Oral Histories

Kevin Feige Previews the MCU's Upcoming Phase 4: Shang-Chi, Eternals, No Way Home, Wakanda Forever, and More

In this exclusive, the President of Marvel Studios talks of the "emotional" time it looked like Spider-Man was leaving the MCU, reveals the scope of Eternals, and discusses Ryan Coogler's "very special" Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

by | July 12, 2021 | Comments

In 2018, in the lead-up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War, Rotten Tomatoes sat down for an extended interview with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, in which he gave us a complete oral history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first three phases. This week, as Marvel gets ready to release its first film into theaters in more than two years – the last being the Phase Three-capping Spider-Man: Far From Home – Feige again sat down with us for an exclusive extended chat, this time to reflect on the end of the Infinity Saga, the studio’s move into streaming limited series, and to preview some of the most anticipated titles coming up in a jam-packed Phase Four, from Chloé Zhao’s Eternals to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

At lot had changed since we last spoke. For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on Marvel Studios’ release calendar (Black Widow was delayed more than a year) and its shooting schedule; production shutdowns meant that Falcon and the Winter Soldier, once slated to be the studio’s first Disney+ series, ultimately had to follow WandaVision. Speaking of series: Disney launched its streaming service, Disney+, in November 2019, and with it came those two Marvel Studios series, plus Loki, currently airing, along with a dual same-day streaming/theatrical release of movies like Black Widow that will test the superhero giant’s box office might.

Sony Pictures

(Photo by Sony Pictures, Marvel Studios)

Then there was the corporate stand-off, in mid-2019, between Sony and Disney over deal terms related to their partnership on the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies, an impasse that threatened to pull Holland’s Peter Parker from the MCU together. We asked Feige about that period, one which he describes as “an emotional few months,” as well as other major moments for the studio over the last several years, including the recent acknowledgment that Loki Laufeyson is bisexual – and thus the first openly LGBTQ+ Marvel MCU character we’ve seen on screen – as well as the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman and what that means for the future of Black Panther.

In the first part of our interview, Feige reflected on the Phase 4 properties we’ve already seen; in this second part, he gives us rare insights into what we can expect from Phase Four’s big newcomers, including Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals; reflects the emotional journey to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever; shares what it’s like to be working again with Sam Raimi, with whom he collaborated on the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; and, yes, opens up about the days when it looked like the MCU would be losing its own Peter Parker.


Shang-Chi realizes his father is one of the world’s greatest criminals: How do you process that? How do you deal with that as a child and evolve beyond that?”

Shang-Chi is a movie that I think first ended up on a list of “wouldn’t it be great if we could do this as a movie” ideas probably 20 years ago. It’s a great story of a young man that realizes his father is essentially one of the world’s greatest super villains, one of the world’s greatest criminals: How do you process that? How do you deal with that as a child and how do you evolve beyond that? And the heroism needed to break free of that and grow beyond that. Even in our film, to realize that there are many sides to all stories and that the world’s perception of his father and his perception of his father is more complex than perhaps he initially thought. That was a great driving story for us that we wanted to explore someday. Looking for a filmmaker to do it was obviously – as it always is – important. And Destin Daniel Cretton coming in and again, dedicating his talents… He’s an amazing filmmaker who does amazing movies that have been on a smaller-budgeted size compared to a big Marvel movie, but coming in and giving his personal vision to this story of this father and son and really this family, was very special.”

Poster for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Photo by Marvel Studios)

“Simu came up late in the casting process, when you start to get to that point of maybe it’s not going to happen.

“How we could find somebody to play Shang-Chi was Destin’s biggest question when he signed up as director. Our producer. Jonathan Schwartz. and casting director ,Sarah Finn, looked at hundreds of people and Simu [Liu] came up relatively late in the process, when you just start to get to that point of maybe it’s not going to happen. Because what you want is everybody in your inner circle – the producers, the filmmakers – to see somebody and look at each other and go, ‘We found this person. This is the one.’ We hadn’t had that on Shang-Chi at this point.

Simu came in and Sarah Finn had seen him before and brought him in again and he did a great reading with Destin. He then did a great chemistry read with the Awkwafina, who was gracious enough to do that. And a little bit I was like, ‘Who is this fellow? Let’s look them up.’ (That’s what you do nowadays: You look up, who is this guy?) And he did have this infectious personality online in the way he interacted with the world, and with the fandom of his show that he was doing in Canada at the time, and with his sports team that he was a fan of that was doing well when I happened to search him.

He’s the real deal. Bringing a new Marvel hero into the fold is never easy, and there is always a lot of pressure on us and I’m sure on the actors, but Simu has pulled it off in ways that again, I’m very excited for audiences to finally see in September.”

Tony Leung in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Photo by Marvel Studios)

“Just because the Iron Man 3 version of the Mandarin wasn’t real didn’t mean there’s not a leader of the Ten Rings organization and that is who we meet for the first time in Shang-Chi.

