‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: Kevin Feige wires Marvel movies for conquest

April 25, 2015 | 6:00 a.m.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, left, and actor Chris Evans attend the Hollywood premiere of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on April 13, 2015. (Jesse Grant / Getty Images)

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, left, and actor Chris Evans attend the Hollywood premiere of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” on April 13. (Jesse Grant / Getty Images)

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has much to celebrate these days.

The architect of Marvel’s movie landscape has presided over an unprecedented string of hits — to date, the company has released 10 films that have brought in more than $7 billion. Under a deal announced earlier this year, he will have an opportunity to reframe Marvel’s most iconic character, bringing Spider-Man into Marvel’s blockbuster cinematic universe before the hero goes spinning back to anchor his own franchise for Sony Pictures, his movie home since 2002. And that doesn’t take into account a range of future projects that will likely extend Marvel’s box-office dominance well into the next decade.

That Feige was able to construct Marvel’s foundations without the presence of its most well-known hero makes the company’s fortunes that much more impressive to industry observers. Once Marvel began making its own films with 2008’s “Iron Man,” Feige turned characters that only die-hard readers had known into household names thanks to a keen eye for talent and a knack for matching outwardly offbeat directing choices with prime material.

Now he’s poised to guide Marvel into the next phase of its Hollywood reign. Hero Complex caught up with Feige last summer on the set of Joss Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” due May 1, to discuss character moments amid the action chaos, Ultron’s place in the grand scheme of things and more.

Are you feeling a special kind of pressure with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” given the high level of anticipation surrounding the film?

Kevin Feige: Every film feels like the same amount of pressure. Whether it’s the sequel to the third-biggest movie of all time or “Guardians of the Galaxy” … or “Ant-Man,” which nobody’s ever heard of, the pressure’s always immense, mainly that we put on ourselves. I guess I would say that the pressure’s a little bit more on this movie because it comes not just from ourselves but from the audience. Thankfully, people enjoyed the first one. It’s about delivering on that expectation.

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Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, left, Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Chris Hemsworth as Thor, left, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Evans as Captain America in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, left, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans Steve Rogers in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Ultron (voiced by James Spader), left, and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, left, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Iron Man's Hulkbuster suit (Robert Downey Jr.) versus the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), left, and Dr. Cho (Claudia Kim) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, left, and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment: Marvel)

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), left, and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), left, and one of his mercenaries (Bentley Kalu) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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Thomas Kretschmann as Baron von Strucker in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), left, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) assemble in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

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The heroes of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron," from left: Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Dr. Cho (Claudia Kim), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

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Chris Evans as Captain America, left, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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The villainous Ultron Prime (voiced by James Spader) in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, left, and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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Chris Evans as Captain America, left, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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Chris Evans as Captain America, left, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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From left: Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Chris Evans as Captain America in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

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From left: Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Don Cheadle as James "Rhodey" Rhodes in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

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Elizabeth Olsen on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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An actor films on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are seen on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Director Joss Whedon and star Aaron Taylor-Johnson on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Actors in motion-capture gear on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are seen on location in Aosta, Italy, for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson is seen filming 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' in Pont-Saint-Martin on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix / Getty Images)

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Jeremy Renner is seen filming on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix / Getty Images)

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General view of location of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' in Pont-Saint-Martin in Aosta, Italy, on March 24, 2014. (Photopix/Getty Images)

The shared-universe model that Marvel pioneered has become very popular in Hollywood. Is it strange for you to watch other studios try to put together their own version of the MCU?

I guess that’s what Hollywood always does for the most part, right? What did well over the weekend, let’s put our version of that in development on Monday. Having been at Marvel for 14 years, and having been a part of those movies at Fox and those movies at Sony, and watched as a fan of all the other ones, it was gratifying when “Iron Man” came out and was a hit. That was our putting our time and effort and money where our mouth was in terms of, “Hey, I think we could do these a certain way,” or, “There’s a certain vision we have for these movies.” It worked. It did really well. That was nice, then going, “Hey, we have another vision of emulating that experience of reading a comic book on a big screen by having characters interact…” It’s sort of surreal to see every other studio in town mimicking something that started with about five or six of us in a room going, “We should do this, that would be cool.” Now everybody’s like, “We should do this, it’s working!”

