Kevin Feige has every fanboy's dream job: President of Production for Marvel Studios. Over the past decade, Marvel Studios has co-produced some of the most successful superhero films the genre has seen, beginning with the "Blade" and "X-Men" series and continuing with the "Spider-Man" and "Fantastic Four" film franchises. But in 2005, Marvel Studios struck out on its own, finalizing a deal with Paramount Pictures to produce its own movies based on the classic Marvel Comics characters. The first result of Feige's efforts was last summer's hugely successful "Iron Man."
Marvel quickly followed that up with "The Incredible Hulk," which featured a cameo by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, linking the two films together. Additionally, Samuel L. Jackson made an appearance in "Iron Man" as Nick Fury. After the success of the two films, Marvel announced an ambitious production schedule which includes "Iron Man 2" next summer, "Thor" and "The First Avenger: Captain America" in 2011, and "The Avengers" in 2012. Not to mention the films they have in development which include "Ant-Man," "Nick Fury," "Runaways" and "Sub-Mariner." All things considered, it's safe to say that Marvel Studios is setting up a film universe that will reflect the one from the comics that fans have grown up reading for generations.
CBR News had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Feige recently at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The Studio head spoke freely about the slate of films Marvel has in production, casting "Thor," building towards "The Avengers," and what fans can expect from next summer's "Iron Man 2."
CBR: After the success of the first Marvel Studios film, "Iron Man," how excited were you to begin working on the sequel and what decisions were made to make "Iron Man 2" better than the original?
KEVIN FEIGE: Well, thankfully, the first film was big enough of a success that nobody was reticent. Certainly the studio was like, "Make another one, make another one!" The fear always is to make it good and to improve upon what you did last time. It was well received but there are certainly things we thought we could improve. That's always the best part of the sequel.
Well, actually it's two things. One, you get the chance to do it again and maybe improve upon elements that you were disappointed with, even if the audience wasn't. We were disappointed on a few tiny, tiny things that we looked forward to redoing. Two, we've got fifty years of comic book stories to tell, so we have all sorts of stories that we haven't gotten to yet.
You know, an origin story is great and it's kind of pre-packaged if you do it right. It's the sequel that frees you up. We committed ourselves to a direction when we had Tony out himself as Iron Man in the last frame of the first movie. We were sort of like, "Should we do this? Are we locking ourselves into something?" But we said, "Yes, let's do it." It's locked us into something, which has opened up the whole franchise. That's kind of what the whole movie is like. Everyone knows who he is now and he has to deal with that.
Was it a difficult decision to recast Rhodey with Don Cheadle, instead of working things out with Terrance Howard and brining him back?
You know what, ultimately we thought that we had a chance to improve the movie with Don Cheadle, for the story that we wanted to tell. Terrence did a great job for us in the first movie. I'm glad that he was in that one. The story that we wanted to tell, that [director] Jon [Favreau] and I started working on, was going to be much more Jim Rhodes-centric. As you now know, the War Machine story. So we thought Don was a better way to go. And he's been great about it, by the way.
What are some of things you want to improve on from the first film?
Little things. Really little things. I don't know, I think our end battle this time will be slightly more epic in scale. It's that balance of delivering the character. All we really care about in these movies are the characters. But also, delivering a spectacle. On the highway and the rooftop in the last movie was great and the connection between Jeff [Bridges] and Robert was great but we wanted to give it a little more spectacle this time around for the finale.
Is there a lot of pressure on you to deliver a movie that is going to be as commercially successful, if not more so, than the first one?
There was a tremendous amount of pressure. You just have to work hard. That's all that we do is work very, very hard on the movie. I think we maybe stopped working for four weeks after the release of the first "Iron Man" and then jumped right back into it. And that continues for me through "Thor," "Captain America," and "The Avengers."
What's it like working on three films - "Iron Man 2," "Thor" and "Captain America" -- while developing "The Avengers" movie?
It's great. I mean, we're learning as we go. It's a new thing. Jon clearly is enthusiastic about it. ["Thor" director] Kenneth Branagh is enthusiastic about it. [Director] Joe Johnston is just getting into the mix now on "Captain America." It's actually fun having the screenwriters have conference calls amongst themselves in terms of what we're doing, and sometimes we'll change something. We're not going to lock ourselves into something because it pays off in three movies. You know, "It's not great for this one but you kind of have to do it for three movies." No, if it doesn't work for the movie we're making, we shuffle it.
Would any of those ideas you mentioned potentially be saved and used for "The Avengers?"
Yeah, it's a big dialogue back and forth. You know, it's the bullpen. We're not re-inventing the wheel here. It's just on a much different scale.
Black Widow is being introduced in "Iron Man 2" and is played by Scarlett Johansson. Will her character be a part of "The Avengers" movie or possibly be spun-off into her own feature film?
She's signed on for all of those should we be lucky enough to have an audience that wants to see them.
How large will Nick Fury's role be in "Iron Man 2," "Thor," and "Captain America?"
You know, that remains to be seen. I think [Sam Jackson's] gone on the record as saying that he hasn't busted into badass action mode yet. At the end of the first one, for the people who were patient enough to wait through the end credits, they met this guy named Nick Fury. They or Tony had no idea who he was. In this movie, he opens that door a little bit more for Tony and invites him to walk through it. Tony may or may not do that in this movie. But Nick Fury is the conduit through which all the characters will connect.
In that case, how important was it for you to sign Sam Jackson for all of those films?
We wanted to do it. We wanted to do it for the continuity and clearly he had inspired the Ultimate Comics incarnation of Nick Fury of the past ten years. So we were very happy when we got him involved in all of the movies.
Will the Hulk factor into "The Avengers" film at all?
I think so. In the comics, he has.
Would "The Incredible Hulk" star Edward Norton return for the Avengers movie?
I don't know? We should ask him.
How is "First Avenger: Captain America" shaping up?
"Captain" is going to start prep in October. We already have some concept artists working on it. Joe Johnston is finishing up "Wolfman" now. We're deep into the script and he was in the office with us recently. We open the offices officially in October.
How close are you to actually announcing the "Captain America" cast?
I think it will be a few months.
How is "Thor" coming along and when does it start shooting?
Kenneth Branagh is great and we've got Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth and I can't wait till next year when we bring all of those guys to Comic-Con. Natalie Portman is onboard, which we've mentioned. We are about halfway through prep and we start shooting in January.
Finally, what sold you on Chris Hemsworth as Thor? What made you say, "This is the God of Thunder?"
It's one of those rare things that doesn't happen often but people like me always say it so it probably sounds cliche. But we auditioned a lot of people. We did a lot of screen tests. We put a lot of people on video. One guy just kept popping out, it was Chris and you realized, regardless of what he's saying or how he's saying it, you're engaged with him. It's that movie star quality which I think he has. And, thankfully, he looks like Thor, which is a good combination.
"Iron Man 2" blasts into theatres in 2010.