‘Thor: The Dark World’: Marvel movie czar Kevin Feige on super sequel

Nov. 06, 2013 | 8:56 a.m.
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Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), Ian Boothby (Jonathan Howard), and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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A Dark Elf, left, and Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Frigga (Rene Russo) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Ian the intern (Jonathan Howard) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

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Chris Hemsworth and director Alan Taylor on the set of "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Jaimie Alexander and director Alan Taylor on the set of "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Chris Hemsworth and director Alan Taylor on the set of "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Christopher Eccleston and Chris Hemsworth on the set of "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Christopher Eccleston and director Alan Taylor on the set of "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

Marvel returns to Asgard with Friday’s “Thor: The Dark World,” the sequel that sees Chris Hemsworth’s god of thunder form an uneasy alliance with his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to thwart a scheme by the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who intends to plunge the Nine Realms into darkness.

The film already has become an outsized hit overseas, but late last year, when the movie was still in production, Hero Complex visited the set and caught up with Marvel movie chief Kevin Feige. The architect of the company’s big-screen strategy was seated close to the action at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, watching as director Alan Taylor guided Hemsworth through scenes that would eventually become part of the movie’s epic final battle.

As a chilly wind blew across the Thames, Feige chatted about a range of subjects — finding supersized talent, the importance of comedy amid CGI spectacle and why he still knocks on wood when he talks about “The Avengers,” Joss Whedon’s 2012 blockbuster that now stands as the third-highest-grossing film of all time.

Read what he had to say below, and click through the gallery above for a detailed look at “Thor: The Dark World.”

Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) in a scene from “Thor: The Dark World.” (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

Hero Complex: What can audiences expect from Christopher Eccleston’s interpretation of Malekith?

Kevin Feige: This character, Malekith, is one of the classic Thor villains from one of our favorite periods of the comics, and we’ve taken him and reinterpreted him slightly to bring him into this film. Comic book villains can go real cheesy real fast, and particularly when he’s from a race of creatures called the Dark Elves and he does have pointy ears and this long braided white hair. He’s got a pretty extreme look that over the course of the movie begins to match his very famous comic look, which is basically half white face, half dark. We want somebody who can bring the character to life, bring him off the comic book page like Hemsworth [does with Thor]. He’s a spectacular actor and has made this guy in a red cape and long blond hair who wields a hammer relatable, which is one of the most important things and one of the biggest challenges when it came to Thor. How do we make this Asgardian immortal a relatable character? In the same way, how do we make this evil presence known as a Dark Elf somewhat emotional and somewhat relatable?… You need a great actor for that. The default always is go for a great actor, not just a marquee star who’s sold movie tickets in the past. If we’d gone by that, we’d have never cast any of the people we’ve cast in these movies. We have the luxury of saying the stars are the characters. We can hire the actors who then become bigger stars than the characters eventually perhaps.

HC: It must be gratifying to see some of the actors that you’ve cast become sought-after stars. Does that feel validating in a way?

Chris Hemsworth attends Marvel's "Thor: The Dark World" premiere. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / WireImage)

Chris Hemsworth attends Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” premiere. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / WireImage)

KF: I often say that the sign that one of the outside-the-box actor choices or outside-the-box filmmaker choices that we’ve made [was the correct choice is] yes, when the movie comes out and if the movie’s a hit. That’s only one part. If they get another big movie, ["Thor" director Kenneth] Branagh is now directing “Jack Ryan” for Paramount, that’s when I said, “Oh, other people are validating that choice,” which at the time was quite outside-the-box. In the same way, Chris now getting all these giant roles is very nice. We don’t always cast stars, but we like to at least have a hand in turning people into stars. It’s their own talents that take them there.

I was watching dailies from a performance that is from a big, big turning point in the movie, which I won’t give away, but it was Chris’ close up for the scene. When you sit around and watch dailies, you nitpick everything. Every once in a while there’s a performance that makes everybody just shut up and watch it. Chris did a close-up performance in this one scene that just got all of us to just shut up and really connect with him. That was amazing. That was one of many times working with Chris where you go, “This is the real deal.” This is why he keeps getting cast in all these giant movies. He’s a spectacular actor.

HC: Patty Jenkins was originally hired to direct “The Dark World,” but she was replaced by Alan Taylor. What happened?

KF: Patty, it wasn’t a good fit. I think she is going to make a giant movie someday. It just wasn’t working on our timeline for us necessarily, which allowed us to go back to Alan Taylor who was one of the early people we met with. At the time we were talking with him, he was still finishing “Game of Thrones” Season 2. He wasn’t available. When we made that change, it was months and months later and his availability had changed, and we were very excited to have him in. He’s a soft-spoken guy but incredibly accomplished. Being somebody that loves movies and is exclusively producing movies, it is somewhat perplexing to me that television is so damn good right now. You look at “Mad Men.” You look at “Game of Thrones,” both of which Alan had a big hand in, and it’s astounding what they’re doing in television now.

I was a big fan of “Game of Thrones” while we were producing the first “Thor.” Tonally [they're] very different and texturally and conceptually — “Game of Thrones” is much more of a fantasy, and “Thor” is much more science-fiction superhero action. But I was really impressed with the work I’d seen Alan do. We were very impressed with Alan’s sense of character and his sense of combining tones. All of these movies are about riding a very fine line of tone between taking it very seriously and yet having a tiny bit of our tongue in our cheek. Alan had even more surprisingly than I was initially expecting a great sense of humor, which is something that I think is required to A) survive the process of making one of these movies — which is an incredible year-and-a-half to two-year pressure cooker, and also to bring that levity into these stories. And his résumé in television was second to none. “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones,” all the best shows of the past 10 years.

