In Conversation with Kevin Feige

It’s always a little intimidating to speak with Kevin Feige. In person, the Marvel Studios president is certainly a nice guy, but it’s just a little bit off to know that this is the man who knows every secret about one of the most popular film franchises that has ever been created. Feige, as opposed to other people in his position, is known for not lying. He’s certainly coy! But maybe—just maybe—if I ask a question in a particularly nice way, Feige will explain how the Marvel cinematic universe will unfold with every detail. (Or, more likely, he’ll just laugh with a look on his face that says, “nice try.”)

Feige is promoting the sure-to-be blockbuster, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, we find Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) trying to adapt to the modern world—which involves some pretty nifty popular-culture milestones that ol’ Cap must catch up on, which he keeps on a handy list—after (a), spending nearly 70 years on ice and (b), fighting aliens in 2012’s The Avengers. That aside, Captain America is confronted with a mysterious new foe called the Winter Soldier and a slew of other new enemies from some of the people he trusted the most.

What’s not a sure bet is Marvel’s movie after Captain America, which is the sci-fi, outer-space-themed Guardians of the Galaxy. Starring Chris Pratt, Guardians represents a true risk for Marvel, but the recent positive reaction to its trailer positive reaction to its trailer put Feige’s mind at least a little more at ease. Well, sort of.

VF Hollywood: You know at this point that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is going to be a hit, right?
Kevin Feige: I take nothing for granted. But, the time when you start to go, “All right, do we have something or do we not have something?,” is when fine folks like yourself start to see it when we do those initial screenings. And the response has been very nice.

Captain America seems like a tough character because he’s so earnest. But you stick to that with him and it still works.
You’re right.

Because last summer, after Man of Steel, people complained that Superman didn’t stay true to his character in the last act. There’s a scene in this movie that’s almost the antithesis of that.
Well, yeah, I mean it’s just sort of the way we believe in the character and the way we believe he can be done. If you look at the best of the comics, he’s not just a stodgy boy scout, necessarily. You know, I don’t know if it’s even something as formal as a code—he’s a good guy who really believes in what he believes in. And how do you do that in an entertaining way without betraying sort of who Steve is? You know, we’re mental, we believe all [of] these are real characters and real people—so it’s not our job to change who they are; it’s our job to allow them to showcase their best selves on a big screen.

I have an idea for a Marvel one-shot film.
I’m ready.

Steve Rogers spends the day watching Star Wars and WarGames, which are both referenced in the movie.
That’s not a one-shot, that’s a movie! I would want Mystery Science Theater style. I’m totally down for that.

Those were both great references, by the way. I would have been disappointed if he had not seen Star Wars.
It’s funny you say that—before we shot that insert, we had a number of notebooks with a number of different things, and you wouldn’t believe the conversation between [directors] Joe and Anthony [Russo], our co-producer Nate Moore, and myself. “O.K., now that’s got to be on there, too.” “No, he would have seen it!” “If he’s seen WarGames, he’s seen that!”

What reference did you fight the hardest for on that list?
Well, Star Wars. “Star Wars/Trek” was a very big one. And I Love Lucy, actually.

Only Steve Rogers would write it down as “Star Wars/Trek” with that dividing line.
Yeah! Who does that? Like, I would never consider doing that.

He thinks it’s the same thing.
And then “Rocky II?,” with a question mark. I will tell you a funny story about that notebook: if you go to Germany and see the movie, if you go to France to see the movie, if you go to London to see the movie—which I highly recommend!—what is written in that notebook is different in each of those territories. It was an Internet contest for people to be saying, “What did Steve Rogers miss while he was in the ice for almost 70 years?”

The Guardians of the Galaxy trailer went over well.
Yes, I was very, very pleased with that because we sort of put it all out there for that teaser—to take all of the elements about what we love about this movie, what is unique about this movie, and that are probably scary to everyone else in town and the reason why nobody else has made a movie like this—and just put it out there. And that people responded to it and sort of got what we were hoping to do was wonderful—really wonderful. Even surprising. I was expecting more debate.

And there may be more debate as we continue down the marketing road. But, the overwhelming positivity was wonderful.

It was pretty much the same footage I saw at Comic Con, which was surprising because I had heard from you guys that that footage wouldn’t be released.
Well, you’re right. And that piece was built very specifically for the fan audience. Sometimes, you know, you think, O.K., well, this will work for the 7,000 people in Hall H, but for the masses, we’ll have to be more delicate. And there were other versions that we put together, but [we] ultimately said, “Well, you know what, let’s just go with the great version.”

Guardians of the Galaxy is considered a risk, but wouldn’t you be more nervous about it if it were a stand-alone movie as opposed to part of the larger story? In other words, people who might not see this movie will see it because it’s a sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Well, look, I think that’s true. And what I hope and have hoped for a long time, and maybe we’re almost there—never mind the connectivity between the movies, which Guardians is absolutely, if not a distant relative, certainly connected through various ways within the story line—is that they see the Marvel Studios logo and that it’s a Marvel Studios movie. And that, like Pixar, “Oh, it’s about a rat in a kitchen? I never heard of it. Oh, it’s Pixar? I have to go see it.” I would love to be in that position some day. And Guardians will be a big step towards that.

That’s funny. The Dissolve published a look back at some movie news from 20 years ago.
That’s awesome.

And there’s a Wizard magazine excerpt about Todd McFarlane and Spawn, where the writer references “Marvel’s movie bombs.” Things have changed.
Amazing. When we started over 20 years ago now—no, what am I saying? Not quite 20 years ago . . .

I think he was referencing the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie.
Oh, sure. Or Roger Corman [1994’s The Fantastic Four] or the 1990 Captain America. When we started doing X-Men, my first foray into the Marvel world, every story online was, “Well, you know it’s going to be bad because of the Marvel curse. You know it’s going to be terrible because of the Marvel curse.” And, you know, I’ve worked hard to try to change that. [laughs]