“That subtitle in the Legend of the Ten Rings actually connects it back to the very beginning of the MCU, the Ten Rings being the organization that kidnapped Tony Stark at the very beginning of Iron Man 1. And that organization was inspired by a character called the Mandarin in the comics. And going back to Iron Man 1, we’ve been talking about, ‘When do we bring this character to the screen?, and only wanted to do it when we felt we could do it supreme justice and really showcase the complexity of this character, which frankly we couldn’t do in an Iron Man movie because an Iron Man movie is about Iron Man. An Iron Man movie is about Tony Stark.

Shane Black, in his film [Iron Man 3] and his script that he co-wrote, came up with this fun twist that we love to this day, and [the Mandarin] turned out to be Trevor Slattery. Just because that version wasn’t real didn’t mean there’s not a leader of the Ten Rings organization and that is who we meet for the first time in Shang-Chi. And again, talking about actors making these characters come to life, Tony Leung playing Shang-Chi’s father and the leader of the Ten Rings is another pinch-yourself, dream-come-true moment, because he’s one of the best actors of our time, and we’re very excited to have him introduced to, I hope, a whole new fan base who might not be aware of his spectacular work that he’s done.”

Shang-Chi

(Photo by © Marvel Studios, © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

“That is The Abomination fighting Wong in the Shang-Chi trailer.”

“We just recently released the final trailer for Shang-Chi. Some fans said, ‘This looks like a character they hadn’t seen in many years named The Abomination, fighting a character that looks like Wong. And I can say that the reason it looks like that is because that is Abomination fighting Wong. Yes. And again, [it’s] a fun thing to have a character that we haven’t had on screen in over a decade show up again in the MCU. And to see fans on that little tag of the trailer recognize that and embrace that is great fun.”

Eternals

(Photo by © Marvel Studios, © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

In Eternals, “these are 10 new characters coming into the world, which is a very difficult thing to do, and Chloé Zhao embraced that challenge and had a unique viewpoint for every single one of them.”

Chloé Zhao had expressed interest in Marvel many years ago; even when Brad Winderbaum, producer on Black Widow, was looking for a filmmaker, her name came up. She’d done a great film called The Rider and she ended up not coming in on that film, I don’t believe, and we were very lucky to get Cate Shortland to direct that movie at Scarlett’s suggestion. But when we were working on Eternals, our producer Nate Moore was coming up with this pitch to really embrace one of Jack Kirby’s greatest creations for Marvel – amongst all of his great creations, but The Eternals, this race of immortal beings who’ve been on Earth for millennia, is one of his best. And he asked Chloé to come in and meet and they really just clicked on this notion of a history of humanity and what it means to be human and the viewpoint of that through these characters, The Eternals. And she came in with a pitch that got into visuals, which was beautiful, but more importantly, into these characters. These are 10 new characters [coming] into the world, which is a very difficult thing to do, and she embraced that challenge and had a unique viewpoint for every single one of them. And I’m happy to say that from that initial pitch and meeting to near-final version of the film, where we are now, she has both won a handful of Academy Awards in between and delivered on her promise of what The Eternals could be.”

Eternals

(Photo by © Marvel Studios, © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

“Marvel can tell stories as big as the Big Bang and the foundation of the universe itself and the foundation of reality, and tell something as small and moving as Peter Parker’s origin story…. That makes Marvel Marvel.

“It was always our hope that Marvel Studios to be able to pull off even a little bit, in a cinematic form, what publishing had been able to do in the comics for 70-plus years. And that is everything from the genius of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and all of the spectacular artists and writers – they can tell, honestly, stories as big as the Big Bang and the foundation of the universe itself and the foundation of reality, and tell something as small and moving as Peter Parker’s origin story or that moment in the Loki series when Tom Hiddleston is watching himself in clips from Endgame. It is so heartbreaking, it is so moving… Well, that show i has space lizards and deals with time itself.

It is both that makes Marvel Marvel. It is being able to do the world outside your window on a very personal, emotional level, and come at it from a viewpoint that hopefully makes you think about your place in the grander scheme of reality in the universe. And speaking of Eternals, I’ve seen pictures of Jack Kirby at his little drawing desk in his house and I was thinking, the imagination of that man pouring out onto that page! And now the incredible artists led by Chloé doing it in cinematic form is amazing. It’s bringing the human imagination to life on a personal level and a cosmic level that makes Marvel, I think, what it is.”

