Hitting theatres April 25, the film — the 22nd in an interconnected series that began with 2008’s Iron Man — represents the end of what he assures us is just the first wave of Marvel’s ongoing Cinematic Universe.
Feige, who upended Hollywood by bringing costumed heroes ranging from Captain America to Ant-Man to Black Panther to Captain Marvel to the big screen, has been busy overseeing the final touches on Endgame , which will see some of our favourite heroes departing the MCU.
“ Endgame is the finale,” Feige, 45, says while sipping an iced coffee. “Someday, you’ll be able to watch all these movies together and see a complete story.”
Directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Endgame picks up after the events of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War , which found some of Marvel’s biggest heroes turned to dust after Thanos’ fateful snap.
Starting first with Iron Man, over the past 11 years Feige has taken heroes such as the Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther and turned them into household names.
He’s also redefined cinema-going with every one of Marvel’s films debuting atop the box office charts in North America. Collectively, the studio has grossed over US$18.5 billion worldwide and last year they made history when Black Panther became the first superhero film to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.
“The greatest compliment we get, and it happens on every movie, is when someone says to me, ‘I don’t usually like these kinds of movies, but I really like this one,’ ” the New Jersey native says, chuckling. “I’ve heard that 20 different times. So, you know what, I think people do really like these movies.”
After Endgame and this summer’s Spider-Man: Far From Home , Downey’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America are expected to be among the heroes exiting the MCU. Feige will then usher in a new wave of films based on characters like The Eternals and Shang-Chi, as well as a stand-alone Black Widow film starring Scarlett Johansson. Also in the works are sequels to Captain Marvel , Doctor Strange , Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy (which recently reinstated director James Gunn ).
Some MCU characters will enjoy a new lease on life as part of Disney’s new streaming service, with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Scarlet Witch and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) and Falcon and Winter Solider (Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan) all getting their own spinoff series.
Further off in the distance, following Disney’s acquisition of Fox, we are sure to see a revamped X-Men, though Feige won’t talk about that just yet. “We’ve charted out another five years of stories and all of them will be influenced and different from what one is expecting currently based on Endgame ,” he says.
As with anything Marvel related, Feige was tight-lipped about the studio’s future, but in a wide-ranging conversation he reflected on the past and present of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
We’ve spoken several times in the past and you’ve always promised that Endgame will be a definitive finale for the Avengers. As fans of comic books, we know those are loose terms. What does that mean to you?
When we decided we were going to make individual stand-alone movies that would connect to these three phases over the course of what will be known as the Infinity Saga, we needed an ending to be able to build and grow and finish that arc.
You also need endings to have new beginnings. So it became very, very important to us over the last four, five years, when we first decided to do this, that we have an ending. Because all great stories have endings. So you’re right in comics, which have been around for 80 years, they — thank goodness — continue to grow and change and evolve and characters have had endings and new beginnings as you look back. But for the purposes of the 21 movies leading up to Endgame , Endgame is a definitive ending.
When you think back to that time four or five years ago, did you already have an idea of what that endpoint would be and did it all match up to how you envisioned it?
Yeah. Part of the advantages of being able to work in a way where we can chart out multiple films over multiple years is we can start aiming there. We can start evolving storylines to get to where we want to go. You see Guardians or Black Panther or most recently Captain Marvel ; those work as if they weren’t connected to anything else. But when you watch them together they are very clearly connected.
How did the stars react to the idea of building towards a true ending for this phase of the MCU?
We were excited internally at Marvel Studios. As ambitious as all of our films are, nothing had been as ambitious as Infinity War and Endgame. So that had really galvanized the team. And when we started talking to the actors about it they were all excited by the notion of finality. … We were all daunted by the task at hand, but excited by it.
I asked you last year, why was Robert Downey Jr. the right actor to kickstart the MCU, but really I should have asked, why Iron Man? Iron Man is a character people knew, but I’m not sure he was beloved back then in the way that he is now.
The reason we were excited to make that our first Marvel Studios movie is he was quite different from other heroes. He didn’t get his powers in an accident. He didn’t get his powers from some twist of fate. He built them. His ingenuity is what made him special. He was also an industrialist who went through this story of redemption and that to us is very unique compared to what had been seen up to that point in comic book films. I remember telling to the studio marketing team that sold that movie that if we all do our job right, Tony Stark will be as big a household name as Iron Man. He’s as big a character as Iron Man and that’s where Downey came in. Tony out of the costume should be as interesting as when he’s flying around in the costume and it really was (director Jon) Favreau and Downey that took that and made it what it was. Iron Man 1 in particular was a breath of fresh air.
How did Stan Lee feel about how you were wrapping this up?
He was always our biggest cheerleader for the films and the characters. He was always so gracious. When he’d come to set — and most of my interactions with Stan were when he’d come to set to shoot his cameos. Occasionally I’d see him at events and there were some rare times where we met in private. The last time I saw him was less than two weeks before he passed away and he was as cogent as ever, so it came as a shock when he passed. But he was always so gracious that whenever you were with him, you’d want the wisdom and advice from him. He’d answer questions, but he wasn’t one to offer up advice. He was always in awe of what the actors were doing and what the filmmakers were doing on the set and he was so very proud of his cameos. He’d talk in disbelief that he had the opportunity to be in these big movies and I’d say to him, ‘Stan, you created these characters,’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, but these cameos are so special.’
That’s strange to think of. I’m sure you can talk to any of the actors after they had been cast and their first encounter with Stan. Sometimes it was early on and other times it was after the film was released. But Stan was always so gracious and supportive. It was almost like they were knighted. You could see the actors’ confidence jump after they met Stan Lee and got that vote of confidence from him.
I don’t know how he did it, but I don’t think there was ever a single person who had a disappointing interaction with Stan Lee, and he met millions of people. Every single one of those people left excited and left with a story of a lifetime.
You guys have a bunch of undated movies next year and beyond. When will we hear details on what some of those will be?
Not until after both Endgame and the next Spider-Man film, Far From Home , which is the only post- Endgame film we’ve talked about. Once those two films are released, we’ll start talking about what’s next.
Captain Marvel was set in the ‘90s. Will we see other films set in eras previous to the first Iron Man ?
Sure. We love making movies based on Marvel characters for sure. But we all love making movies and we all love different types of movies.
You can see over the course of the 23 films we’ve already shot how different they all are and how unique they all are from one another. We want to continue that so that means looking at other eras and places and times and characters and locations and genres that we haven’t played in before.
So one of the most exciting things about what’s coming up next is being able to continue to surprise and subvert expectations for what a Marvel Studios movie can be.
If people can’t watch all 21 movies before Endgame hits theatres, which five should they choose?
It’s hard. It’s very hard. Somebody asked Scarlett that question and she thought about it and she said maybe just Infinity War . But if you want to go deeper, I think it would be fun to watch the first appearances of most of the characters and then maybe (Captain America) Civil War .
Spider-Man: Far From Home is going to usher in what’s next. How important was getting that character back from Sony to all of this?
It was one of my career highlights in a career filled with lots of them. Bringing Spider-Man into the MCU and being able to make that deal with Amy Pascal and Tom Rothman at Sony. Because he’s so important to the company and he’s the icon of the company. And what Tom Holland has done has been so different from the other ones. Tom’s portrayal of Spider-Man stood apart in terms of grounding and his youthfulness and how sweet and emotional he is. It’s a lot of fun working on Far From Home now and that will be the perfect follow-up to this film when people get to see it.
Avengers: Endgame opens April 25
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