Marvel's Kevin Feige Knows Exactly Which Movies You Want to See in Phase 4 (Exclusive)

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Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney

Kevin Feige is always a step ahead -- or 20, when it comes to how many movies into the future of his sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe he's planned out. The producer-cum-studio head is also one of the most well-spoken players in the business, choosing each of his words with utmost care to sufficiently tease the countless fans who analyze every one of those words while also not revealing anything he's not ready to reveal.

For Marvel studio's latest offering, the long-gestating Avengers: Infinity War, Feige had yet to screen the movie for anyone when I sat down with him to discuss it over the weekend. "It's more exciting if everyone had seen the movie," he admitted. "But anyway, I appreciate you coming up with questions." In answering them, Feige spoke on the official timeline of the universe, how Black Panther and the upcoming Captain Marvel represent the future of the MCU and which heroes he knows you want to see after that.

ET: The overarching plan for this cinematic universe and having Thanos as the big bad has been in place for nearly a decade, but when did you decide on the finer points of what you would do with this movie?

The notion of having an MCU, an interconnected cinematic universe, yes, started 10 to 12 years ago as we were working on Iron Man and realizing what our then-infant studio would be able to do that other studios wouldn't, which is to combine all the characters we had the rights to. Because we had all the characters, except the famous ones that anybody knew at the time! [Laughs] The notion of Thanos first appeared when Joss Whedon wrote him into Avengers 1 and he's in that little tag, and then knowing that we head here, specifically, started to come soon after that.

But we also knew that we didn't have enough heroes to fight Thanos, which is why he wasn't the bad guy in Avengers 2 or the bad guy in Guardians 1 or Guardians 2. The universe wasn't big enough yet. If you read the Infinity Gauntlet comic series on which some of this movie is based, there are a hundred characters. I mean, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of heroes, so we have now only barely gotten to the place where there are enough heroes that could go against him. The specifics of this story, as you asked, have been in the works for about four or five years. [That's when] we started to lay out storylines and we knew we needed two movies to do it. It was just after we wrapped production on Civil War in 2015 that we set up a room, [and] Chris Markus and Steve McFeely started to plot it all out.

Between this and Avengers 4, how close is this endgame to what you imagined it would be when you set out 10 years ago? Has anything drastically changed?

Some of the specifics have changed for the better and evolved for the better as we've made each movie. In terms of my experience watching the final versions of the movie over the last two weeks, as it started to finally solidify and come into place, was just...overwhelming. That it occurred. That we were able to do it. Because it's very satisfying, even knowing people have to wait a year to see the true conclusion.

Die-hard fans put a lot of effort into analyzing the timeline of the MCU and when and where and how these movies fit into it. Do you follow that conversation?

Um, yeah. I'm not sure I follow every nook and cranny of it, but we follow some of it and love all of it. Love that we have characters and storylines that people embrace enough and love enough to be that passionate about. I was the same way with movies that I loved when I was a kid, in trying to figure out where everything fit in, and later in comics, so I think it's only a good thing.

Would you ever consider releasing the Marvel Studios timeline laying it out?

We've talked about it, and I think we will do it. I think we will do it someday.

A lot of criticism of modern superhero movies is having a CG villain who wants to destroy the universe.

Right.

How do you make sure Thanos doesn't fall victim to that?

Well, you hire Josh Brolin to give -- what I believe is -- one of the best performances in any of our films. He just crushed it. He's incredible. And you tell it in a way that is very unique. The Infinity Gauntlet storyline is not about a character who wants to dominate the world or dominate the universe or go on a power trip. He believes he's the savior of life as we know it, because he believes if he doesn't do what he wants to do -- which is annihilate all life on Earth, all life throughout the universe -- then the universe will burn itself out. And he has reasons to believe that from things he's witnessed in his past. The specifics of going from planet to planet and annihilating half of the population is horrific and nightmarish and many of our characters that we've established have experienced it firsthand and reference it in other movies. It feels like real stakes, in a way, to the characters that we love. So, the short version is, it's all in the execution. [Laughs]

Avengers Infinity War, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr.
Marvel Studios

The story will ultimately dictate which characters interact with which in this, but there are also lots of pairings that fans are campaigning to see. How aware do you make yourself of what the fans want to see?

