Exclusive: Marvel president Kevin Feige on Ant-Man, Civil War, Doctor Strange and more

Kevin Feige is the public face of Marvel Studios. As president -- and producer on all 12 of the films created so far under the Marvel Studios banner -- he is seen by fans as the guiding visionary who has steered the Marvel Cinematic Universe and all the actors, directors, writers and artists involved in it through phases 1, 2 and soon 3. His efforts have paid off handsomely, with a dozen mostly successful movies on the books and an ambitious slate of at least 10 more coming up.

Even when things seem to rock the Marvel boat -- such as the departure of original Ant-Man director and co-writer Edgar Wright from the project just weeks before shooting was scheduled to start -- Feige and the company seem to have an uncanny superpower to turn things around. With Peyton Reed directing and star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay rewriting the script, Ant-Man is both fun and funny, a more low-key, emotionally based origin story than most, which still has major ties to the MCU.

Blastr had a chance to speak one on one with Feige at the recent press day for Ant-Man in Los Angeles, where we discussed bringing this film to the screen, how it ties to the rest of the movies and what lies ahead for Captain America: Civil War, the new Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and more.

Blastr: Does Ant-Man feel like it was the little movie that could from your perspective?

Kevin Feige:  Sort of. I would say what’s funny is Ant-Man actually followed a course that is more akin to the usual Hollywood process. You have an idea. It could be by a writer’s pitch. And it takes years, and years, and years, and years to happen. So, in that way, Ant-Man is actually a more normal Hollywood process. You know, the fact that we had an idea to assemble the Avengers and then four years later did with all those movies in between -- that’s what’s actually kind of crazy and unusual. This is more usual. I think it’s unusual compared to all those other movies.

Did your vision change for it over the years, especially with Edgar and Joe coming and then going?

Well, the story was always the same, which is why Edgar and Joe, deservedly so, have story credit and co-screenplay credit. The tonality of it shifted a little bit. And certainly its place within -- if you looked at all of our movies as a single overarching sort of saga, it would be part 12, which is crazy to me to even think about. But we wanted it to do two things. We want it to play a part of that and feel connected to those other movies, but also be quite different than those other movies and stand apart from it, which is why we’ve put Avengers 2 and Ant-Man in the same year, because we knew they would be totally different movies, which is when you have as many movies as you do in a summer, and certainly both of them coming from us, we want them to stand apart.

What's striking about this film is how intimate it is, in a way, compared to Ultron.

Yeah. And that was always the notion of introducing a character that had a daughter, whose motivations involved wanting to be with his daughter and connecting with a mentor. Even having a mentor is very different than any of our other movies. And that mentor has a daughter and has struggles. And part of the reason Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) connects with Scott Lang (Rudd) is that he believes at the time that his relationship with his own daughter is nearly beyond repair. “This guy can help me with this heist that I need to do, but I also think I could help him not fall into the same trap that I did.” That’s an intimate story and, again, very different than any of our other movies. 

You pay homage to the history of Hank and Janet Pym in the movie, even though it's somewhat different in this version. Was it important to you to make sure that what they mean to the Marvel world was acknowledged?

Totally. There were fans who knew that Hank created Ultron in the comics and we were doing something different, and that Hank is an older character in our story, but the whole time knowing, well, that’s all true, but he still plays a very important part in Marvel history, even in this version. The notion that there were costumed agents or adventurers in the ‘60s and the ‘70s and the ‘80s within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also a new discovery, which is exciting. And even the little bit you see them together in action is cool. It’s real exciting.

The casting of Paul goes against the grain the way Robert Downey Jr. did.

And in the same way that Chris Pratt did. Now Chris Pratt is the biggest name, the hunkiest action star in the world. At the time, he was a chubby guy. But we knew he could get in shape from Zero Dark Thirty and a few other things. Paul was the only person we ever talked to about the part of Scott, because we felt that he had -- that he’s got the looks. He’s got a physique. That’s easy enough. But he also has the humanity and he has the humor that Downey has, that Pratt has, that Hemsworth and Evans and Scarlett have, and Ruffalo and everybody. 

