Profiles

The Road to Infinity War… Kevin Feige in Profile

The golden age of Hollywood was a time when the movie producer and the head of the studio ran the show; when names such as David O’Selznick and Sam Goldwyn on the one hand, and Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner on the other, were the dominant voices behind the velvet curtain on the big screen.

In the modern era, the geek has inherited the movie industry, with comic book inspired blockbusters particularly dominating multiplexes and the release schedules of Hollywood studios, the glossy, gorgeously illustrated pages of comics books seemingly becoming the means with which the studios are finding their next billion-dollar grossing blockbuster.

In a way, Kevin Feige is the perfect combination of the old and the new; as producer and President of Production of Marvel Studios, he is a dominant producer voice in a way that Hollywood has not seen since the golden era, but being a massive comic book fan, and having cut his teeth working through the ranks on Marvel-associated productions from 2000 onwards, he has become the ultimate geek-done-good, becoming a pioneering and influential figure within the film industry, opening the floodgates for projects that can get fans of geek culture excited with anticipation.

In reading up on the biggest producing name in film today on IMDb and Wikipedia, the list of credits basically reads like a who’s who of Marvel comic book characters. From his earliest days as an associate producer on X-Men, Feige has risen through the ranks at Marvel’s movie division, to become probably something of a rarity; a movie producer who is a legitimate household name, something not seen since the days when Jerry Bruckheimer was making movies at Paramount or Disney, and Joel Silver was behind most of Warner Bros. biggest action movies during the 90’s and 2000’s.

In fact, only two movies in the Miscellaneous Crew section of his IMDb page are pretty much non-comic book movie properties; 1997’s Volcano and 1998’s You Got Mail, both of which were movies he was credited as an assistant to producer Lauren Shuler Donner. It was his link to Shuler Donner that eventually led Feige to Marvel. The first time his name appeared on a comic book property, in amongst the producing credits, was on 2000’s X-Men, which Shuler-Donner was producing.

It was his job on X-Men that would, in the end, change the course of his film producing career. As a self-confessed fan of the comic book publisher, and with a deep knowledge of the company’s expansive universe, he made a considerable impression on Avi Arad and was asked to join the company in helping produce the movie output of the company.

At the time, the majority of the company’s characters were with other studios, most notably Spider-Man at Sony, X-Men, Daredevil and Fantastic Four at Fox, with New Line Cinema in the throes of trying to develop an Iron Man movie, while Universal had the rights to The Hulk.

With the exception of Iron Man, which would not be produced and released until 2008, Feige was involved in an executive producer or co-producer capacity with the majority of those movies, with a credit on the first three X-Men movies, the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies, as well as Daredevil and its spin-off Elektra, and the fascinating Ang Lee interpretation of Hulk.

By 2005 the rights to Iron Man would come back to the studio, and by the following year, Feige would become President of Production in time for the beginning of filming on Tony Stark’s movie debut. Iron Man would be directed by Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr, whose casting was seen as something of a risk at the time but which now seems like a genius choice, the actor pretty much becoming a centralized figure in some of the resulting films that would follow.

That same summer, Marvel Studios would also produce a reboot of The Incredible Hulk, this time starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner and with a more action-oriented directing style courtesy of Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 2 and the Now You See Me series).

While Iron Man was a considerable hit, The Incredible Hulk did not do as well, and to this day still languishes as the lowest grossing Marvel Studios feature film, but what really stole headlines and imaginations was the crossing over of both movies; Downey Jr appeared for a cameo in The Incredible Hulk, and the movie itself featured numerous visual references to Stark Industries. Even more tantalizingly, Iron Man featured a post-credit scene where Samuel L Jackson appeared as Nick Fury, wanting to talk to Stark about something called “the Avengers Initiative”.

Nothing concrete was planned, and many involved in the movie have revealed that the scene wasn’t originally in the script for the movie, but by 2010, and the release of the somewhat more mixed Iron Man 2, it was clear that the movies were building to an actual Avengers movie. While there was no movie from Marvel’s movie stable in 2009, from 2010 onwards there has been a Marvel movie every year, with at most two per year from 2013 onwards, and with 2017 and 2018 featuring three.

With each successive movie, a plethora of box office records have been broken, critics have applauded and audiences have lapped the movies up, while the studio and their output, all under the watchful eye of Feige, has given a generation a franchise of interconnected movies that have influenced, broken box office records and enraptured minds and hearts, while catapulting its way into the pop cultural hemisphere on a level that is right up there with the Sean Connery era of James Bond film in the 1960’s, the releases of the original Star Wars movies, and the early output of Steven Spielberg.

