It's a risk letting anyone see how the superhero sausage is made, but that's exactly what Marvel Studios did when they opened the doors of their offices to a pack of reporters on Monday night for an Open House. The itinerary for the event was shrouded in secrecy — Marvel's usual M.O. when it comes to anything connected to their Cinematic Universe — so each room on the tour contained some new surprise, unfolding like a game of Clue where the players are mostly actors named Chris.
THE LOBBY: "A lot of people get to go into the office lobby, but few people get to come past here," our tour guide, executive producer Jeremy Latcham (The Avengers and Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man: Homecoming), says. The recently renovated offices occupy the entire second floor of their building on the Walt Disney lot in Burbank — a far cry from the offices the studio used to apparently share with a kite factory.
Three iterations of the Iron Man suit loom over the lobby couches, giving the waiting room a Tony Stark's-lab-before-it-was-blown-up-in-a-terrorist-attack vibe, while Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana's costumes "straight from the set" of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are on display next to the receptionist's desk, with a cheeky sign warning, "Obviously if you touch the costumes or stand on the stage, Baby Groot will push the button!" (The lobby is also the first and last place in Marvel HQ where anyone is allowed to take photos.)
THE DEVELOPMENT LOUNGE: Where the Marvel team develops their film slate and how the cinematic universe is all connected—and if the room is any indication, where they play ping-pong and pin ball. The room showcases a model of the Helicarrier from Avengers and another of Disneyland, walls lined with signed Marvel posters ("Kevin, you rock!" Saldana scrawled on Guardians of the Galaxy), and Thor's hammer, Mjölnir, is propped next to TV.
There's a mural painted on one wall showing Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa staring off at a tree full of panthers and — though Black Panther doesn't finish filming until Wednesday and won't hit theaters until 2018 —we assembled around a coffee table topped with an encased Baby Groot to watch three minutes of sizzle reel for the movie.
"This is not a world that we've ever seen--as big as it is, as advanced as it is, and also the respect and the homage paid to its past traditions," Angela Bassett, serving for the gods in regal headdresses and flowing white dreadlocks as T'Challa's mother, Ramonda, teased in the clip. Judging from the concept art and brief glimpses of behind-the-scenes footage, the film will be as lush as it is sci-fi: shots of T'Challa in his upgraded Black Panther suit in the jungle, fighting in a bar and giving a political speech. A mountain glowing with vibranium. At one point, if I'm not mistaken, I saw an armored rhinoceros. (I think I saw an armored rhinoceros. There are probably weaponized rhinos in Black Panther, guys.)
THE LIBRARY: "Obviously, a somewhat condensed comic book library," Latcham disclaims while gesturing to shelves full of comic books that run the length of an entire hallway. "Not quite everything we would want. We want all the comics. At all time." Littered amongst the comic books are various props from various movies: a stunt Eye of Agamotto (the real one is with composer Michael Giacchino), a model of an Orloni, the little alien Star-Lord uses as a microphone in the Guardians of the Galaxy opening credits, one of Captain America's real shields. ("There are a lot of shields that exist.")
VISUAL DEVELOPMENT: Bypassing an innocuous enough cubicle farm, we're led to some of the most privileged offices at Marvel: of the "vis dev" team, headed by Ryan Meinerding, where one can find concept art for movies in all stages of production. Like in Meinerding's own office, where a computer drawing of Thanos, for the upcoming Infinity Wars, is being projected onscreen, showing a smirking Thanos sans his customary armor. "He's awesome. He's powerful. He's got a big glove with some jewels in it," Meinerding plays coy. (Indeed, all the Infinity Stones are present.) What about that tower of deconstructed rubble behind him? "Oh... [Laughs] I can't talk about that one."
One office over, director Peyton Reed has popped in to work on Ant-Man & The Wasp. The walls are lined with concept art for the movie, including a gag with a bulldog chomping on Luis' shrunken van, a more metallic Hope van Dyne-era Wasp suit and rejiggered suits for Ant-Man and Giant-Man (Paul Rudd at various sizes). But is that Sharon Stone in the Janet van Dyne-era Wasp suit? Reed laughs, "It is not Sharon Stone."
