a relatively complete saga.
Is there a chance that some of the characters from the upcoming Netflix shows are going to bleed into the Marvel cinematic universe?
FEIGE: We haven’t talked about that really yet, because it’s early days for that. Daredevil is in production right now, but it is the same universe so there’s always potential for that.
I was curious when you talk bout these new people that you’re introducing in Guardians and Doctor Strange. When you look over the catalogue that’s in Marvel comics, how do you choose who you want to spotlight? Does it have to do with the stories that are already out there? Does it have to do with what people want and awareness of who these characters are?
FEIGE: I would say it’s a combination. But it ultimately comes down to – what do we think would be cinematic? What do we think would be the kind of movie we want to make. With Guardians we very much wanted to, you’ve heard me say this before, go to the other side of the cosmic universe. There’s an amazing amount of outer space based storylines in our comics and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of that in the other movies and it felt like time with Guardians of the Galaxy being our tenth Marvel Studios MCU movie to do that. That we’d earned the right to say “Let’s bring a bunch of characters nobody’s heard of.” If it was just about public consciousness I’m not sure we would have done half the characters that we’ve done up to this point, certainly not Guardians. But its about what we think the public would be interested in because its what we’re interested in as we spend two or three years working on a project.
One of the things that our readers tend to be really interested in is the length of contracts and how long people are signed for. It was a big story with people like Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr, but as Paul Rudd joins on and whoever becomes Doctor Strange, are they also locked into long term deals?
FEIGE: Everyone signs for multiple pictures. How many pictures varies. The nine pictures, twelve pictures stuff is more rare. Usually a traditional three with some options for other appearances is more the norm. Everyone is locked up through Avengers 3.
I’m curious about Ant-Man and Hank Pym. He’s kind of notorious for two things in the comics and one of them is now what Iron Man is going to be notorious for, the creation of Ultron. And the other one is that unfortunate spousal abuse story.
FEIGE: That’s what we’re not doing [laughs]. But look, Hank Pym did a lot of things in the comics and he’s a super cool character and the spin that we have on him, played by Michael Douglas is even more unique, more different. I would say that some of that, some of the spirit of that plays into his temperament in the film, plays into his gruffness in the film. It certainly does not, in this movie, go to spouse abuse [laughs].
You’ve said Winter Soldier was a political thriller, you’re describing what the vision for Guardians of the Galaxy was. So in broad strokes, what would you say Ant-Man and then Doctor Strange will add to Marvel’s slate that we haven’t seen before?
FEIGE: Well you’ve heard us talk about how Ant-Man is a heist movie. It’s also a mentor/mentee, a hero passing the torch film, which we haven’t done before. So those are two unique elements for us in that film. With Doctor Strange it is a classic Marvel origin story, because he’s got one of the best origins ever and it’s our opportunity to take that left turn into the supernatural. Now what is the definition of supernatural? it varies. We love the idea of playing with alternate dimensions. Strange in the crazy acid trip way, traveling through other dimensions and realms, is something we think is very very cool. Playing with the perceptions of reality. I just watched the Neil Degrasse Tyson Cosmos series, which is amazing, and which may as well be an acid trip. It is a mind bending and it’s all based in physics and quantum mechanics and we’re going to play a lot with the notion of that as an explanation of how the sorcerers do what they do.
As you introduce more and more series and try to balance continuing a franchise, if they’re all successful you’re starting to have this mounting number of franchises to try to service. If you’re just doing two a year that means you might have gaps of several years before you can do another sequel. Are you getting a lot of pressure to increase the amount of films you put out per year?
FEIGE: Well I think if you look at some of those dates we’ve announced, we’re going to go to three in a few of those years. Again, not because there’s number cruncher somewhere telling us to go to three, but because the very reason you’ve just laid out. It is about managing those franchises film to film and when we have a team ready to go, why tell them to go away for four years just because we don’t have a slot? We’d rather find a way to keep that going.
Can you talk about which characters in the Marvel cosmic side of the universe you’re considering that are on your radar to maybe do solo films outside of the Guardians?
FEIGE: To do solo films?
Yeah are you looking to do Nova? Which characters might be of interest right now?
FEIGE: I think if Guardians works the way we certainly hope it works that would probably be the franchise to meet a lot of those people. That would be our entrance into numerous other cosmic folk. If we spin any of those out into individual movies – that’s a question for down the line. But I think we would see those kind of characters in a future Guardians movie.
Do you know when we might see the Avengers 2 trailer? When will the people at home see the footage from tonight?
FEIGE: Not for a while. Much later.