In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers are the first people to get the call when something major is happening in the world. Offscreen, though, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is just like the rest of us: He may be running one of the biggest companies under the Disney umbrella, but he claims he got no special heads-up when news broke that his parent company had intentions to acquire 21st Century Fox.
“I read about it in the press like most people did,” Feige told me today at the press junket for Marvel’s latest superhero film, Black Panther. Feige operates at a level of humility that is unusual for a top Hollywood executive, but I had to press him on that answer: Disney chairman Alan Horn hadn’t called to fill him in on the merger? Not even an email, like, “Hey buddy, guess what we’re up to?”
“These are big deals,” Feige insisted, “and certainly above my pay grade.”
The reason you’d expect Feige to be an intimate player in the deal is because it could finally do what comic-book fans have long hoped for by allowing major Marvel properties like X-Men and Fantastic Four, which til now have has their rights held by Fox, to be integrated into Feige’s ultra-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers franchise is plenty crowded as it is, and this summer’s Infinity War will have the biggest cast of superheroes that Marvel has ever boasted, but there are still plenty of famous characters like Wolverine and Deadpool who have never gotten to rub big-screen shoulders with Captain America and Iron Man due to their dueling parent studios.
“The truth of the matter as I understand it is the deal has to be figured out,” said Feige, who claimed that it’s too soon to expect any sort of integration into the current Marvel Studios lineup of films. “There’s been no communication. We’re not thinking about it. We’re focusing on everything we’ve already announced. If and when the deal actually happens, we’ll start to think more about it. Until then, we have a lot to do.”
Again, I had to press Feige. Years ago, when Marvel Studios was readying Captain America: Civil War, Feige had the writers of that film brainstorm a story containing current MCU characters as well as a potential version that would include Spider-Man, a major Marvel superhero that Sony owns the rights to. Back-channel talks had been ongoing between the two companies to let Feige rejuvenate the flagging web-slinger by integrating him into the MCU, and after Sony agreed to the deal, Spider-Man was allowed to swing into Civil War, which gave a box-office boost to the hero’s most recent solo effort, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Given that precedent, had Feige begun to think of alternative versions of the future films on the Marvel Studios slate, provided that the deal with Fox closes and new characters can join the MCU?
“It would be years away,” Feige cautioned. “We’ve announced everything through 2019, so none of those would be adjusted.”
Past 2019, many things about the future of Marvel are unclear. That’s when the so-far untitled fourth Avengers movie will conclude an unprecedented, 11-year series of intertwining films, and many in the industry have wondered if it might wrap up Feige’s tenure, too. He is one of the most respected and certainly one of the most coveted executives in Hollywood. How far ahead has he thought about his future at the company?
“I think about it through 2019, through the movies we’ve already shot or are about to start filming,” said Feige. “I’m hoping to deliver on everything we’ve promised thus far.” No matter what happens, though, Feige says he is as engaged with Marvel as he has ever been, if not more so.
“That’s the reason we make the movies we make and the way we make them,” he said. “For years, predating the history of Marvel Studios itself, people asked me about superhero fatigue and if it was a fad or a phase. I say, if they’re all different, if they’re all special, nobody will get tired of these things before we at Marvel Studios will, since we live and breathe these things 24 hours a day. You make films like Thor: Ragnarok, like Homecoming, like Guardians of the Galaxy, certainly like Panther, and the upcoming Infinity War to keep it interesting and change it up. And we will continue to do that.”