Marvel Studios has been celebrating the 10th anniversary of making its own movies by dominating the box-office charts for most of the year.
Now, as the Burbank-based Disney subsidiary launches “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” its 20th feature since “Iron Man” became a surprise hit in 2008, we wondered how Marvel has not just sustained, but grown unprecedented success with a slate of interlocking movies based, mostly, on the superhero comic books Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and other artists created over 50 years ago.
“Its different incarnations of the script, the different incarnations of the cut of the film,” Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, arguably Hollywoods most successful producer of the decade, explained. “We test; there are earlier versions of Ant-Man and the Wasp that you would not be saying nice things about, as is true for all of our films. You cut together what you have and watch it, you see what you have and how you want to adapt it, you go and shoot additional materials (which we do on all of our movies) and we begin to shape it. I dont think people realize what a collaborative, living, sort of piece of art a film is. Four weeks ago, this movie was different.”
Ten years ago, Hollywood movies were different. Sure, other studios had licensed such Marvel characters as The X-Men and Spider-Man for profitable film franchises, and rival comics company DCs Batman was the biggest thing at the box-office in “The Dark Knight.”
Since Feige and company have gotten the Marvel Cinematic Universe up and running, though, superhero films have become the dominant, big-budget genre.
And the magnitude of Marvels success this year transcends anything thats gone before. The February release “Black Panther” remains 2018s top domestic grosser well into the highly competitive summer season, with just under $700 million worth of ticket sales. That also makes the Afro-centric, politically provocative super-thriller the third biggest North American release of all time, behind only “Avatar” and sister Disney division Lucasfilms “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Right behind “Panther” on both the year and all-time charts is Marvels third “Avengers” movie, “Infinity War,” which broke opening weekend box-office records both domestically and internationally in late April. The two films trade places on the 2018 worldwide grosses chart, where “Infinity” is number one with $2.03 billion (number four all-time) and “Panthers” second with $1.35 billion (ninth all-time).
While hes not one to hog credit, most attribute this success to Feiges guidance. A devoted “Star Wars” and comic book fan since his New Jersey childhood, the USC Film School grad got his producing start on 20th Century Foxs first “X-Men” film. He became Marvel Studios production president in 2007, just as the company was embarking on making its own movies. Disney bought Marvel two years later after seeing what Feiges team was accomplishing.
Whether or not the fun, familial “Ant-Man” sequel, Marvels last release of 2018, reaches the lofty heights of the dialectical “Panther” and multi-hero-killing “Infinity War,” its a prime example of how most of the studios films expertly blend super action, personal drama, humor and eye-popping effects, while generally maintaining their own distinctive tones and the personal stamps of their directors.
Those last two qualities are what the executive feels keeps people coming back with a reliability that Warner Bros. rival DC movies and now even Disneys “Star Wars” films arent enjoying.
“We schedule our movies very purposefully,” Feige, wearing a black baseball cap and a subtly patterned charcoal sport jacket over a dark polo shirt, explained. “And two-and-a-half months after Infinity War – which we had a feeling would leave people reeling with the events at the end of that film – we needed an antidote. We needed another reminder that Marvel Studios makes all kinds of movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe can have all kinds of tones.”
Comparatively light though it may be, “Ant-Man/Wasp” feels like a particularly well-crafted entertainment compared to such less-satisfying summer competitors as the by-the-numbers “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Foxs also Marvel-derived “Deadpool 2” and the disappointing “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
Feige mentioned more than once he believed that everyone working on a movie had to have the same vision of the final product or things would go wrong. While there have been a few directors bounced from Marvel movies during planning stages – “Baby Drivers” Edgar Wright, for example, who was replaced on the “Ant-Man” franchise by Peyton Reed – its been nothing like the turmoil thats gone on at the Kathleen Kennedy-run Lucasfilm, where the directors of “Solo” were let go halfway into production; Ron Howard expensively reshot much of the film. Similar troubles have plagued Warners, which except for “Wonder Woman” has made equally unsatisfying DC films.
Feige is hardly one to gloat about his better-run operation, though.
“No,” he said, refusing the bait to offer other big IP operators advice. “Ive learned in my time being lucky enough to make movies, unless youre in the thick of it, unless youre in the shoes, you dont know whats going on. Advice doesnt mean anything. Circumstances can be different everywhere, and to predict what an issue was or whos doing what . . . Im just not the kind of person to give advice to people.
“Because its all precarious, right?” he reckoned. “Its all difficult, its all hard. All my time is spent trying to deliver the projects were overseeing and are in charge of. Many people, and particularly Disney, have had great success, success that rivals or surpasses our own. I want advice from them!”
With some angry fans calling for Kennedy to step down from Lucasfilm and Disney Animation and its other subsidiary Pixar – though the latter is enjoying its biggest success ever with the rather Marvel-like “Incredibles 2” – rocked by the misconduct scandal thats removed their visionary leader John Lasseter, speculation has popped up that Feige should be leading other Disney divisions.
The Marvel man claims hes not interested.
“My desire is to get Ant-Man and the Wasp in theaters and successful,” he said. “Then complete filming on Captain Marvel this week and to get the next Spider-Man on camera, then to continue to work on Avengers 4 in the cutting room. Im very busy for the foreseeable future.”
“Avengers 4,” coming out next spring, will resolve the bloodbath at the end of “Infinity War” that saw half the Marvel characters vaporized into nothingness. However it does that, Feige promised the MCU will not be the same afterward. He said to expect a lot of announcements about future projects in May of 2019. As of now, though,only the next Spider-Man movie and Guardians of the Galaxy 3 are “go” Marvel projects (“Captain Marvel,” starring Brie Larson, opens before “A4” in March of 2019).
Feige also, not entirely convincingly, insisted that there are no plans in development should Disney acquire the film assets of 20th Century Fox – which they and Universal Studios owner Comcast are both bidding for – to incorporate currently Fox-controlled Marvel properties such as X-Men, Fantastic Four, Deadpool and Silver Surfer into the MCU.
“Not until were given the word,” he said (Fox shareholders are scheduled to vote on Disneys $71.3 billion offer at the end of the month). “I have vague dreams and vague ideas. But right now, bringing to life the 10,000-plus characters that Marvel fully controls is what the gameplan is.”
Theres one thing Feige may wish he could have more control over, though. Marvels legendary editor/writer, 95-year-old Stan Lee, who co-created almost everything thats been part of the studios success, has in the last year become the subject of financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse. Lee has made cameo appearances in all the Marvel movies, but according to Feige its not legally simple for the company to step in and protect him.
“Its very complicated, and of course were always seeing what we can do about it,” Feige said of Stans situation, then paused. “Its sad.”
On a more pleasant note, we asked Feige how he felt about the unlikely “Black Panther” becoming Marvels greatest domestic success so far. His answer gave an indication why the studio has yet to lose.
“We always have lofty expectations for any of our films,” he said. “Theyre very expensive and we put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into them, so we certainly hoped that Panther would connect with the audience. That it has connected this much and has done this well domestically and around the world, is amazing and surpassed even our lofty expectations. I couldnt be happier about it and it couldnt be a better thing for us, and I think for the world and films.”
- Heres why Ant-Man and the Wasp is gonna be huge
- Warren G showcases Long Beach in new hip-hop documentary, plays Summertime in the LBC July 7
- Heres whats streaming on Netflix in July
- Arroyo Seco Weekend: Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra charm the crowd Saturday
- Sunday event to help local filmmakers get their work into festivals