hear Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige tell
it, the earliest “Hulk” movie special-effects
test belies his company’s current approach
to superhero cinema.
“When [effects legend Dennis Muren] starts on a film, he always does an
initial test of what he thinks will be the toughest effect in the movie; if he
can do that, he knows what he’s in for and what the problems will be. Now,
in the world of CGI these days, that’s not the Hulk throwing stuff around
or explosions or any of that – it was the Hulk acting.”
test, Feige says, “was this really subtle thing – this
shot of the Hulk’s face showing simple emotions. It was a living
nuance in the Hulk? Welcome to the 21st century Marvel
movie universe, where – following the blockbuster success of
the surprisingly thoughtful “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” movies – character
is king. Helping to shape that universe alongside Marvel Studios
CEO Avi Arad is Feige, who serves as Marvel Studios’ executive
vice president – and acknowleges that the next six
months are of vast import for movie superheroes of all
February, director Mark Steven Johnson (“Simon Birch”)
proves his mettle as an action director with “Daredevil”;
in May, following a long, tough shoot, Bryan Singer’s ambitious “X-Men
2” hits theaters; and finally, in June, Ang Lee’s “The
Hulk” takes its big, green, purple-panted bow.
great advance buzz comes great responsibility, but Feige
sounds like he’s having a dandy time. After graduating from USC film
school in 1995, Feige turned a college internship into an assistant
gig at Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner’s production
company. (“I was lucky enough to get coffee very well and deliver
lunch on time,” as he sums up his intern days.) As an assistant
to Shuler Donner, he worked on “Volcano” and “You’ve
Got Mail” – and, as he recalls, “there was this
one project that she had that I just loved and was fascinated with
and had loved since I was a kid, which was ‘X-Men.’ I
started doing notes on that script and developing that, and [Lauren]
was nice enough to put me on the forefront when we hired Bryan Singer
to direct it – and I followed that movie all the way until
we released, as associate producer.”
Today, Feige has a production hand in all three of
Marvel Studios’ major
2003 releases, with many more to come (see page 16-17 for the litany
of Marvel creations in development for the big screen). The young
producer took a break during his holiday vacation – the calm
before the storm, no doubt – to talk about his company’s
character-first philosophy, Marvel’s dubious Hollywood prehistory,
and the future of some of the world’s best-loved men in tights.
plus PRAISE for the
you’re basically at the helm of three of
the more anticipated movies of 2003 – Ang
Lee’s “The Hulk,” “X-Men
2,” and “Daredevil,” with
more on the way.
It’s a pretty exciting time, that’s for sure. I mean,
we’re coming off the biggest film of 2002, “Spider-Man,” and
we’re going into 2003 with three movies on the slate – and
maybe even one or two more sneaking in there before the end of the
year. It’s a lot of fun.
in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Marvel
didn’t have the greatest track record with
superhero adaptations – I’m talking
the Roger Corman “Fantastic Four,” the “Captain
America” movie that starred J.D. Salinger’s
son, “Punisher” with Dolph Lundgren
today, you have A-list talent directing top-notch
actors – and this is crucial, taking
these characters really seriously.
It was a very different time [before “X-Men” was released].
I’d go on the Internet, as all good filmmakers do, to see what
people are saying about it – and at that point it was, “Everything’s
gonna stink! It’s gonna be terrible! Marvel can’t make
a good movie! The Marvel curse!”
were remembering the terrible – if I do say so myself – terrible
wastes of film that came out in the ‘80s with Marvel’s
name attached to them – bad versions of “Captain America,” bad
versions of “The Punisher” … and I don’t
want to say “bad,” necessarily, but not the way we would
do things now. Because they didn’t have the same kind of enthusiasm
and excitement that we have now – and certainly, with Avi [Arad]
running the show, it’s a whole different story.
just sort of persevered [on “X-Men”], making the
kind of movie we thought people wanted to see – which was not all about a million different villains and how many different colors
we can get in this set, and “Can we match the costumes exactly
as they are in the comic?” Well, no, we can’t, and we
wouldn’t want to if we could – because we don’t
think it will translate well. So we did something a little
different, and we stayed true not to the visual aesthetic,
but to the characters
and to the emotions.
that, with the success of the “X-Men,” is what really
translated. People who loved the comics said, “This is perfect!” They
loved it because of the characters they remembered – and people
who’d never seen the comic responded, for the most
part, because of the characters, too.
that movies appeal to a broader audience than almost anything
else. You don’t have all kinds of people necessarily reading
comic books; it’s a much smaller niche audience. But if you
take what is true about those characters in the comics and what is
successful – and the reason that these characters have such
rabid fans – and you showcase that in the film, then when it
gets exposed to a broader audience, you suddenly get more rabid fans. [laughts] That was our hope, and I think that’s what we achieved
sounds like you regard Singer’s “X-Men” as
the point where things turned around.