And then there's something new: concept art of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, in a slightly darker and grittier take on her classic comic book suit, complete with the star on her chest and a shorter, blonde haircut. In another shot, she's seen fighting two metal robots with an inferno blazing around her fist. "It's just enough to inspire everyone, to get everyone super psyched," Latchman explains. "So by the time the Captain Marvel movie actually comes out, whether she'll be that exact costume? Who knows." It may change when a director is hired. "Actually, it does have a director. They've just--No?" Reed called from the back of the room. Latcham looked momentarily shocked before both laughed and said it was only a joke. (Or was it? Who knows.)
EDIT BAYS: A dimly lit room with one large screen and plenty of seating around it, where Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi is on hand to edit visual effects. For us, though, he's announcing a new character in the film—but it is not a classic Thor character. "He features heavily in the Planet Hulk storyline which we're borrowing from," Waititi says of Korg the Kronan, an 8-foot tall rock creature in, as he puts it, "a 2017 metal bikini."
"Being made of rocks, we really wanted to get someone like The Rock to play him, but there wasn't enough chicken or salmon in Australia to sustain both him and Chris [Hemsworth]," Waititi explains. "So, the next best thing was a hot--super hot--export from New Zealand. A great character actor named Taika."
Waititi provided a look at Korg in various stages of VFX, from the director donning the mo-cap suit ("The emasculation suit, as Mark Ruffalo likes to call it") to a rough cut of the scene where the lovable brute first meets and befriends Thor. I'll say this much: It's all very funny, closer to the tone of the director's last film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, than The Dark World. Korg also has a silent sidekick, Miek, an insectoid larva-thing operating an exoskeleton with knife hands. Miek is absolutely repulsive and so, so cool.
SCREENING ROOM: An intimate theater in which co-president Louis D'Esposito claims all Marvel films start and end, and where we are being treated to dailies from "Motherland"—the production title of Black Panther. The footage is raw ("Blue screens. Bad sound. You're going to hear cursing. You're going to see a grip's leg in one shot," D'Esposito warns) but it really is quite stunning.
We see bits of two sequences, the first involving King T'challa's correlation at Warrior Falls: his royal bodyguards, the Dora Milaje, rhythmically stomping and chanting aboard a ship. A shirtless Boseman descending a set of stairs into a pool of water and receiving the power of the Black Panther. The footage is beautiful and colorful and musical--unlike anything we've seen in the MCU thus far. The second, potentially more spoiler-y sequence, involves Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis from Age of Ultron, upgraded with some sort of prosthetic arm) meeting Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman from Captain America: Civil War) in a South Korean casino to discuss mixtapes and vibranium.
Following the dailies, D'Esposito cued a string of VFX shots from Spider-Man: Homecoming (or "Summer of George," as it was known). Director Jon Watts was busy scoring the movie with composer Giacchino, but our sampling of the 2,300 effect shots were so brief it's hard to describe exactly what we saw: Peter's pre-Civil War suit is the non-Stark Industries one seen in the trailer. One of the weapons wielded by the villains is a reclaimed and modified Ultron arm. Tom Holland's abs. "His body is real," D'Esposito joked. "We did not touch it."
THE COURTYARD: Our tour ends where it began, at an open-air courtyard in the center of the building where drinks and sushi are being served. "We go away and we have creative retreats together," Latchman adds. "Basically we'll rent a house in Palm Springs and we'll all go out to the desert with a big stack of Post-it notes and plan out the next Phase." What Marvel Phase were they discussing at their last retreat? "If I told you that, you guys would know everything!"
As a goodbye, we're greeted by president Kevin Feige, who oversees the entire operation and knows answers to questions that haven't even been asked yet. All Feige wants to talk about, though, is last weekend's Star Wars Celebration and The Last Jedi trailer. When the topic returns to Marvel's slate and specifics about, say, whether there's a Guardians of the Galaxy Easter egg in the new Thor trailer, he deadpans, "I can neither confirm nor deny." Alas, that answer is hidden somewhere else inside Marvel Studios.