Marvel Studios Chief Kevin Feige is gearing up for the release of “Avengers: Endgame,” which is expected to dominate the box office when it opens at the end of April. But he’s also looking beyond its premiere to a new phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), one that will introduce new heroes and villains.
One element that will be different is that the coming storyline won’t unspool exclusively on the big screen. This year, Disney is launching its own challenger to Netflix, a streaming service dubbed Disney Plus. Feige and his team are overseeing several limited series such as “WandaVision,” “Loki,” and an untitled show about Hawkeye for the platform. These Marvel heroes will be played by Elisabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Tom Hiddleston, and Jeremy Renner who portrayed the same characters in several big-screen “Avengers” sequels and spinoffs.
“These episodes will intersect with the movies in a very big way,” explains Feige. “It’s a totally new form of storytelling that we get to play with and explore.”
To that end, Feige gave fans a few clues about what to expect. “It’s the first long-form narrative that Marvel Studios has done — they’ll be six episodes, eight episodes, 10 episodes with the actors from the films playing their characters,” he said. “They’ll be changing, evolving, growing in those event series and then those changes will be reflected in their next film appearances.”
Feige’s comments came during an interview with Variety for an in-depth cover story. One thing that impressed Feige was that Hiddleston, Renner, and others were so amenable to reprising their roles away from the big screen.
“I think it’s a testament to the quality of streaming and to the way things are changing that many of our actors are totally into it and are totally excited by it,” said Feige. “I was concerned about it. I had a whole song and dance ready to sell them about why we were so excited about it and why this was a best case scenario. But, within one second they were like, ‘You guys are doing it, we’re in.'”
Their willingness has put pressure on the team at Marvel.
“We take our responsibility pretty seriously,” he said. “We often ask actors to sign up based on an idea as opposed to a locked screenplay and we know when they do that it’s because they trust us and we don’t take that lightly.”
Feige and his team are preparing for a post-“Endgame” world, one in which several major characters will depart and new ones will be introduced. Disney’s recent $71.3 billion purchase of much of Fox’s film and television assets gives him a wider bench to choose from as he looks for the next big breakout star of the MCU. Feige will now be able to integrate the X-Men and Deadpool into narratives involving the Avengers.
“The specifics of what it means remains to be seen, but overall it’s wonderful and it feels like these characters have come home,” says Feige. “It will be nice to have what every other [intellectual property] holder that I can think of has, which is access to all their IP. Imagine if Donald Duck was at another studio. Imagine if Goofy or Moana were someplace else and you didn’t have access to them even though they are yours.”
Sony still controls the rights to Spider-Man and various ancillary characters, but Marvel produced “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” in a deal that enabled the studio to put Spider-Man in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”Over the years, there were times that Feige and his team would chafe over their inability to access certain characters that were licensed to other studios such as Fox.
“We spent 12 years at Marvel Studios really embracing and digging into all the stories of characters who had never been brought to the screen before, but there would be times when we’d have a supporting player or a reference point or something for a movie and legal would go, ‘don’t forget that characters on that other list and you don’t have access to it,'” said Feige. “I’m not talking about Professor X or Wolverine, but there are thousands of characters in those brands and we’d shrug and go okay and figure out another solution. It will be nice to not have to do that.”
The Fox deal will also enable Marvel to experiment with the kinds of comic book movies that it makes. Feige said it “remains to be seen” if the studio will start making R-rated adventures such as “Logan,” but he echoed Walt Disney Chairman Bob Iger’s earlier promise to keep making the adult-oriented “Deadpool” films. Those will presumably still be profanity-laden, blood-splattered and very, very R-rated.
“When we were purchased, Bob said to us, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,'” said Feige. “There’s no question that Deadpool is working, so why would we change it?”
“Avengers: Endgame” is the culmination of a 23-film saga. Feige will soon turn his attention to building a new phase in Marvel movies, one that will involve a “Black Widow” standalone movie and “The Eternals,” a look at a race of super-powered beings. Wrapping up things has been taxing.
“Almost everything about ‘Endgame’ has been emotional,” said Feige. “It’s happened with each of the actors on their last day of filming. It’s happened as we’ve screened the movies. It’s happened as we play back reels in visual effects. I can only hope it is as emotional for moviegoers and for our fans as it has been for us.”