Spider-Man: Far From Home

(Photo by JoJo Whilden / © Columbia Pictures / © Marvel)

“There was a time when it looked like Marvel Studios would not be involved in Spider-Man movies going forward for Sony. It was only a few months, but it was an emotional few months…”

“There was a time when it looked like Marvel Studios would not be involved in Spider-Man movies going forward for Sony. It was only a few months, but it was an emotional few months for, I think, all of us on all sides – and a very public few months, for whatever reason. But yes, I always want to look at the bright side and the bright side was: We got to make two great Spider-Man movies with Amy Pascal and Jon Watts, Tom Rothman, and Tom Holland. And I was very proud of that and very happy at that. Of course [I] wanted it to continue, but always want to be happy with what we have instead of upset with what we don’t. Luckily, Tom Rothman and Bob Iger and Alan Horn and Alan Bergman and Tom Holland himself all realized, ‘Wouldn’t it just be more fun if we just kept doing it? Let’s not get business or politics in the way.’ Because the deal always started with Amy Pascal and I having nothing to do with numbers or contracts or politics. It had to do with story and a love of Spider-Man and Peter Parker and the Marvel universe. And it thankfully has continued like that. And that’s where we find ourselves now.”

Poster for Venom

(Photo by © Columbia Pictures)

On Venom Joining the MCU: “I wouldn’t dismiss anything.”

“I don’t want to obviously talk about rumors or speculation on what could happen and what couldn’t happen as it relates to any characters that Marvel Studios hasn’t brought to the screen yet. But I will say what I’ve always said, which is having been with Marvel for 20 years I wouldn’t dismiss anything. I wouldn’t rule anything out completely. When and how and where remains to be seen. Any rumor that you read online could happen anytime between tomorrow and never.”

Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange

(Photo by Jay Maidment/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

“It’s just exciting to get to see Sam Raimi put his Sam Raimi stamp on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse on Madness.”

“I spoke earlier about how everything we do in Marvel Studios is from the point of view of the audience – how do we make the audience feel one way or how do we evoke an emotion out of an audience? I really feel like I learned that from watching Sam Raimi on the Spider-Man movies, where I was just very lucky to be there working for the former head of Marvel Studios, Avi Arad, and just watching: Watching Avi, watching Laura Ziskin, the producer of that, watching Amy Pascal, who ran the studio at the time, and particularly Sam Raimi put those movies together. Now being in a position that Sam is back in the Marvel Universe and working for us on Doctor Strange, which, aside from Spider-man – both Steve Ditko co-creations – was one of his favorite characters, is really quite remarkable and full-circle for me personally from my journey at Marvel.

But really, it’s just exciting to get to watch Sam work again and to see Sam Raimi put his Sam Raimi stamp on Doctor Strange in Multiverse on Madness. And for people who know what that stamp is, they can be very excited. And for people who don’t yet know what that stamp is, I can’t wait for them to see this movie, be blown away by it and go, ‘What else has he done?’ And delve into Sam Raimi’s filmography, which is one of the best of all time.”

Marvel Studios

(Photo by © Marvel Studios)

“The discussions essentially came down to continuing the legacy of Wakanda and continuing with that storyline in a very meaningful, respectful, and yet still hopeful and fun and exciting way, which was difficult after losing Chad.”

“The death of Chad [Boseman] had hit all of us extremely hard – and at the same time as it hit the world, because we didn’t know either. And there were all sorts of questions, and our first thought for many weeks afterwards had nothing to do with the movie, it had to do with him and his family and his wife and his legacy. And really we were looking to Ryan Coogler for guidance – as one frankly always should about almost everything in life, I’d recommend following Ryan Coogler for guidance. The discussions essentially came down to continuing the legacy of Wakanda and continuing with that storyline in a very meaningful, respectful, and yet still hopeful and fun and exciting way, which was difficult after losing Chad. And I will say that Ryan and our producer, Nate Moore, and the entire cast, and our co-writer Joe Robert Cole, have done some remarkable things in the story and the draft. The team is assembling once again and cameras roll in the not-too-distant future on that. And it will be extremely emotional across the board, but I think they have something very special in mind.”

Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld filming "Hawkeye" in New York City

(Photo by Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

“Phase Four was always about continuing in new ways and new beginnings; even with films that seemingly are concluding storylines there are new beginnings within them.”

“The definition of phases often evolve with the phase, and often I leave it up to amazing writers and journalists to decide; that’s for the film historians to tell us what the phases were about. Truthfully, Phase Four was always about continuing in new ways and new beginnings; even with films that seemingly are concluding storylines there are new beginnings within them. That’s what was most exciting to us about the opportunity to make shows for Disney+, about all of us in Marvel Studios choosing to continue past Endgame and past Far From Home and leaving the Infinity Saga behind to a new beginning. That I think is what people will be looking at Phase Four, I hope, as having accomplished. But, we’re in the middle of it now, so it remains to be seen. We don’t take our foot off the gas, we don’t take anything for granted, and we all work extremely hard to deliver.”


Black Widow is in theaters and available on Disney+ via Premier Access. Loki is currently streaming on Disney+; the season finale will be available Wednesday July 14, 2021.

(Check out part one of our interview with Kevin Feige about Phase Four, in which he breaks down EndgameWandaVisionLokiBlack Widow, and more.)

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