SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains information about the plot and revelations of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Kevin Feige knows everything we want to know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The trick, after you manage to get in the same room with him, is to try to ask the right questions. But before we can look at the future of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange and Black Widow, we have to ask how Captain America: The Winter Soldier came to pass. If you've seen the movie already - and this entire interview with Kevin Feige presupposes that you have - then you may want to know how far in advance Marvel Studios had been planted the seeds of Hydra's infiltration of SHIELD, how the film is going to affect "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" and whether they were ready to embrace the film's coincidentally topical political themes, the kind that most PG-13 blockbusters actively try to avoid at all costs.
But once we talk about how Captain America: The Winter Soldier came to pass, Kevin Feige and I start talking about what Doctor Strange may already be up to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just how guilty The Black Widow should feel about her past, what Hawkeye and Hulk have been up to between Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and how the latest film's mid-credits teaser will affect the next big Marvel team-up.
CraveOnline: I grew up reading Captain America comics, and what I love about the character is that Cap is in a great position to look at what we’re doing as a country, and objectively say what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. He has moral authority but he’s not preachy about it.
Kevin Feige: I think you’re absolutely right.
And that’s what I love about this movie. You just go there. Captain America actually takes a stand against America, or at least what we’re becoming, because we’re sacrificing our values. That’s bold.
What’s funny is all of that storyline was absolutely inspired by those kinds of beats in the comics, when he found himself up against the country and the government. But what we’re really doing is, it’s SHIELD. It’s a made-up organization. It’s helicarriers. And I’m sure you’ve heard already that we were midway through filming, we had shot all of those scenes, the script was done, when that NSA/Edward Snowden thing happened. We went, “Holy…” I said, “Look, there are helicarriers here with all sorts of… They’re listening! It’s SHIELD! That’s what Cap’s fighting against!” We couldn’t believe it. And if that has heightened the focus on this film and Cap’s actions in this film, all the better. But it legitimately all started [with] what’s the best conflict we could throw Cap into that would make the coolest action movie. But the fact that it hit something, purely coincidentally, that was so relevant was pretty amazing.
But fictional organization or no, SHIELD is a part of the American government, and there’s a part of me that’s like, are you trying to pick a fight with FOX News? Because they’ll get angry about anything!
No, we’re not. We’re not!
I’m picturing you having to go on “The O’Reilly Factor” right now and having to say, “Look, it’s a comic book movie…”
O’Reilly is a big Marvel fan and we’ll see what he thinks of it, but they liked the first one. The challenge with us is to make a fun, entertaining movie, and we’ve been very lucky, on the first Captain America film, on the Iron Man films, that people from both sides of the political spectrum will find things to identify with. I don’t think anybody necessarily thinks it’s a great idea to have killer helicarriers in the sky [laughs] listening to everything and are striking first. Certainly not the extreme way in which the bad guy takes it too, of course. But even the earlier discussion, which you’re right, causes Steve to storm out and question his participation in it.
How far in advance were you thinking that this was where you’d take SHIELD? Was it just a need, “We need a plot for Captain America 2,” or were you already thinking about the way the organization would play through the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe?
It was a combination. I mean, I’ve been thinking since the first Captain America film that if the SSR was a… you know, the SSR was the organization that Captain was a part of in the first movie, and had the super soldier program. That was basically our version of the precursor to SHIELD, which in real life there was… I forget what it was called now, but there was a division that was a precursor to the CIA in real life, and in real life there was Operation Paperclip, which Widow mentions. They worked with Nazi scientists and Nazi equipment, and that’s part of where NASA came from.
I had this thought for a long time that the SSR defeated Hydra, brought in their scientists, brought in their weaponry, that’s what SHIELD was founded on. But what if there was more to that than meets the eye? In Avengers, Captain America finds a Hydra helmet, Hydra weapons, and realizes that SHIELD has this whole plan Nick Fury was even aware of, of taking Hydra weapons and building them again. So I thought, what if SHIELD was Hyrda?
It seemed like just a plot point in Avengers. Just a way to give Cap a little bit of doubt and wonder if Tony has a point. And now it seems like it was all part of a plan.
One of the first people I ever pitched that idea to was Chris Evans, on the set, on the very last day of production of Avengers 1. We were in Central Park and he goes, “So, part two, what are we doing?” I said, “Well, we’ve got a lot of ideas.” Winter Soldier was a big idea for it. And I said, “I have this idea for SHIELD.” He said, “You’re blowing my mind! That’s amazing!” I thought, “Well, maybe it is good. Let’s try that.” We also got excited… The TV show didn’t exist when we were starting this. But they were well aware of what was happening, because I said “This is what we’re doing.”
