In his current position as movie chief at Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige might rank as one of the most envied men in Hollywood right now. The company has enjoyed a nearly unmatched run of box office success stretching back to the release of 2008’s “Iron Man” and appears poised to celebrate a new record-breaking opening with the arrival of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” this week.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the new film takes place months after the events depicted in “Avengers” and opens with Steve Rogers having remained in the employ of international espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and occasionally teaming with Black Widow on key missions. After an attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. top dog Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) puts the hero in conflict with the organization’s leader, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford in a key supporting turn), he finds an unexpected ally not only in ex-military man Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who has his own heroic identity as the Falcon, but also in Scarlett Johansson’s spy Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow.
Based on a famous 2005 comic-book story line by writer Ed Brubaker and illustrator Steve Epting, the $170-million movie has been hailed as one of Marvel’s most accomplished productions to date. Hero Complex sat down with Feige last month to discuss how the project came to take the shape of a political thriller and the prospects for a Black Widow solo movie, among other subjects. (For the spoiler-averse, be warned that Feige reveals a few pertinent details during the interview.)
Hero Complex: How did you hit upon the idea of adapting the “Winter Soldier” comic story line as an overtly political thriller?
Kevin Feige: It was a natural progression as we were developing the Phase Two movies. You’ve heard me say before that Tony [Stark] goes to Malibu and Thor goes to Asgard and Steve is stuck. Part of his story is he’s a man out of his time, and it made sense to keep him with the existing Avengers team. Of course, the Avengers scatter at the end of that movie but who’s still there? S.H.I.E.L.D. and Widow and Nick Fury. That got very exciting because we wanted to play into the ’70s political thriller aspect, which really came about from saying, OK, so we did the World War II story, just like the classic Jack Kirby, Joe Simon comic — or our interpretation of that. We had him come out of the ice at the end of the movie like Jack and Stan did in the ’60s. “Avengers,” you don’t really have a lot of time for him to think about his situation necessarily because he’s thrust into this disaster scenario, so this was our opportunity to take him on that journey.
You look at the comics. He came out in the early ’60s. Suddenly the mid-’60s happen, then the late ’60s. You get into the Watergate era. It was amazing in those “Cap” comics with, [his questioning], Should I even wear this anymore? What does it mean? It’s different times now, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. we could play that up. We could play up the shades of gray. He’s been working with S.H.I.E.L.D. for a little while we assume when the movie starts. We see what he does on missions, we see how he gets upset about the information flow or lack thereof — some people get information, some people don’t. He doesn’t like that. Then, in great sort of thriller style, [we’re] putting him in a scenario where he has to go on the run and doesn’t know who to trust.
Hero Complex: What was the thinking behind teaming Steve Rogers up with Natasha in this film?
The thought of teaming him up with Black Widow, somebody that is kind of the polar opposite of Steve Rogers — who is this 98-pound weakling as he’s described in the old comics and was a good guy and wanted to do well … Widow, on the other hand, has come out of God knows what program just after the fall of the Soviet Union and has red in her ledger, she tells us about in “The Avengers.” She’s done things that she doesn’t seem particularly proud of. We explore some more of the back story in the next “Avengers” movie. She lives in the shadows; she lives in those shades of gray. That was fun to pair two characters like that.
You sit and you develop a movie, You go, OK, what arc are we going to take our hero on? How will he change by the end? I think Cap does [change], to a certain extent, over the course of the movie, but really, when you’re dealing with Captain America, it’s how will he change, how will his influence change the other characters close to him? And I think you see by the end of this movie Widow beginning to question or come to terms with who is the real Natasha versus all of the aliases and identities she’s had in her life.
HC: A vocal segment of fans is clamoring for a Black Widow solo film. Is that something that’s seriously under consideration?
KF: People have been asking me that for a long time. I think people thought, Oh, she’s just a cameo in the “Captain America” movie. But she kind of has her own movie, it’s called “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Frankly the same thing holds true to “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” She has a gigantic part in that movie. It really, to us, is about when is the right time to take her out of that and put her in her own movie because if you put her in her own movie and put all the other characters in it, it’s an “Avengers” movie. So you really would do an origin, which we haven’t necessarily seen, though some of that is going to be in the next movie. But to us, it’s all about timing.
HC: Comics fans know the connection between Cap and the Winter Soldier, but many moviegoers won’t know their history. Was there a lot of discussion about how to handle that in the film?
KF: It’s a reveal in the movie, but it really is much more about its impact on Steve than it is about its impact on the audience — which is why we talked about it openly and you’ll see things in advertising. This is not a movie about, Who is the Winter Solider? This is a movie about, Oh my God, this person from Cap’s past [has returned] and how do you fight your best friend if you’re forced to do that? I think that’s why, even though there is this colossal scale and jets and explosions, to me the final moments between Bucky and Cap are among the most emotional in the entire movie.
HC: The early reaction to the film has been so positive. Was that part of what motivated you to bring the Russo brothers back to direct the third “Captain America” film?
KF: We are bringing them back. They wanted to come back and we’re actively beginning to talk about what a part three would look like. But a lot of it is about getting the response to this one. We certainly have ideas of where to go, how to continue much of the journey that started in this movie and how things would change after “Age of Ultron” for Cap, so there’s a lot of stuff to talk about. They’re great filmmakers that we’re excited to work with again.
HC: The events in “Winter Soldier” would seem to pose an interesting dilemma for the folks over at “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Can you comment on that at all?
KF: This movie existed before the show did. So when they first said, “We’re going to do a show like this,” we said, “OK, but here’s what we’re doing.”
HC: Turning to the next Marvel film for a moment, August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I’m assuming that you heard the online comment that the film looks like the “Star Wars” sequel people actually wanted? How do you react when you hear something like that?
KF: Nobody loves “Star Wars” more than I do, but this is very Marvel. Peter Quill, the Chris Pratt character, being human, being from Earth, having a Walkman with “Hooked on a Feeling,” among other things, gives it a very unique tone.… The response to the “Guardians” trailer was great, but that was very close to what we showed at Comic-Con, [an audience of] 7,000 fans. [We thought that they would] love the space setting, the Raccoon, the humor and the music. [We thought] let’s just show them what the movie is. Then it was, Now we’re going to show the world. Hmm. Do we hide this, do we hide that? Ultimately we decided no. This is what the movie is. Then people responded to it almost universally and it was very exciting.
HC: Is it safer to release “Guardians” — a movie with a talking tree, a raccoon with a machine gun and countless other oddities — at this point in Marvel’s run? Now that the brand is so established, do you feel that you can take increasingly greater creative chances?
KF: We were founded on creative chances. I think “Iron Man” was a creative chance, Downey was a creative chance. “Thor,” a World War II movie, they all were — putting them all together in a movie — so I think the success of all those has certainly given us the confidence to just keep doing it. It was always the plan. We always wanted to make movies like this…. So far – it could all change tomorrow – but the audience response to what we’re doing just encourages us.
— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex
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