In fact, the subsequent success of the Marvel brand was a mitigating factor in the decision by many studios, not least Disney who would purchase Marvel, to try to craft their own cinematic universes. For this Kevin Feige could be seen as the most important and influential movie producer in years. While other producers in past years have influenced genre and movie making styles (Bruckheimer/Simpson for one with their development of glossy, high-concept projects that emerged in the 80’s), Feige’s experience in producing comic book movies for other studios, his subsequent development of Marvel’s own projects, love of comics, and film producing know how, has meant that he has been able to succeed where Sony and Universal have failed, while Warner Bros. has found themselves announcing DC Comics projects only for them not to materialise.

As an associate, executive or co-producer on many previous movies featuring Marvel’s most famous characters, Feige was in a position to see productions that managed to bring some of the their best characters to the screen brilliantly (X-Men, X-Men II, Spider-Man, Spider-Man II), but was also in a position to see good intentions fall short (Hulk, Daredevil), as well as ghastly mistakes (X-Men III:The Last Stand, Spider-Man III, 2004’s The Punisher).

By being in charge of the cinematic destiny of the characters Marvel had gotten the rights back to, he was able to ensure that not only were the likes of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk given proper screen treatment, but since they had the rights to those characters as well as the likes of Black Widow, Hawkeye and Nick Fury, the potential for crossovers were even higher too.

This, of course, meant that when Avengers Assemble (as it was known in the UK and Ireland) made it to screens, there was a real sense of novelty and joy at seeing everything and everyone come together. It also meant that subsequent films could, once again, throw in cameos, references and Easter Eggs related to other movies.

The Marvel brand under Feige’s eye has become a tightly controlled ship and one gets the feeling that Feige and the brain trust behind the movies are always several steps ahead. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has essentially become the world’s biggest budgeted television series, albeit a cinematic one on the largest pop cultural canvas.

While Feige has not been directly involved in many of the company’s television properties, specifically The Defenders-related series at Netflix and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Inhumans at ABC, he was involved in Agent Carter, hence its more overt cross-overs with the movies.

Post-Avengers Assemble, the MCU has gone from strength to strength. Thor: The Dark World was admittedly met with a mixed response,  but many of the others have really caught on, garnering great reviews from critics and becoming firm audience favourites, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok and Civil War becoming classics of the genre instantly, while on the periphery the likes of Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming were hugely enjoyable and are always wonderful treats to revisit, and most likely could become firm favourites as the years go on.

While the movies themselves have wonderful writers and directors involved, and some like the Guardians and the recent Thor genuinely feel representative of their directors’ voices, it really does feel as if they are filtered through Feige.  As a producer he feels like the captain steering the ship, which maybe explains why Sony’s attempt at a self-contained Spider-Man universe spun-off the back of The Amazing Spider-Man series went nowhere and Warner Bros’ attempts at trying to pull off a similar Marvel style series with their DC Comics rights have stuttered somewhat.

Not to mention the failure right out of the gate of Universal’s Dark Universe; they lack the production stewardship of a fan turned producer who has the know-how and knowledge of someone who has worked on the good and the bad and knows what makes the Marvel world and its characters tick. They also took their time to earn their way to the billion dollar grossing cross-over movies, where other studios somewhat greedily are trying to get to that point right away.

Controversially some think Feige has too much of a hand in the movies, and that the franchise and series is not really one for directors who wants to put their distinctive voices on-screen. Admittedly the movies do feel like they are frequently part of a larger piece, and that one must conform a little to an in-house style, but there is still room for directors to put a stamp on to their projects; Thor: Ragnarök felt very much like a Taika Waititi movie, both Guardians of the Galaxy films felt unique to that of James Gunn, Scott Derrickson’s visuals on Doctor Strange were frequently dazzling, and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther didn’t just deliver the superhero goods, it also put a persons of colour cast on-screen in a way that no mainstream Hollywood blockbuster had done before.

Ten years after the release of Iron Man, the MCU shows no signs of slowing down or stopping. It has become the one Cinematic Universe to keep going and stay the course they set out on from where they set off, and while not every movie has been perfect, it has gotten where it has by scarcely putting a major foot wrong.

Avengers: Infinity War looks to be the culmination of ten years of work and successful world-building, and for a franchise that is set to enter it nineteenth movie in ten years, it’s probably going to go down in the record books as one of the most impressive movie series ever produced, and an astonishing achievement in blockbuster filmmaking.

Not bad for an assistant to the producer on You Got Mail.

Are you excited about Avengers: Infinity War? Let us know in comments below.

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