I think pretty aware. And I think thankfully -- and maybe it will change someday -- but over the years and into today, it lines up pretty closely with what we want to see and what the filmmakers we work with want to see. I wouldn't say we go online and see what they're talking about and do that, but I think we sit in rooms and come up with pairings and then start to see memes and things that we then share with each other going, "Remember that idea we talked about? Look at this!" And then you see a meme with Iron Man and Doctor Strange, and you go, "OK, we're on the right track." But that's one of the things I love about all the Avengers films and in particular Infinity War, is what Joe Russo calls "strange alchemy," seeing characters that you've never seen before and I would say have no business being in the same movie together, interacting for the first time. That's pretty special and that is almost every scene in Infinity War.

Whether it is this movie or one from the past, can you think of an example where it wasn't what you originally planned and it was dictated by fans, but it worked out?

Uhh...Not really. [Pause.] I can't think of a time, because oftentimes it's-- I can't think of a time where they differed, necessarily. There are plenty of times where there will be a joke or there will be something in a movie that, as we're working on it, I'm like, "Well, I'm sure we'll have to fix that later" and then it kills in a test screening or something.

I want to ask about a few upcoming movies. With Ant-Man and the Wasp opening in July, I was surprised that you're releasing all three movies in the first half of the year, essentially. Considering Infinity War is so huge, did you ever think about holding back on Ant-Man and releasing it sometime in the fall?

No. A lot of it -- you know how it works -- release schedules are a big, confusing chessboard of different pieces, not just our own movies, not just the other movies that the Walt Disney Company releases, but any and all the movies. When we set these dates a long time ago and had success with Ant-Man in July in 2015, it just felt natural.

If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Yeah, and eight weeks in movie time can be a long time between releases.

Then you have Captain Marvel. We know that Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg are back for that. How has it been having them back on set together?

It's good! Sam has been shooting for a while. Clark just shot for the first time. It's really cool. It's really fun to see them and to see Sam, to see Nick Fury with hair and two eyes and a completely different demeanor before he realized there were superheroes in the world, before he realized there were threats from above. He was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent coming out of the Cold War and thinking his most exciting days were behind him.

Between Michael Douglas in Ant-Man and Downey in Captain America: Civil War, we've seen that you are pretty good at de-aging people. Is that what we'll be seeing with those two?

It is. I will tell you, it's very easy to de-age both those guys, because you look at their reference photos of the past and they look incredible! They have not aged that much!

I'm mostly excited to see a superhero using a landline. Or a brick cell phone.

Yes! [Laughs] Exactly!

"They're the beginning of all of our movies...representing the world in which they are made."

I know that your focus is on getting these remaining movies out, but when you look at the success of Black Panther and the excitement for the female-fronted Captain Marvel, are you looking at expanding representation even more in Phase 4? With Asian leads, LGBT leads...?

Yes. Yeah, all the above, and I think it was a long time coming and I couldn't be happier that we were able to make Panther, that the world received it the way they did and definitely saying, That's not a one-off. Captain Marvel is not a one-off. They're the beginning of all of our movies, both in front of and behind the camera, representing the world in which they are made and representing the people who are sitting in that theater all over the world.

Have you been able to wrap your mind around the success of Black Panther yet? As recently as last week, it's still breaking records.

It's amazing, it really is. And we've had a lot of amazing experiences. You know, Iron Man being our first film, the first time Marvel Studios ever produced a movie on our own. The way that was received, leading up to Avengers, which even in the years leading up to it and announcing it, I was like, "Can you believe we're doing this?" And people were like, "We don't care and we don't know what you're talking about." And then breaking the records it broke. But Panther does feel like a whole other level. Not just in the box office success, but in what it means to people around the world. It's humbling, and it feels very special and it feels very important. It feels like we have a responsibility and want to further empower filmmakers like Ryan Coogler -- and Ryan Coogler in particular -- to keep doing it.

Whether or not you do it or have plans to do it, from your perspective, who are fans most clamoring to see introduced in Phase 4?

You mean new characters?

Yes.

Well, just today I was asked about a character named Nova. I was asked about a character named Moon Knight. Both of whom are among the many characters that we've been talking about. A lot of the questions are about characters that we've already introduced: Shuri, Okoye. "Will we see more stories with them?" So, it is a balance as we go into future movies of continuing stories and furthering stories with characters we've already introduced and introducing brand new characters.

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