It seems like the show will have to shift dramatically after its first season because of the events of Captain America 2. Is that a safe bet, do you think?
I would say it’s a safe bet. They haven’t been shy about talking about their connection to the Cinematic Universe, and this will be by far the biggest event that has happened for them.
They can’t ignore it. It’s devastating.
Right. The other thing that we thought would be fun was using this to change the dynamic for The Avengers, so that the safety net – if you can call it that – of a giant government organization with massive resources, of which they were just sort of the front, or the A-Team at the head of that organization… take all that away. So when they come together in the next movie it’s just them.
One imagines that they’ll need someone. Tony Stark took over The Avengers as their backer in the comics. One almost imagines that Avengers 2 would have to deal with the privatization of this very powerful, small military.
Did you notice the very brief glimpse of Stark Tower in [Captain America: The Winter Soldier]? It looks different… There’s a big “A” on it now.
Another thing you hint at, openly, is… you do use the words “Doctor Strange.”
Right. Stephen Strange.
Right. We know who he is.
Does that imply that he’s active somewhere and we just don’t know it, or is that something to figure out later? Or maybe he doesn’t even know how important he is?
Well, “we” know what it means and where we want to head with it, but we were comfortable with keeping it in there and leaving it in there because there are a few different ways to interpret it. The whole thing, what Sitwell’s saying is, this algorithm is going to predict if you’re going to become a problem for Hydra or not. So you don’t have to just be Tony Stark, actively plotting to save the world. You could be a kid whose SAT scores and whose essays have indicated that you’re going to be a problem one day. So is Stephen Strange the Sorcerer Supreme? Probably not at that point. Is he an unbelievably talented neurosurgeon who’s opinionated and kind of arrogant? Probably. That might put him on the list.
Another thing we don’t know about but you allude to often, in this movie and in The Avengers, is Black Widow’s backstory. She’s done some things that are very, very bad.
How bad are we talking about? Like, if the audience knew, we’d hate her? Or is it the sort of thing where if she got her own movie, maybe she could redeem herself?
I think she would always redeem herself. She’s a hero. And I think it’s stuff that probably makes her hate herself more than the audience would. But it certainly is… as she said, she’s got red in her ledger. [Laughs.] We’ll continue to see a little bit more and learn a little bit more about that.
Was there any talk at some point about finding room for Hawkeye in this movie? As a SHIELD agent, one wonders what he might have been up to.
We will discover, later, the answers to that question. But it really came down to how many players can you have on the field at this time? We really wanted to bring in Falcon, we really wanted to team [Captain America] up with Black Widow, we really wanted Fury to have more of a part than he’s ever had in any of the other movies before. We wanted, ever so briefly, to introduce Sharon Carter. And we had a fun place for Maria Hill to be involved. So we didn’t want to just have, “Hey, I’m Hawkeye! Hey, I’m Iron Man!” We want to avoid the brief cameos of the week.
Are you worried about that in Avengers 2? Now we have Quicksilver and we have The Scarlet Witch and all the other cast members. Is there going to have to be sacrifice made? Maybe Falcon doesn’t get a prominent role?
Well yes, not every character from every movie is going to be in Age of Ultron, for sure. But Joss [Whedon] is excited and, for the characters you haven’t seen since the first Avengers – like Hawkeye, like Hulk – there’s a reason for that, and that gets showcased quite prominently in Age of Ultron.
That’s very exciting. How soon is it going to be before we find out a little more about Phase Three? Now we’ve only got a couple movies left on Phase Two…
Only a couple?! I’m going to spend the next year and a half doing nothing but bring those to life!
I know, right? Our perspective is completely off.
No, I think we’re very close to knowing and probably a few months from announcing. You mean the 2016/2017?
Yeah, for sure.
What are we looking at in terms of the One-Shots coming out after this? I thought the last one was just the best.
I want to see what happens next. You know what I always thought would be cool is getting to see the movies Captain America made in World War II.
Yes, we saw a little bit of it in the montage, yeah. That was fun. Listen, the One-Shots are very loosely about any sort of business prospects. We’re just about, it’s fun. It would be cool to do. When we have a cool idea and we have an actor like Hayley Atwell or Ben Kingsley that are available and interested, we mount them and shoot them. So we’ll sort of see when and if we do more of them.
I want to talk about the teaser at the end. [SPOILER ALERT.] We see that Loki’s staff has not been forgotten about. Are we to believe that maybe that’s another one of the Infinity Stones, or is that just pure speculation at this point?
Well, it’s certainly pure speculation at this point. I’m not even sure if we even recognize Loki’s scepter [as an Infinity Stone], but that’s a big hint as to what will be causing them trouble in the next movie.