Kevin Feige Talks the Marvel Universe’s Genre Mission, and the Future of Black Widow

Kevin FeigeGetty Images

Looming large over the Russo Brothers, Joe Johnston, and even Joss Whedon, is the Marvel Universe’s kingpin Kevin Feige. The super producer keeps the comic book film franchise running like clockwork, churning out golden cinematic entries like this week’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We got a chance to chat with Feige about his mission for the Marvel movies, discussion genre, the evolution of his characters, and the future of Black Widow and Guardians of the Galaxy.

The thing I was most interested in seeing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the way that you guys take on the espionage thriller genre. In the same way that that you’ve taken on so many different genres with all of your Marvel movies so far. I was wondering if that was a mission of yours from the start, taking on all these different types of genres, or if it sort of happened organically, befitting each of the characters?

I’d say it was a combination. We embraced the differences of the characters. Comic book fans know that there’s no such thing as a comic book genre any more than there is such a thing as a “novel genre.” No, they all are unique and they all are different. We always saw it as our job to embrace that when we bring them to the screen. In that way it was organic, but it really did become a bit of a mission statement, if an informal one. It’s what held our interest. We’re very interested in keeping our movies fresh and keeping our universe fresh, and never allowing the audience to get bored or think that they can predict exactly what’s going to happen next, or have every movie start to feel like the last movie. That, in our minds, is a recipe for it all to come crashing down. And when you’re putting out two movies a year, they’d better be unique, different experiences. One of the fun ways for us, because we’re all movie fans as much as we are comic fans, is to embrace other genres and to lean on that to make the films feel fresh, and to give us a new roadmap to come up with a unique story.

So is each of the genres that you tackle — of course, this is an espionage, spy thriller type — is that somehow inherent to the character that you are taking on? Did you think, “Captain America — it’s natural for him to take on a movie like this”?

Yes, absolutely. It never starts with, “Let’s do a Western. Let’s do a Captain America Western!” It starts with, “Where are we going to take the character?” And clearly, in his first full modern day solo adventure, we wanted to focus on the man out of time element. And we wanted to put him into situations like he found himself within the decade after he was thawed, in Avengers #3. He went right into the mid ‘60s and late ‘60s. And all of the civil unrest and the political strife happening in that era. Right into Watergate and the Nixon Administration of the early ‘70s and mid ‘70s. And he was at a crossroads. He really started to find it difficult to simply follow the orders of whoever was in charge at the time, and started listening to his own morals and his belief in the broader ideals independent of whoever is in charge at the time. And we wanted to play with that, and we wanted to do it in a way that utilized S.H.I.E.L.D. versus a specific [real institution], like the army or the American government, because A) we’re making a movie, and B) we have all of that at our disposal, as we’ve established Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. very heavily in our movies up to now.

Captain America: The Winter SoldierWalt Disney Co. via Everett Collection

Among the Avengers, Captain America stands alone as having this defined sense of right and wrong. That is challenged in this movie, and that’s why this movie is so interesting. But the character is redefining himself in light of the events in The Winter Soldier and the world he finds himself in. Going forward, how do you think that is going to change the Captain America movies we’ll see in the future?

First it will have a direct impact of Cap’s next adventure, which obviously will be Avengers: Age of Ultron. And where we go from there, we’re just beginning to sort of outline what that could be and what that could look like. But to be ever evolving is one of the keys to longevity, we believe for our cinematic universe. There’s a line of dialogue in The Winter Soldier where he goes to visit a fellow he’s recently met, Sam Wilson, who runs a veterans center. And Sam asks, “Are you think you’re getting out?” And he goes “No, I don’t think so.” This is early in the movie where he’s finding himself increasingly uncomfortable with the missions that Nick Fury is sending him on, and what the mission statement for S.H.I.E.L.D. overall seems to be. And Sam then asks him, “What would you want to do?” And he goes, “I don’t know.”

This is a guy who, for his entire life, wanted one thing. He wanted to do right by his country. He wanted to do what every other able-bodied person was doing in his era, which was join the fight in World War II, and he dreamed of that. And finally, of course, through the events of the first movie, he got the super soldier serum and was able to do that. And then he helped save the world, and was frozen, and then woke up, and helped save the world again. And now he’s struggling with what his place is. And that struggle continues a bit though the Winter Soldier and also into Age of Ultron.

Looking at it in the other direction, what do you think The Winter Soldier says about the spy thriller genre?

I think it definitely embraces the best of that genre, and hopefully gives it a new spin because it’s got Marvel characters running around in the middle of it. That’s the fun. To try to make a good superhero movie, but really make a good paranoid action thriller. Make a great movie that appeals to fans who have watched all of our movies many times and know the comics inside and out, and also appeal to people who have never read a comic, and who may have not ever seen our movies. I was just talking to somebody else who afterwards came up to me and said, “It’s funny. I’m not into comics. They aren’t usually my thing. but I love this movie.” And we’re lucky enough to get that comment after many of our movies, and that’s when we feel that we’ve really really accomplished it.