I certainly consider that the point, because that was the point that
my involvement started and there was the broad success. Wheels had
been put into motion before then – and, of course, the first “Blade” film
was really the first showcase success of a comic-book character to
screen in a long, long time. “Blade” didn’t get
a lot of press at the time that it was even based on a comic – I
don’t think Marvel’s name was even anywhere on that movie,
because it was the middle of the bankruptcy, which other people can
speak to much more than I can. But that and certainly “X-Men” are
what turned the tide – and obviously made executives go, “We
can make a profit making movies like this,” but also, “There
are other ways to make comic-book movies than just cramming in as
many villains as you can.”
you worked for [“Superman” director]
Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner. I find
it interesting that you’re part of
this return to taking comic-book characters
in movies –
And it all started with Dick.
Richard Donner made what is the seminal superhero
Raimi has said that, when he was looking
for inspiration for “Spider-Man,” he watched the first
hour-and-a-half of “Superman: The Movie.”
That’s exactly right. As a matter of fact, we screened “Superman” early
in the development of “Spider-Man.” There were many key
points in that first “Superman” movie that influenced
word that Dick Donner used while making the first “Superman” – and
I can attest to the fact that he still has that word engraved in
wood above his office door – is “verisimilitude,” which
basically means “take it seriously – this is not tongue
in cheek. We are not making jokey references to the fact that these
are 2-dimensional characters that appeared in pulpy comic books.
These are real characters.” And that’s certainly what
Dick did with the majority of “Superman.” And that’s
what we did with our friend Peter Parker in “Spider-Man.”
of the things I loved about “Spider-Man” was
that it understood that the movie’s not about
Spider-Man – it’s about Peter
that trend going to continue into “Spider-Man
I think it absolutely will. I’m certainly not going to say
a whole lot about it – but what Sam has already said in print
is that these characters will have grown since we last saw them in
the last movie, and we’re going to explore how they’ve
grown, and how dedicating your life to wearing a suit and being your
friendly neighborhood Spider-Man affects Peter Parker, and how it
affects relationships in his life and his loves. What’s great
about Sam – and what’s great about the way we want to
develop these movies into parts two and three and four – is
not, “Well, when are we going to put on this costume?” and “When
is he going to wear a bigger mask and get a cape?” It’s
about, “How will these characters grow after years and years
principal photography still slated to begin on
that in January?
Um – spring.
are we days away from learning that Sam Neill plays
Dr. Octopus and Bruce Campbell plays The Lizard?
[extremely bemused sounding] I don’t think so. I don’t
think so. I read that a few months ago, before we had determined
anything. We will learn soon enough who the villains will be and
who the actors will be in those roles. But nothing we’ve heard
so far is true – I’ll give you that much.
idea was it to use “Amazing Spider-Man” as
the sequel’s title?
I’m not sure. I think that also popped up in the press, and
that’s what everyone is still calling it for the time being.
did you get the acclaimed novelist Michael Chabon
to work on the screenplay?
Sam Raimi was a huge fan of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and
a huge fan of Michael’s writing, and called him up. And as
it would be, Michael Chabon was a huge fan of Spider-Man.
THE LOVES and CRUSHING RESPONSIBILITIES of
kind of comic books did you read as a youth?
I read all of the classics, as they say. Certainly “The X-Men.” Certainly “Spider-Man.” I
loved “Punisher.” I read “The Fantastic Four” occasionally,
and maybe even a “Superman” or two, but we’ll keep
that between you and I. [laughs]
What do you consider the greatest superhero movie
I think the first “Superman” movie held that title for
a long time, and far be it from me to declare otherwise – but
let me put it this way: For a long, long time, I think there was
only one viable answer to that question, and it was “Superman.” I
think now, the work that Marvel’s done in the last couple of
years gives people two or three or four answers to that question,
which I’m happy about.
sort of sense of crushing responsibility
do you feel when you’re basically one of the custodians
of these mythological characters?
