In the world of comic book movies, there’s one fact that nearly anyone – anyone – will ine up to confirm: more than anyone else, it’s Kevin Feige who’s responsible for the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rising from the ranks of producer on Marvel projects like Daredevil and X-Men, Feige wound up not just overseeing the biggest Avengers blockbusters, but guiding even risky properties like Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man to box office success. And with billion-dollar releases almost expected from any film bearing the Marvel badge, it seems there’s no stopping the success.
But, that wasn’t always the case. You see, while Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige may have been the mastermind and top dog in practice, the official structure of Marvel Studios, Marvel Entertainment, and Disney was quite a bit more complicated – until recently. There were rumors and leaks suggesting that the restructuring of the Marvel/Disney production heirarchy was due to internal strife, and now the directors of Captain America: Civil War have confirmed that for years within Marvel Studios, Feige was waging a war of his own.
For those who haven’t been following the ins and outs of the Marvel/Disney power ‘struggle’ – we use that term loosely, since all involved seem to believe this actually was civil, until juicier details come out – all things seemed fine from the outside. But as the MCU grew from start-up to Hollywood powerhouse, the realities of production had to change along with it. Most fans will remember the early days of the MCU, when joining the universe in a superhero role was something aimed squarely at up-and-comers, or character actors: performers who could be signed long term, for less cash. And that, is anything, was a sign of the shrewd business practices that had helped Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter turn Marvel as a whole into a profitable enterprise.
Kevin Feige made sure that smaller budgets didn’t detract from the films, and as the box office takes, marketing, and stars grew and grew, coming into conflict with a ‘spend less, not more’ mentality was inevitable. Rumors continued to surface of butting heads between Feige, a knowledgable producer who knew where and how the MCU should grow, and Perlmutter, already having swallowed the $50 million payday for Robert Downey, Jr. to appear in The Avengers. And with Civil War— rather, Captain America 3 as it was known at the time, things finally reached a breaking point.
With the initial plan to continue the story of The Winter Soldier (with Anthony and Joe Russo returning as directors) the opportunity to include Tony Stark (Downey) soon arose. For those versed in the comics, the leap from a Stark role opposing Steve to an adaptation of the “Civil War” comic series isn’t hard to track. But in speaking with KCRW the Russos reveal that while Feige was on board with the story, Downey would have to be as well. And if he was, then the changes to the budget could (or would) be a hurdle:
AR: He was very supportive of the idea, but it was a complicated proposition for Kevin because Downey changes the financial equation of the movie. This was a Captain America movie, so suddenly you’re going to bring Robert Downey into the budget level of a Captain America movie. So it wasn’t necessarily an easy road for Kevin, but he was intrigued by it on a creative level. I think he thought ‘if we can hook him creatively’ – meaning Downey – then there might be a road for him to figure it out financially.
JR: One, you have to convince Robert on a creative level because he wasn’t contracted to be in the film. It was outside of his contract. Two, we are working on a movie called Captain America, which is not The Avengers brand which is a much more lucrative brand in the marketplace. And so then we had to go convince the powers that be that it was worth increasing the budget exponentially. At the time… there was [Ike].
Since the addition of Downey wouldn’t just mean more cash, but would set creative wheels in motion to potentially include other cast members from the Avengers roster, including the addition of even more Marvel characters, the Marvel Entertainment boss was faced with seeing the budget of a Captain America solo film inflate to one of the most expensive movies Marvel had yet released. Unsurprisingly, the collision of a film producer looking to launch a film universe into the stratosphere with an executive thinking mainly of dollars forced parent company Disney to step in. And step in, they did.
The changes were sweeping, and game-changing. Disney CEO Bob Iger established Feige and Marvel Studios co-president and executive producer Louis D’Esposito as the top dogs for Marvel, reporting directly to Disney Studios’ Alan Horn. On top of that, the Marvel Studios Creative Committee – composed of Alan Fine (president of Marvel Entertainment), comic icon Brian Michael Bendis, Marvel publisher Dan Buckley, and Joe Quesada, Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer – was dissolved, leaving Feige (and whoever he chose) in charge of the MCU’s creative vision.
With the future looking bright, Anthony Russo went on to explain that having joined the MCU just years before the shake-up, they got a front row seat to the clash of executives. From that perspective, he implies, Feige being the face of the company to fans and colleagues may have forced him to take the brunt of Marvel’s bad press (changing directors, recasting, etc.) when it was actually deserved elsewhere:
“We’d been on that journey from Winter Soldier through Civil War, and it may have even been some story points in Civil War that may caused the civil war within Marvel. So without getting into too much detail, I think that there were years where Kevin was absorbing a lot of the pain inflicted on the company… And I think there are some misconceptions in the marketplace about who Kevin is, because he was representing everybody in the process.
“And I think you’re seeing some really compelling choices made on the directing front both on the new Thor film and from [Ryan] Coogler on Panther and I think the environment there is a much healthier, happier environment… They’re interested in some of the more compelling voices out there.”
What do you think of the Russos comments? Do you think their confirmation of trouble behind the scenes is encouraging for the future, as they seem to feel? It’s apparently even more of a change in direction for Marvel’s universe than Civil War might have implied, so stay tuned to see what “compelling voices” Feige will be bringing into the fold.
Captain America: Civil War is in theaters now. Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2– May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.
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