Do you care about anything other than the royal engagement today? I bet when Marvel and Vanity Fair timed the release of an interview with Marvel boss Kevin Feige, and a bunch of fancy photos of the characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they didn’t bank on being upstaged by Meghan Markle. Marvel is virtually never upstaged, but here we are, with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the future Duke and Duchess of Sussex (my official pick for their post-marital title), sucking all the air out of the room. Oh well. In case you ARE looking for something other than wedding dress speculation, Marvel covers the December issue of VF with four covers and a portfolio of character portraits.
Some of the photos reveal new looks for the Avengers, including blonde Black Widow, bearded Winter Soldier, and under-cut Hawkeye. But other photos we know are keeping secrets about how some characters will look in Avengers: Infinity War. Thor has a new suit of armor, but, well, we know that isn’t what Thor’s face looks like any more. And Captain America won’t look like that AT ALL, but they’re certainly holding his post-Civil War makeover for the trailer. Which, by the way, ought to be coming out any moment. Between this big magazine spread and the leaked footage that trickled out over the weekend, you know that sh*t is primed and ready to drop.
The interview itself is focused on Kevin Feige, mastermind of the MCU, and is most interested in canonizing the Marvel Studios story into a legend of unprecedented success. On the heels of Justice League’s failure, it’s an especially well-timed drop—probably intentional and undoubtedly DELICIOUS to those inside Marvel’s offices—but it also does underscore that Feige has something other studios don’t, as no one else has been able to replicate his success, not even when they’re controlling the most recognizable superheroes in the world. I think it boils down to this line: “Comics were O.K., but movies were his thing.” Kevin Feige is a movie guy who happens to like comic books. He is not a comic book guy trying to make movies. If there is a secret formula at Marvel—besides whatever blood magic they’re doing under the harvest moon—it’s that Feige approaches every project AS A MOVIE. Revolutionary, I know.
But there really isn’t that much insight in the article itself. If you follow Marvel, you know this story already, and the article deliberately glosses over the most interesting period in Marvel’s ten year history (officially, Marvel Studios has been around since 1996, but they are using the release of Iron Man in 2008 to mark the anniversary of their current empire), the very public fallout with Joss Whedon and Edgar Wright, and the internal divorce from CEO Ike Perlmutter in New York. The most we get on that is several members of the Marvel family calling that period “uneasy”—yeah no sh*t—and some blame-assigning to Perlmutter.
Don’t get me wrong, he—and his “creative committee”, AKA the Problem Posse—was definitely holding things back at Marvel HQ, as evidenced by the wild, post-Perlmutter Thor: Ragnarok we just saw, and the immediately diversified hiring that followed the split, chiefly Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi. It’s no secret that Perlmutter is driven by money—he did save Marvel Entertainment from bankruptcy—but the attempt to salvage his image falls flat. A source says, “Ike Perlmutter neither discriminates nor cares about diversity, he just cares about what he thinks will make money.” Sure, but what he thinks will make money is straight, white, and male. The author of the article, Joanna Robinson, correctly identifies Perlmutter’s opinions as “outdated”. (Also, Chadwick Boseman was just named the “most popular US actor in China”, so 1) the notion that movies with black stars don’t sell overseas is complete bullsh*t, and 2) Black Panther is gonna be HUUUUUGE.)
The other interesting item in the article is Marvel’s post-2019 plans, but of course they won’t give anything away about upcoming projects. It does seem to confirm that the original Avengers will be retiring after Avengers 4: Blowing Up Space, Probably, but we already knew most of them are on their way out. The Chrises, Evans and Hemsworth, are finishing out their contracts, as is Jeremy Renner. Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson have both been operating film-to-film for years, and can tap out at any time. Hemsworth is the only question mark, if the success of Ragnarok can lure him back for a fourth Thor movie, but at least in this article, it sounds like everyone from The Avengers will be passing their torches to a new generation of heroes after 2019.
I have no doubt that Marvel’s well-oiled machine can function after the original Avengers retire. A team made up of Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Doctor Strange and whoever ends up with Cap’s shield will do just fine. Half those characters are already audience favorites. But Vanity Fair just spent a cover feature telling us how important Kevin Feige is to the success at Marvel, and his contract is up in 2019, too. The real question is what happens to Marvel Studios if he decides to leave?