You’re not going to get me to say, “With great power
comes great responsibility,” believe me [laughs] – but
it certainly does. You know, part of the thing that can relieve that
kind of crushing responsibility is having an amazing team around
you. And obviously, I stand underneath Avi Arad, who has the brunt
of it all – and is doing a fabulous job at it.
question I usually get asked is, “Why [are superhero
movies big] now? Why in the last couple of years? Is it because of
special effects? Is it because of events in the world and a need
for heroes?” I think it’s all of those things, to a certain
extent. But the real, behind-the-scenes answer is: “Because
Avi Arad moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles to focus all of his
efforts on this.” He has been the driving force behind all
of these good changes. And when you have people like him – and
when, luckily enough, he hires people like me, who also love these
characters – and we get filmmakers like Sam Raimi and Mark
Steven Johnson and Ang Lee and Bryan Singer, who understand that
same responsibility, it’s a task that’s fun to
be a part of.
the weight doesn’t come from asking, “How can we
make every single fan perfectly happy?” You can’t, and
if you attempt to do that, you will fail – and you’ll
usually fail in a much bigger way than if you set out to say, “We
want to make the best film possible based on what we believe to be
the primary core and emotion of these characters and of these stories.”
other thing is, I’m one of the biggest film fanboys in
the world – so I also understand what it’s like to go
into a theater with all sorts of expectations and anxiety and having
waited for years and years and months and months to see a film or
a sequel … and to be utterly disappointed. It’s happened
quite a bit in the last couple of years with my childhood fanboy
favorites – and it’s certainly one of my vows that I
will do everything in my power to try and be sure that people will
not walk out of my movies.
ON ‘X-MEN 2’
talk about “X-Men 2” for a little
bit. It looks much more epic in scale than
It is. There’s a big exploration of Wolverine’s backstory
in this one.
it still retain those personal character
touches – that
almost melancholy sensibility?
You’ve got some new characters, like Nightcrawler, that definitely
carry on that tone.
[played in the film by Alan Cumming] was
always an interesting character – a devout Catholic
who was conflicted because he was born looking
like a demon.
Yeah – and that’s definitely explored in the film. And
you’ve got the same team behind the camera, so we’re
in good hands. It’s huge.
Hugh Jackman continue to deliver on the promise
of the first movie? That’s one of the
few truly great matches of an actor with
a genre character
in recent years. Did his star turn surprise
I remember that, as filming went on, people would come up to Hugh
and say to him, “You realize that, after this, everything is
going to be different.” You just knew – from the screen
tests on up – that this was going to be something special.
read Jackman saying that Singer threatened
to fire him at one point early on.
You know, I wasn’t privy to that exchange, but I will say this
about Hugh Jackman: He is one of the nicest, most gracious men I
have ever met. He is an absolute gentleman. And on the screen, he
is an absolute jerk – he’s scheming, he’s mean.
... So I don’t know what Singer said to him. The beautiful
thing is that Jackman’s goodness informed the character’s
badness, and so you have this flawed, sneering character who ultimately
does the right thing.
there be a special-edition “X-Men” DVD,
as has been hinted occasionally?
I don’t think it’s just a rumor any more; I believe it’s
slated to come out in February. [Indeed, a 2-disk “Collectors
Edition” is set for release on Feb. 11. – Ed.]
Well. Will it have some extra scenes that
were shot during the filming of “X-Men 2,” as
had been rumored?
You know, we talked about doing that – but the work we were
doing on the sequel was so all-consuming that we weren’t able
a demanding project. Singer left his “Battlestar
Galactica” TV project to shepherd the “X-Men” script
known for being an exacting fellow.
Yes, he is. But an exacting, tough person isn’t a problem if
it’s in the service of the work.
V. ‘HULK’ SMASH?
let’s talk about “The Hulk.” How
did you attract Ang Lee to the project? Who knew
the director of “The Ice Storm” was
a comics geek?
Well, if you remember from “The Ice Storm,” there’s
a scene where Tobey Maguire is reading an issue of “The Fantastic
Four” in the car. You know, we got Ang for this project before “Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon” hit $100 million, partly on the strength
of a movie he made called “Ride with the Devil.”
very underrated film, for my money.
I totally agree. As his producing partner James Schamus has said, “Ang
has been offered 30 potential tentpole films and turned down 29 of
them” – and that one was “The Hulk.” Ang
really related to the universal themes of “The Hulk” – this
notion that we’re all carrying this rage inside us, that we
hold it in all the time.
I don’t know if you can or will answer this,
but: Of all the new Marvel movie adaptations, “The
Hulk” sounds like it takes the most liberties.
We’ve read at the movie-geek rumor Websites
that Banner is slowly transformed into the Hulk
over a very long period of time, that he gets his
Hulk DNA from his scientist father, that Hulk-ed
out animals preceded him. Did the big changes arrive
with Ang Lee’s involvement in the film?