HC: Marvel appears to have a structure in place to support filmmakers dealing with projects of this size and scale for the first time. Does that allow you to take certain risks in selecting directors?

KF: When you hire filmmakers that haven’t necessarily done these large–scale movies before, one of the reasons we’re comfortable doing that is A) we’re very hands-on producing it and B) we have amazing artists and technicians that we trust and we’ve worked with for a long time to provide a great foundation for a filmmaker… One of the things that’s most important to me is that the films stand alone and work as their own franchise but then work as this much broader overview leading up to “Avengers 2.” The trick is stick to your guns and hope it works. That’s kind of the big secret. That’s what we’ve been doing since “Iron Man.” It’s been a progression of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did an Iron Man movie and a Cap movie and a Thor movie and they all sort of connected? And then if we did an Avengers movie where they all came together?” Phase Two was all about, OK, let’s assume it’s all worked up to that point. What “Iron Man 3″ and what “Thor: The Dark World” need to do is place the heroes back into their own individual worlds in a big way and show again as the comics do that they’re just as interesting and just as engaging by themselves as they are when they’re all together.

Chris Hemsworth and director Alan Taylor on the set of "Thor: The Dark World." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

Chris Hemsworth and director Alan Taylor on the set of “Thor: The Dark World.” (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

This story is very much a singular Thor story. It connects to “Avengers” mainly through Thor’s experience on Earth, the fact that he was on Earth and didn’t have time to see Jane, which is brought up by Natalie [Portman, as Jane] in this movie and the continuing evolution of his relationship with his brother and his father and the notion of, is he going to be a superhero or is he going to be a king? Is he going to be somebody that can have a relationship with a mortal or is he going to follow in his father’s footsteps to lead Asgard and the nine worlds?

HC: Do you have the liberty of telling a more complex, complicated story because you’ve dispensed with chronicling the characters’ origins?

KF: Going back to my participation on the early Marvel movies, the other studio movies, the X-Men films and the Spidey films, “X2″ is my favorite of that series. “Spider-Man 2″ is my favorite of that series, and I do think I learned as we were doing those early ones that you are liberated a little bit in the sequels to dig into the meat of what makes a character interesting in the comics. An origin story gives you such a solid foundation to work from. We always adapt it and sometimes you have to choose which origin because some of the characters have slightly different ones over the years, but it gives you a solid foundation. In the sequels you have to find that foundation and build upon on it but you can build it into a much more textured and evolved version of the characters. We visit a number of the other worlds in this film in a way that we didn’t think we should in the first one because that was much more about Thor’s initial journey. I do feel somewhat liberated by being able to dig into a little bit more of who these characters are. At the same time, there’s a lot more pressure in Phase Two. In Phase One we were just doing what we thought would be cool and hoped other people would join us on that ride. “Avengers,” thankfully, worked. I still knock on wood when I talk about “Avengers,” I don’t know why.

HC: The title of the film suggests that this is, well, a darker tale. Would you say this is the “Empire Strikes Back” of the Thor stand-alone movies?

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in a scene from "Thor: The Dark World." (Marvel)

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in a scene from “Thor: The Dark World.” (Marvel)

KF: I’m not a big fan of going darker for darker’s sake. I am a big fan of “Empire Strikes Back” so any comparison to that I will take, but I wouldn’t say that’s true. We’ve picked story lines for all the Phase Two movies that we believe in and that we think are risky only because we think all of the movies we’ve made have been risky. It’s only fun to make a movie that’s risky, otherwise, they become very cookie-cutter, color-by-numbers things we don’t want to do. I think when people look back on the Phase Two movies they will see just by the nature of where they fall in each of the hero’s journeys a greater conflict facing them than their origins. Sometimes that can lead to a slightly darker tone in some moments but we’re not necessarily interested in dark for darkness’ sake or gritty or serious. We take all our movies very seriously and all the characters very seriously but part of what’s fun about going to these movies, we think, is having a fun tone and is knowing when to surprise the audience and shock the audience and move the audience with a deeper, darker tone but also certainly have levity.

In our universe [levity] is appropriate, mainly because that’s what entertains us. We don’t like pretentiousness very much and try not to fall prey to it in our lives or in the movies, and most of our heroes battle with that. With Thor, Iron Man, it’s an internal battle of ego, frankly. If they were to go too dark and serious their egos would crush them. You have to allow them to have levity with themselves or some circumstances that we throw them into.

HC: What was the first comic book you bought and do you still have it?

Kevin Feige attends Marvel's "Thor: The Dark World" premiere in Hollywood. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / WireImage)

Kevin Feige attends Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” premiere in Hollywood. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / WireImage)

KF: I don’t still have it; I still have the original toys I first bought. I was always much more of a movie action figure toy collector than I was a comic collector. And I was always much more likely to be first in line at the movies on a Friday than I was to be first in line for comics on a Wednesday. I have all the original “Star Wars” figures. I’ve recently entered the phase of purchasing vintage mint [toys] … they’re great. They’re so expensive. I was obsessed with Superman for a while. I think it was 1988, Superman had his 50th anniversary. It was a big cultural thing at the time and I did go to the comic shop and started buying some comics then. That was also when I first started buying some X-Men comics, which were really the first Marvel comics I started reading. I was a big “Star Trek” fan so I was really excited to buy the “Star Trek/X-Men” crossover comic where you had Captain Picard and Charles Xavier meeting for the first time. I thought, yeah, Patrick Stewart would make a good Xavier.

Comments


One Response to ‘Thor: The Dark World’: Marvel movie czar Kevin Feige on super sequel

  1. Ironbar Ekpo Effuiom says:

    I want to be watching this films every time.

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