Is there a certain set of guidelines you have about compromising invention with your loyalty to the comics?

We’ve really found that as we approach our tenth marvel studios feature — Guardians of the Galaxy will be our tenth movie in the cinematic universe — there are two responsibilities now: one is to absolutely stay true to the source material. Mainly because the source material is great, and why change something that’s great? But the other thing is staying true to the continuity we’ve established in the MCU. And people want us to do both now. Fans. Whether they’re comic fans or movie fans, they want us to do both. So I think people get excited: “Oh I can’t wait to see Falcon on screen, and I can’t wait to see how they’re going to do it.” Because I think people realized that we weren’t going to put him in the exact outfit that he wore in the ‘70s and have him telepathically linked to a bird.

Captain America: The Winter SoldierWalt Disney Co. via Everett Collection

Talking about Falcon and Black Widow, I love the way you integrate the characters into the movie. Black Widow’s rapport with Cap is one of the most important through lines in this movie. Is there a reason, beyond just what might exist in the comic books, why the best way to really showcase Black Widow’s character front and center for the first time was in a Captain America film?

For any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Scarlett Johansson is unbelievable and brings the character to life in a full three-dimensional fashion more and more each time. But really it was all about the contrast for Cap. We knew Cap was going to be working with S.H.I.E.L.D., and we knew he was going to start to get antsy and be uncomfortable working in those shades of grey that Nick Fury was asking him to work in. And the idea was putting him in a scenario where he has to team up with his polar opposite. With Natasha Ramonov, who has been a spy, who has done god knows what. Who tells us in Avengers that she’s got red in her ledger and she wants to wipe it out. Loki tells us any number of things that don’t sound good about her past.

And there’s a line early on in The Winter Soldier where Captain America is confronting Nick Fury saying, “Why didn’t you tell me about this thing? I should have known about this.” And he says, “I didn’t want you to know about this because I knew you wouldn’t be comfortable with it. Natasha is comfortable with anything.” That, at the beginning, of the movie is the perceived difference between them. And a lot of this movie, and the fun we wanted to have, was seeing Widow goad Steve into the real world. She’s constantly asking him about his personal life and who he’s dating — which is sort of a way of saying, “Have you embraced the fact that you’re never going back in time? Have you embraced the fact that you’re stuck here and now have to make a life?” But at the same time, see what kind of an influence Steve Rogers would have on Natasha. I think by the end of the movie, she has changed, based on her interactions with and exposure to Steve. Earlier in the movie, she thinks he is maybe a little too honest, and says at a certain point, “This might not be the right business for you Steve.” By the end of the movie, she realizes that maybe it’s not the right business for her.

There has been mention that she will be getting her own standalone film. Do you think there is a specific opportunity with that character, due to the deficit of female superhero movies, to do something that the superhero movie world needs?

I do, in large part because her origin story is interesting. We haven’t explored that too much. The solo adventures in the comics, there are a lot to choose from and they’re very interesting. But people would ask me on the floor of the Thor: The Dark World junket, “Are you’re doing a Black Widow movie?” And part of me wanted to say, “Well, we did, and it’s called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Wait until you see it!” The emphasis we put on our characters, and in particular our female leads in all our movies, is very important to us. And showcase extremely strong, intelligent woman that control the course of the entire movie and the entire plot, and that absolutely carries over into Scarlett’s role in Age of Ultron.

Fantastic. And just to wrap up, you did mention Guardians of the Galaxy before. That movie seems to be presenting itself as the “weirdest” of the Marvel movies we’ve seen so far. Was that your mission when you set out to make this one? 

You can see in the teaser that we released, one of the reasons we wanted to make the movie is we wanted to make something wholly original. Of course it’s based on the comics, but the fact it’s a lesser known comic, and that they’re heroes unlike any that I think anyone has brought to the screen before. I hope people embrace the notion that this is a very fresh, very original movie, in a year in which there are lots of remakes and sequels. And clearly we’ve made the Winter Soldier to stand alone and to feel different and fresh on its own. But the notion of Guardians is all about the answer to, I believe, a cry for originality and for something totally unexpected. In the same way that people saw the trailers for Iron Man 3, or The Dark World, or even The Winter Soldier, and said, “Oh boy, I think you’re getting gritty now.” And then saw the movie and realized there was a lot of humor in it.

People are embracing the notion of a very funny and quirky space adventure in Guardians, but at the same time, I think they’ll be surprised by the level of depth and emotion and pathos that you’re going to have in certain sequences of the movie. What James Gunn is planning is not just simply a comedic romp but a very full, well rounded experience that can stand alongside the best of our films, but in a completely original and fresh way.

Catch Captain America: The Winter Soldier in theaters now. Buy your tickets at