For the past ten years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has woven countless storylines, superheroes, and sequels into a centralized tapestry that is unlike anything ever attempted in the history of cinema. (Seriously; just think about it.) And the man in charge of it all, the one who conceived of the interlinking franchises that would give way to massive team-up movies every so often, is producer and president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige.
Feige oversaw the latest Marvel release, this week's astronomically anticipated "Avengers: Infinity War," ostensibly the third "Avengers" film -- but also the first part of a canonical closure that will continue with next summer's untitled fourth "Avengers" film (already shot, not yet edited). Things as we know it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be the same after this.
And it's on this momentous occasion that Moviefone sat down with Feige in Beverly Hills to talk about the unparalleled success of this year's "Black Panther," when the decision to end a big portion of the story with "Infinity War" came to be, why it's so important to have the MCU characters in the Disney Parks, and whether or not he's started thinking about the potential of the Fox-licensed Marvel properties (like "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four") returning to Marvel Studios. Also, I asked a dumb question about his hats. Excelsior!
Moviefone: You must be really tired of answering everything so politically. Can you just commit to answering one question with complete transparency? You don't have to tell me which question it is.
Kevin Feige: I don't know. [laughs] That was transparent.You've already had an amazing year with "Black Panther." What did you learn from that experience and what did the movie's success mean to you?
Feige: It's incredibly meaningful. It was something that we had wanted to do for a very long time. It was something that we finally got incredible support from our bosses at the studio, Bob Iger and Alan Horn, to do it and do it well. They gave us a lot of money to do it right, and bring Wakanda to life, and the way we wanted to.
Chadwick Boseman, having introduced him in "Captain America: Civil War" -- and knowing that people responded to him in "Civil War" -- it was great seeing that go so much bigger in his own movie. And what Ryan Coogler was able to do, with his questions growing up as an African American that he wanted to explore and play with in this arena, and having almost the entire world respond to it.
It was a surprise, to some degree?
Feige: We used to say to Ryan that the biggest statement this movie could make -- because we wanted it to be political, and we didn't shy away from the honesty that Ryan wanted to tell the story with -- but we would occasionally say the biggest statement this movie could make is to be a success around the world. The biggest political statement this movie is going to make is going to be a global success. So, it had to be a global success. That it was this big of a global success exceeded the expectations, for sure.At what point, during the course of plotting out this ten-year experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, did you settle on "Infinity War" being the end point?
Feige: Thanos first popped up when Joss Whedon wrote his name into an early draft of "The Avengers" as the tag, as a man in the shadows pulling the strings of Loki's invasion of Earth. And as James Gunn started working on "Guardians of the Galaxy," and we introduced characters like Gamora and Drax and Nebula, who had story connections to Thanos, we saw a little bit more of him there. But it was at a creative retreat we had in Palm Springs, four or five years ago, when we started to see that through and talk that through. [It was there] that we realized we would need two movies to do it. And it was when we wrapped "Civil War" that Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely holed up in a room -- and the room changed locations a few times -- but, essentially, a version of the development room was up for about three-and-a-half years as we cracked what became "Infinity War" and the untitled fourth "Avengers" movie.
Was there ever a moment when it felt like you wouldn't get there?
Feige: Every day. Every day on every movie. We haven't premiered it. We've got less than 24 hours. We'll see what happens.
All of the marketing for this movie states, "it all comes down to this." But we still have one more big team-up movie coming next year. Because it was originally going to be "Infinity War, Parts 1 and 2," but now it's a different movie altogether, right?
Feige: Yes. But...
It's a continuation.
Feige: For sure. We didn't want to call it one and two because we didn't want people to think it was the first half and then the second half, because "Infinity War" is a full and complete movie. People are going to want to know what happens next right away, and the next movie answers that question, and then does other things, which make it feel like its own movie. And we didn't title it yet because we wanted the attention to be on "Infinity War." That got blown out of proportion, too, with people asking what it was going to be called and assuming it'd be a spoiler. We just want the attention to be on "Infinity War." But "Infinity War," in conjunction with the "Avengers" movie next year, will be the conclusion of the storylines as we have started them. And then we go from there.You're closing out ten years on the big screen and ramping up the presence of the MCU at Disney Parks. Why is that so important to you?
Feige: Well, I love continuing the adventure in other arenas. "Return of the Jedi" came out in 1983 and a few years after that, they started talking about Star Tours and doing a ride at Disneyland and, later, Walt Disney World. It was like another movie for me. I grew up in New Jersey, but we went to California once or twice when I was growing up. And one of those times was around '87 or '88, and going to Star Tours for the first time -- nevermind sitting on the ride and flying around the Death Star -- even just walking through the ride, and seeing C-3PO there and seeing R2-D2 coming out of the smoking vehicle, and seeing Admiral Ackbar in the control booth... It was amazing. I loved it. It furthered the mythology for me and it furthered my fandom.
So, the notion of having the theme parks to be able to further stories, and allow the fans to experience this, and get new fans to come in from another way. The minute Disney bought Marvel, it felt like an amazing opportunity. And now, having Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, seeing fans wait in line for hours and come in and see the Collector's museum, and the actual actors playing the characters ... I love it.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are coming to Epcot. You've worn an Epcot Center hat before. What does Epcot mean to you and what makes it a good fit for Guardians?
Feige: I love Epcot. It was my favorite park when I was a kid. At the time it was only Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Disney's Hollywood Studios, then Disney-MGM Studios, opened in '89, when I was 16. And I also loved that because it was all about movies and, even then, I knew I wanted to make movies. But Epcot and the notion of the future and the promise of the future and the promise of a global community ... I bought into it hook, line, and sinker. I was inspired by it. I still listen to the music from those old attractions. And I am the kind of person who is inspired by well-told stories and inspired by well-told, well-scored messages. And Epcot did that in an amazing way, for me.
Now, the notion that one of our movies is going to be a part of that -- and yes, provide a big, fun, Marvel Studios-type adventure -- but still stay true to what Epcot Center is all about, is pretty awesome.
Should the Fox deal go through, are you excited about having all of those characters back?
Feige: Yes. I always thought, "Wouldn't it be nice for Marvel to have what almost every other IP holder has, which is access to all of their IP?" Because we do not. And it's been fine. We've done fine without access to all of it. And we'll continue to do fine if we don't ever get it. If it happens, it'd be great. But, honestly, we aren't thinking about it at all. We're just focused on finishing what we started with five movies still to finish between now and July of 2019.
Thought experiment: You are about to be banished to a desert island. You can only bring one Marvel Studios hat with you. Which hat will it be?
Feige: [laughs] I've got to tell you, this new tenth anniversary one that they made for "Avengers: Infinity War," it's a well-made hat. It's a good one. It's got the logo. It can remind me what we've done. And it fits well.
"Avengers: Infinity War" invades theaters everywhere, starting on Thursday night.