So he very much felt like he fit in that mold. The fact that he had never done anything like this before is never a hindrance to us. It’s exciting to us. And he also has something that is the most difficult thing, and I think most of our cast that I talked about has it, which is the audience roots for them. So, knowing that we wanted Scott Lang to be a criminal, knowing that we wanted to meet him just coming out of prison ... I mean, he lost his whole family because he was a criminal, because he did things that were not the smartest things in the world to do. And he falls right back into it in the first act of the movie in a way that other people would be like, “What’s your problem? You belong in jail.” But with Scott, we want it to be, “No! Do the right thing. We want you to be with your daughter. We want you to redeem yourself,” in the way I think you felt about Tony Stark in his early movies. Again, Paul hit all that for us.

He's also in Captain America: Civil War. Some of my colleagues in the press have called Civil War Avengers 2.5, in a way. Do you see it that way?

Not any more or less than if you call Captain America: The Winter Soldier Avengers 1.5. I mean I guess in terms of it having ...

There’s a lot more people in this one.

There is. But I would say it’s much more a sequel to Winter Soldier than people are realizing right now in terms of the storyline of that film. It carries very much into Civil War in the way that the Civil War comics didn’t, obviously. But, internally, we always call it Cap 3, because that’s sort of what it is.

Comic fans know how the comic book Civil War plays out. Does this have the potential to shake up the universe in ways that it did in the comics? 

I think in all the movies things are very different. The Avengers are very different at the end of Ultron than they were at the beginning of it. I think in that way, yes, things are very different at the end of Civil War, which is ultimately why the importance of Ant-Man and how it grew in importance in its development process, and certainly over the past year, is what made us realize, for people who are keeping track of the phases, that it really was the end of Phase 2 because of the characters it introduced, because of the mythology it introduced, because of the new tools, like Pym particles, that were introduced, because of an experience at the end of the film that is mind-bendingly different than anything we’ve ever done before, which felt like it really is the culmination of Phase 2, and Civil War is the kickoff to Phase 3.

Can you talk about casting Tom Holland as Spider-Man and how that happened?

We saw lots and lots and lots of people, as we always do. Did some screen tests, as we often do. And for myself, and (producer) Amy Pascal, and Tom Rothman at Sony, it was unanimous about Tom, which is always great. And usually it is when we cast, because our process is quite lengthy. That’s why you do it. You keep doing it until somebody, universally, whoever is in that room goes, “That’s the guy.”

Doctor Strange starts filming soon. 


Do you like what you’re seeing and what they’re coming up with so far in terms of visualizing that film?

Yeah. It’s actually been a very lengthy preproduction process on that film. So there’s a lot of work already done in the art department and in our vis-dev department, and even very, very in-depth pre-vis has already been done. We want it to be very different from any movie we’ve ever made before. So the images -- as with any great mind-bending action movie, there are a lot of rules that you have to make sure the audience understands and isn’t confused by. But just enough that you can be entertained by the spectacle.

And at the same time, like Ant-Man, and like the best of our films, it's a very personal journey. I think Stephen Strange has one of the best origins of any standalone character. And Benedict (Cumberbatch), who is just diving in now, he’s going to do an amazing job doing that transformation from arrogant surgeon to master of the mystic arts. 

Fans have been casting Captain Marvel online for months. Do you have a short list for Carol in mind? And could we possibly see her before 2018?

No. It’s early days. Nicole (Perlman) and Meg (LeFauve) are writing the script for us, and we’re really just starting. You can see in the release pattern where it falls, so it’s going to be connected to the other movies. But like Ant-Man, like Strange, like the first of the Avengers films, the most important thing is introducing her for the first time and telling the best standalone story we can for Carol Danvers. And we have wish lists in our heads and things, but not a real short list yet for casting.

Ant-Man is out in theaters Friday (July 17).

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