Comic-Con 2014: Kevin Feige on Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange

Before the big Marvel Studios panel at San Diego Comic-Con, where they revealed stuff we won’t be able to talk about here, Kevin Feige sat down with reporters to talk about Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy and more. He confirmed that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Hank Pym will not be dealing with his ignominious history with the Wasp, thank goodness. Here’s what he did tell us.


When Joss pitched for Avengers 1, it’s been said that he kind of pitched this film, as he wanted to get to Ultron right away. Is that accurate?

Kevin Feige: No, that wasn’t in the first pitches or anything like that, but it’s certainly fair to say 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? – and Ultron came up very early on. Joss was 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 moreso than anything else Marvel’s done so far?

Well, I think yes, for a handful of reasons. One, because there are certain images and story beats from Ultron’s appearances in the comics that we’ve loved for so long and that, because we always know that would be the next villain, we’ve been thinking about it and beginning to prep. Also, because it’s now the near-culimination of Phase 2, so every choice that was made in Iron Man 3 and The Dark World and The Winter Soldier was all to make those movies as good as we could make them, but also knowing that it that things could be very different at the start of Avengers 2 than they were at the end of Avengers 1.


Are we going to get any Thanos in Avengers 2, or how much of a long play is that? Having seen Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s become clear that when he gets a movie, it’s going to be a big deal.

I’m glad it feels that way. That’s the idea. He’s not a part of Avengers 2.


Is that the Avengers 3 game plan, or even farther?

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.


Can you talk about the choice of how Thanos is portrayed in Guardians, as opposed to his shadowy cameo in Avengers?

The idea was for it to basically be just another step forward based on what we saw in Avengers. In Avengers, you didn’t see anything, saw the back of his throne and his turn into camera three-quarters smirk. We wanted Ronan to be the bad guy. We wanted to focus on 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. The Emperor to Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. So we wanted to see a little bit more of him, a little bit of attitude, to see him and hear him for the first time, and just to get one of my favorite shots in the whole movie, him leaning back on his throne and smirking, which he does on every cover of every Thanos comic book, which is cool.


There’s a trend towards the advancement of the creation of characters that are very CG but have recognizable voices. It’s now to the point where Rocket and Groot are believable characters. Now you have the technology not to rely on big-name casting for a lot of Marvel characters. Is that where you’re going in 3 and 4?

Utilizing technology is what all these movies are about. I would say that the technology, certainly with Thanos, it’s not just a vocal performance. It’s a facial performance, like Mark Ruffalo with Hulk. It’s not just him grunting. It’s his acting. It’s his face. That’s what Thanos is, and that’s not what Rocket was, nor Groot, necessarily. It’s casting both. Andy Serkis is the king of that, obviously, and I’ve not seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes yet because I have no time in my life, but it’s amazing. It’s about both. It’s 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 are comfortable moving forward with seeing as much of Thanos as we do in Guardians is because we have a great actor who’s willing to put the dots on his face and do the performance.


Is that for Ultron, too?

Yeah, 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 and the cameras coming around pointing at his face, and again, that was another reason we were ultimately comfortable in pulling the trigger on Ultron. Yes, we liked him, and 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, a lot of robots in movies, how do you do that differently? Well, number one, you have Joss Whedon write dialogue for him, and number two, you have James Spader bring him to life through his body language and verbal language.


Once all the newer properties are launched, can you ever envision doing something so massive to bring in all your characters, almost like a Secret Wars thing? Like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World version.

We’ve talked about that, we’ve joked about the Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I don’t think it’s about setting a Guinness Book of World Records for most characters in one movie. That’s daunting and ripe with opportunities for disappointment. Everybody’s like ‘hey, me, too! Well, I’m here!’ That’s frankly something we always wanted to avoid in our connected universe, but yes, with each 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 new announcements of release dates – five, and then another one. Can you talk a little bit about how that extra one get added at the end, and how many of them we can expect to learn about today?

No and no. (laughter) No, the last one was just a scheduling thing. There were other studios that were moving their chess pieces around on their chess boards, which is why that had been in the works, and why that other 2018 date came up a few days after the initial release.


