It really is unusual that Kevin Feige, the head of a movie studio, is so in demand as an interview subject every time Marvel Studios releases a new movie – which, now, is like three times a year. Put it this way, yes, studio heads are often requested by members of business media when it comes to stock earnings or profitability, but I don’t remember anyone wanting to talk to the head of Universal when Despicable Me 3 came out, probing for answers of what Gru might be doing in a future installment.
It’s a testament to Feige that he’s seen as the architect of this now monster 17-film series (soon to be 18 when Black Panther is released in February) that probably doesn’t get enough credit for what it’s accomplished. Just look at all the copycat “cinematic universes” that came and went, trying to replicate what Feige and Marvel has done. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks. But with that success that comes the criticism that these movies all have a similar tone, which Feige addresses ahead.
One of Feige’s main defenses to that criticism would be Thor: Ragnarok, in which director Taika Waititi eschews the tone of most superhero films and makes what could be described as a full-on action-comedy. (Our full review is here.) And we see the return of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, who we haven’t seen since Avengers: Age of Ultron. Hulk is a tough character to portray – which two separate films (one part of the MCU and one not) have shown us. Universal still owns the rights to a solo Hulk film (the 2008 film was distributed by Universal), so Hulk is relegated to supporting roles in other character’s films in the MCU. But Feige seems okay with this, even sharing his philosophy on the way Hulk used to be portrayed and the differences that Ruffalo’s Hulk brings to the table.
Oh, and here’s another reason Feige is a sought-after interview, he never lies – which is unique when it comes to movies that are shrouded in mystery. Other filmmakers and executives will tell, let’s say, “falsehoods,” then explain later that it was all in the service of keeping the story a secret. Feige may not answer a question, but he doesn’t mislead. Back in 2012, I interviewed him for the first Avengers film and I asked a question about the possibility of us seeing Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Of course he couldn’t answer that without ruining a surprise, but he just kept saying that was an interesting question. Feige has a knack for letting his opinion on something be known without really saying anything, like ahead when I ask him about his beloved Inhumans, which he lost to the television division – a show that’s, to put it nicely, not getting the best of reviews.
(For more with Feige, we also talked to him about the future of the MCU after Phase Three ends, why Jeff Bridges’ character had to die in Iron Man, and how Jeff Goldblum was almost cast in Captain America: The First Avenger.)
I haven’t talked to you since the first Guardians movie.
Has it been that long?
I thought it might be because of the whole Lonely Thanos thing…
Is that you?
Well, when I spoke to the Russos for Civil War, they brought it up and they were convinced it’s Patton Oswalt…
That’s funny. Well, it’s provided us with great inspiration to make sure when Thanos does appear that he’s worthy of all of our teasing and isn’t just some lame guy who can’t get any stones.
Well, he’s still got some work to do still before the next Avengers movie.
He’s still sitting there with no stones. What’s going on with him?
Do you think Thor: Ragnarok is the most unusual Marvel movie so far? I laughed more than any prior Marvel film, it almost plays as a pure comedy.
Well, that’s great. I don’t know. The truth of the matter is I think they’re all unusual and I think they all seem to be funnier than people expect. People said the same thing to me about Guardians, people said the same thing to me three months ago about Spider-Man: Homecoming. But, certainly, this is the one that we followed our instincts into comedy unabashedly. And while I still think it has action that is as epic as anything we’ve done before – and showcases Thor’s superpowers in a bigger way than we’ve ever seen him showcase them – that’s certainly what Hemsworth and Ruffalo and Tessa and Goldblum and Cate brought to the party under the guidance of Taika, and what Taika himself brought to it in his mo-cap performance of Korg, is a sense of fun that, yes, it’s perhaps unrivaled in any of our fun movies.
It sounds like you take it maybe a little bit personally? The criticism these movies all have a similar tone? You’ve said the next three Marvel movies are going to be built to be different, is that a response to that criticism?
No. I mean, I think it’s just the way we make the movies. I think all the movies are relatively different. I think there’s a narrative that people like to write about because they’re all produced by the same team and they all inhabit the same fictional cinematic universe. That we look for common similarities. And I’m not saying there aren’t common similarities throughout it, but I think Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming are two totally different types of movies. They’re both fun. People both enjoy them. Is that a similarity? If so, I’ll take it. If that’s a criticism, I’ll take that, too. But really, yeah, Homecoming, Ragnarok, Panther, into Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp after that. And a ’90s-set Captain Marvel after that; these are six very different movies. If what they have in common is they’re all really enjoyable and fun to watch, then I’ll take it.
You’ve also made alluded that Thor: Ragnarok and the next two Avengers movies form a kind of unofficial Hulk trilogy, but can there be too much Hulk? Because now we want him more, but back when there were full movies about him, we didn’t as much. Does that make sense?
It makes perfect sense. And I wouldn’t call Ragnarok and the next Avengers movies an unofficial Hulk trilogy, but I would say that there is a character arc for Hulk within those three movies that, yes, track together by design. And I think it’s a testament to what Ruffalo has done to Bruce Banner and brought to this character. And it’s his performance of the Hulk, is that there is a sense in the comics, and a lot of even going back to the “Lonely Man” theme of the TV series, there was a tragic tortured quality to the plight of the Hulk – which inhabited the first two Hulk features, the TV show, many of the comics. And when he’s a player in an ensemble portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, you don’t delve into much, because there’s not the time for it. And also, as it turns out, there are other ways to play it. And Ruffalo is a master at not going deep and dark, but taking that inner pain and kind of trying to become zen about it. We saw that in Avengers 1, where Tony Stark is screwing around and poking him with something and saying, oh, careful, and he goes, “I can handle pointy things.” He’s much more zen about it. His secret is he’s always angry. And that, I think, it’s just a much more charismatic and engaging way to see it. I’ve always wanted Hulk to talk more than he has and find the right circumstances, and finally we see that here.
I know you’re a huge Inhumans fan, and you lost that property to TV. Now, with that doing how it’s doing on television, do you look at that and go, well, maybe it’s best we didn’t do that one? Or do you still wish you had that property because you think you could have really knocked out of the park?
[Laughs] You’re breaking up, Mike. I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up…
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