[pause] You know, I expect that when this film comes out, a number
of Websites are going to pop up about this film … and for every
plot point in this film, there’s something in “Hulk” comics
history to back it up.
you’re saying that any concerns fans might
have would kind of be like that brouhaha over Peter
Parker’s “organic webshooters.”
[laughs] Yeah – “organic webshooters.” I’m
glad you brought that up. I remember there was this Web site called
No-Organic-Webshooters.com that came out before “Spider-Man” opened,
and we looked at it and wondered if we should be worried about it.
And we decided not to – and I’m glad we decided not to.
Again, the important thing is to capture the essence of the character,
and we’ve done that.
have, of course, seen “The Hulk” in
its on-screen CGI form by now.
Yes, I have.
He looks amazing. I mean, he’s on the posters now – that’s the Hulk. It’s not that big a secret.
the Hulk continue the trend toward deeper,
more subtle performances, like we’ve seen in 2002
from Gollum and Yoda?
You know, I just saw “The Two Towers,” and Gollum was
an amazing CGI performance that really raised the bar. “The
Hulk” will raise it again.
is this going to be the talking Hulk that
was in the comics in the ‘90s, or is it going to
be the “Hulk smash!” Hulk?
Heh. It’s the “Hulk smash!” Hulk.
also read that The Hulk is naked in the film – no
tight purple pants! True?
Hm. [pause] I think if you’re a fan of the tight purple pants,
you probably won’t be disappointed.
we won’t be seeing a lot of well-placed
potted ferns in the movie?
No. There won’t be any “Austin Powers” moments.
talk about “Daredevil.” It’s
a personal fan favorite for many comics readers,
largely because it features the pioneering
work by Frank Miller.
you capture the essence of the Miller years on
I think we did. Mark Steven Johnson and his team have done a terrific – and
reverent – job.
Johnson’s feature background is mostly in
comedy – and his previous directorial effort, “Simon
Birch,” doesn’t necessarily suggest
he’d be the ideal guy to oversee a
$75-million action picture. What convinced
everyone he was
the man to direct as well as write?
That was Avi Arad. Mark showed tremendous passion for the character,
and Avi said, “If you turn in a great script, you can direct
it.” And he turned in a great script.
read that Colin Farrell really lets out his Irish
bad boy in this film. [Farrell’s Irish, but “Daredevil” marks
the first Hollywood film where he speaks
in a non-American dialect.]
You know, I first met Colin on the set of “X-Men.” Joel
Schumacher was up there with Colin when he was making “Tigerland,” and
Colin needed some voice coaching to get his American accent right.
And it’s funny – on the set of “Daredevil,” a
couple of times Colin would slip into his American accent by default.
He’d always had to sound American whenever he was surrounded
by cameras and a Hollywood crew, and it was hard-wired by that point.
He’s great in “Daredevil.”
a more fanboyish note: Why oh why did you deprive
red-blooded males of the sight of Jennifer Garner
in the classic red Elektra unitard?
[laughs] Well, for one thing, that’s “Elektra: Assassin” – that’s
the character in her assassin outfit. When you see the movie, you’ll
see that Elektra in the movie hasn’t quite gotten to that point
in her life yet. So maybe down the line she’ll be wearing that,
but not yet.
going to see if you’ll talk any trash here….
the ‘80s and early ‘90s, DC had the
market cornered on so-called “quality” superhero
films with Superman and Batman. Now Marvel rules
the roost. Any idea how to avoid the pitfalls that
befell the “Batman” and “Superman” sequels?
You know, nobody sets out to make a bad movie. When I was a kid,
I loved the first two “Superman” movies. The second two
I didn’t like as much. And like many others, I sat through “Batman
and Robin.” I mean, Marvel had some tough times, too. Some
of our characters didn’t get the treatment they deserved on
with “Hulk” at Universal and “Iron
Man” at Fox, is an “Avengers” movie
Um, no. “The Avengers” just has too much attached to
it because of the British “Avengers” TV series and movie.
A “branding” problem.
Yes. Now, that’s not to say that we wouldn’t love to
do movies with the comic-book “Avengers” characters.
the movies boosted sales of the source comics?
You know, I don’t know. That’s not my area; I honestly
don’t really understand the distribution of comic books.
don’t think people in the comic-book
industry understand the distribution of comic
books. I personally
miss being able to get them on those cheesy
metal racks at 7-Eleven.
Me, too! But you know, the other day, I was in a Barnes & Noble,
and they had a prominent display of a whole bunch of Marvel and a
few DC comics. It was great to see that.