Is that changing maybe when we could see Avengers 3?

Well, we haven’t really talked about when we’d see Avengers 3. I’d presume we’d like to stick to three years between Avengers movies, like we did – wait, it was two years, wasn’t it? Yeah, yeah, so it would probably be three years between Avengers 2 and 3.


What’s the ratio of sequels to new properties in those release dates you’ve announced?

We’ve really only announced up through Ant-Man, but if you look at 2014 and 2015 – now, let’s hope that Guardians succeeds when it opens next week, but I do like the notion 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 and an entirely new storyline. Next year, we’re doing the same thing with Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, and I see that could continue where it fits.


How difficult is that, as opposed to just dropping everything and just rebooting, when making Avengers 3 and battling all that continuity?

It’s fun. The comics lay the groundwork for all of it, of course, and for ways to do it well and for ways to avoid it. Continuity sometimes collapses in 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 at the end of the day as a self-contained trilogy, or watch Avengers 1 and 2 and be up to speed, more or less, or you can 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. I think that’s cool.


Is there a chance that the characters from the upcoming Netflix shows are going to bleed into the MCU?

We haven’t talked about that yet, really, because it’s just early days for that. Daredevil is in production right now. But it is the same universe, so there’s always potential for that.


How do you choose who you want to spotlight in new franchises? Does it have to do with the stories, or the characters in the public consciousness?

I would say it’s a combination, but it ultimately comes down to what we think would be cinematic. What do we think would be the kind of movie we’d 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’d only just scratched the surface of that in the other movies, and it felt like time, with our tenth Marvel Studios MCU movie, to do that, and that we’d earned the right to say ‘let’s bring a bunch of characters no one’s ever 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 it’s about what we think the public would be interested in because it’s what we’re interested in because we want to spend two or three years working on a project.


In the way you had story kernels for Avengers 2 while working on Avengers 1, is a similar thing happening for Avengers 3?

Sure, for sure.


Are the new actors coming into the MCU locked into multi-picture deals, since with all of these pieces it may get harder to keep people around?

Everyone signs for multiple pictures. How many pictures varies. The 9-picture, 12-picture stuff is more rare. Usually, the traditional three, with some options for other appearances is more the norm. Everyone is locked up through Avengers 3.


As far as Ant-Man, I’m curious about Hank Pym specifically. In the comics, he’s notorious for mostly two things, and one of those things is now what Tony Stark will be notorious for in Avengers 2, the creation of Ultron. The other one is that unfortunate spousal abuse story that sticks to him.

Guess what we’re not doing! (laughter)


All right! That’s what I wanted to know. Is that a chance to shed the baggage of that character?

Yeah, 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 being played by Michael Douglas is even more unique, more different. I would say that some of the spirit of that plays into his temprament in the film, plays into his gruffness in the film. It certainly does not, in this movie, go into spousal abuse.


In broad strokes, what would you say that Ant-Man and Dr. Strange will add to Marvel’s slate in terms of tone that we haven’t seen before?

Ant-Man is a heist movie, and it’s actually a mentor/mentee hero-passing-the-torch film, which we haven’t done before. So those are two unique elements for us in that film. With 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 like the idea of playing with alternate dimensions. Strange, in the crazy Ditko acid-trip way, traveling through dimensions and traveling through other 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 may as well be Dr. Strange. It’s mind-bending and all based in physics and quantum mechanics. We’re going to play a lot with the notion of that as an explanation for how sorcerers do what they do.


As you have a mounting number of franchises to manage, are you getting a lot of pressure to increase the number of films you do in a year?

If you look at some of those dates that we’ve announced, we’re going to go to three in a few of those years. Again, not because there’s a number cruncher somewhere telling us to go to more than two pictures a year, but it’s about managing those franchises film to film. 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.


Are there any Marvel cosmic characters that you’re considering for solo films, outside of the Guardians? Nova, Adam Warlock?

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 those out into individual movies, that’s a question for down the line. But I think we would see those kinds of characters in a future Guardians movie.


Footage will be premiered at the Con today, but do you know when the public might see the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer?

Not for a while. Much later in the year.