Do you take any personal sense of ownership over that?

It’s not like it’s an original idea, that’s what the Marvel universe is in the comics. That’s what the DC universe is in the comics. There’s always been that shared universe, that shared continuity. I feel ownership over its cinematic equivalent – the fact that they’ve worked well in the movies.

“Guardians” was certainly an offbeat film, and primarily through Scarlet Witch, Joss Whedon has introduced some riskier metaphysical ideas in “Age of Ultron.” Would you say audiences are more open to stranger ideas in their comic-book movies at this point?

I think that’s right. The more you educate an audience about the world or about the rules, the more you can change those rules. I think that’s absolutely the case. Now, you can start to get a little too convoluted. That’s the danger of a shared universe. If you look at comics over the years, they usually, I don’t want to say implode, but they start to turn in on themselves after 10-15 years and then they do some sort of grand reboot, in continuity. “Reboot,” as a term cinematically — that is not particularly good. People don’t like the notion of that. I think we have a pretty solid plan going out for at least the next five or six years to keep building on our mythology and our cinematic universe continuity without it getting so broad or so convoluted that you have to have seen 15 movies to understand the new one that you’re going to watch now. We’ve been very delicate about that.

Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

I think we could have put Scarlet Witch in the first “Avengers” if we wanted to. We’re not bending any sort of logic laws or rules with that. Her back story will be pretty plain, pretty clear, in this movie. But I do think that something like “Guardians” — which again you don’t have to have seen any of our other movies to go see “Guardians” and understand what’s going on — I’m not sure we would have been in the mind-set to put that out there if we hadn’t been bolstered by the way all of our other movies had been received, by the audiences sort of validating our instincts.

Do you ever get the sense that people are waiting for Marvel to stumble?

I’ve been at Marvel for 14 years; I think people have been waiting for 13 years for that. People have asked me since I first started doing interviews in 2003 or 2004, “How much longer is this going to last? Is the bubble going to burst? Are people going to get sick of these movies?”  It’s the same as going, “When is it going to fall apart? When is it going to fail?” It could be any day, but it’s our job to hold that off.

What kinds of conversations did you have with Joss at the outset of “Age of Ultron”?

When he started on the first one, there was a very clear template of what we thought the Avengers movie should be. He used that template and of course built on it in his amazing Joss way. There wasn’t a template on this necessarily. There was a template going into Phase 2 after “Avengers.” We wanted the movies to go in the opposite direction of where some people were thinking they should go. So, “Iron Man 3” was a very stand-alone Iron Man movie. “Thor: The Dark World” was a very stand-alone Thor. Then only with “Winter Soldier” did we start to fall back into the broader universe. That was probably the only thing we talked about before he started developing the [“Age of Ultron”] story was we’re going to dismantle S.H.I.E.L.D. in “Winter Soldier,” which I think he was excited by for this movie. They needed a different infrastructure, which is what Stark now does in terms of funding this organization.

Director  Joss Whedon and star Aaron Taylor-Johnson on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy.  (Photopix/Getty Images)

Director Joss Whedon and star Aaron Taylor-Johnson on location for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy. (Photopix/Getty Images)

There are a lot of characters here. What’s the balance between finding moments between them and presenting enough action to keep the movie briskly paced?

To bring the conflict, the emotion of the characters out to the forefront, [that’s] the fun of these movies, particularly in a movie that Joss is writing. There’s a sequence in this film where they’ve finished a battle, they’ve finished what they thought was the reason they had gotten back together and Tony Stark has a party. Seeing the Avengers socially interacting out of costume at a party was one of the things we always wanted to see. Some of our favorite scenes in the first movie were when they were sitting around in the Helicarrier … but that’s what I want to see. I want to see Stark and Banner doing science together. I want to see Stark look at Captain America and go, “This is the guy my father obsessed over?” That continues into this one. There’s spectacle, obviously, but it comes down to those character moments and that’s why, when you bring in new actors, which we’ve done on this movie, they have a daunting challenge to fit into this unbelievable ensemble and help elevate it. It’s a pretty elevated ensemble to begin with.

What does James Spader bring to the role of Ultron?

He’s so good, and he’s so Spader. You would think a robot would be colder and more mannered, but Ultron is the exact opposite. There’s something about seeing Spader, even with all his dots and his [motion capture] suit and Downey in a scene together for the first time since “Less Than Zero,” that is oddly how personal it is between Tony and Ultron in this movie.

Is there a sense of obligation to make “Age of Ultron” bigger in scale than “The Avengers”?

From the start … it was always important to Joss – he was like, it’s not about being bigger. Let’s not try to do something bigger. Let’s not say how can we have a bigger explosion or a bigger fight at the end – it never started from that place. It started as where are the characters now, how has the experience of the first movie, the experiences of the subsequent movies, changed them as people and as characters, and where are they when we meet them and where do we want to take them over the course of the story itself? That being said, the movie’s bigger across the board. There is a level of spectacle in the movie that is unparalleled for any film we’ve done before, but it grows to that spectacle naturally over the course of the movie always because of what the characters have done or are doing. Most certainly by Ultron, what his plan is.

The villainous Ultron Prime (voiced by James Spader) in "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

The villainous Ultron Prime (voiced by James Spader) in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” (Film Frame / Marvel Studios)

Ultron seems like a villain who might not be easily defeated in just one movie.

Good. I guess the question is, does Ultron tie into a bigger part of the cinematic universe than just this movie? That’s a good question. And the answer to that question is yes. But his story will appear quite self-contained in this movie. I don’t want people thinking these giant massive movies that we’re making are just a chapter in a bigger book. This isn’t just “Harry Potter 4.” Or it could be “Harry Potter 4,” but you’ll only see that when you watch the entire saga some years from now.

Can you assume at this point that most of the audience will have seen at least one, if not many more, of the previous Marvel movies?

It’s safe to assume that more people have seen “Avengers” than all the other movies, which we sort of take into account the way we start this movie. You don’t need to have seen any of the Phase 2 movies. You could just watch “Avengers” on Blu-ray at home and go see this movie and get it all. You’ll get more if you’ve seen all the other ones. It is always the intent that each one will serve as a great experience out at the movies on the weekend, which is what I think movies are for, to give people something to do or get excited about or anticipate.

2016 will see the release of eight superhero movies. Are you concerned about a glut in the marketplace?

Yes. I’ve always believed and it’s proven to be the case for the last decade — which makes me feel like an old man to even say that — but if you look at any year since 2003 there have been at least three comic-book movies every year, usually every summer. And we’ve survived and it’s thrived. It all comes down to movie by movie. I don’t believe in a “comic-book” movie. I don’t believe in a “superhero” movie. I don’t believe those are genres unto themselves. I think history has proven if there are two or three or four animated movies within a three-month period, there is a finite amount [of interest]. Usually one wins big or a couple of them do well. But they cannibalize off each other. I don’t think comic-book movies do because there – at least the ones we make – are sub-genres unto themselves.

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige talks onstage during a fan event at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood on Oct. 28, 2014. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige talks onstage during a fan event at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood on Oct. 28, 2014. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

There’s a big thriller, or a big action movie, or an action-comedy, or a science-fiction movie, and there are going to be those every few weekends whether we make them or not, or whether they’re based on a comic book or not. As long as people keep going to the movies, those are the kinds of movies, forever, people have gone to go see. That’s all we make. We make all those different kinds of fun, exciting movies. They happen to be based off Marvel comics. I believe as long as there’s diversity among the way we make the movies and the way we present the movies that people will keep coming to them. And the ones we don’t control, there’s only so much we can do about them. Which is to say nothing…. I do root for them all. People don’t believe that, but I do.  The only thing that would doom us quicker than anything else is if people start having a bad time when they go to see these kinds of movies.

Speaking of diversity, do you feel an obligation to be more inclusive in the Marvel movies, on- and off-screen?

Yes, but I also feel privileged where I get to make movies based on source material where people have been sensitive to that for decades and decades. The diversity is there in the books — not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe ones, half the X-Men have always been X-women. Comics are as subversive and progressive as any form of entertainment ever has been through the years. Certainly continuing to do that is important and even going beyond where appropriate

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


2 Responses to ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: Kevin Feige wires Marvel movies for conquest

  1. Robyn H. says:

    Fantastic Visual/FX’s

  2. Robyn H. says:

    Fantastic Visual/FX I thought Chris Hemsworth was a stand out, will Iron Man be back in The Avengers?

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