Star Wars had George Lucas, the Walt Disney Company had Walt Disney, Marvel Comics had Stan Lee, and now, Marvel Studios has Kevin Feige. Throughout his tenure as the President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige has become as well-known as his Marvel stars due to both his enthusiasm for the franchise and his hand in planning and orchestrating the interconnected MCU.
Following the conclusion of the Infinity Saga and the record-breaking success of both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Feige and Marvel Studios broke new ground in choosing to tell MCU stories on Disney+ in addition to theaters, while also diving into the Marvel Multiverse.
Despite Marvel's increase in content and new frontiers, Feige hasn't taken his hands off the wheel. In fact, at 2022's CinemaCon, Feige revealed that he and the studio are already mapping out the next decade of Marvel films.
But Feige isn't only just the "He Who Remains" of the MCU; he's also a great collaborator. And, according to one of Marvel Studios' most successful directors, the studio president knows what works and what doesn't.
How Kevin Feige Shows Directors That a Scene Won't Work
In a discussion on the Empire Podcast about Kevin Feige, Marvel director Joe Russo had nothing but praise for the studio president when describing his "sensibility for commercial material" and deep understanding of how scenes resonate with audiences. Russo explained how Feige's subtle movements during test screenings are "a great litmus test" for whether a scene will connect with audiences (leaning forward = good reaction, backwards = bad):
“Yeah, he’s amazing. His brain is amazing. His sensibility for commercial material is incredible. Anth[ony Russo] and I learned early on that… so you do a screening with Kevin, he would sit and watch his director’s cut with you. And if you look over at him and he’s leaning forward, you know the movie’s gonna work. And when he’s leaning backwards, you know… Just from a test audience standpoint, he can sense exactly where that movie isn’t gonna connect with an audience. And it’s innate. It’s inside of him, ’cause he loves storytelling so much. And that was always a great litmus test for us ’cause we’d kind of side-eyed Kevin just to see if he was leaning backwards or forwards while he’s watching the film."
In addition to recognizing great storytelling, Feige can also recognize great talent. Joe Russo explained that Feige realized he and his brother Anthony not only understood "action storytelling" but "humor too," and that's part of "the secret sauce at Marvel:"
"Feige is a genius. Had watched the paintball episodes of Community. Community was just an exercise in genre. That’s what it was, right?… Every week became a different exercise in filmmaking [through genre]. Feige loved that. He watched those paintball episodes and thought, ‘Those guys understand action storytelling, but I love that they can do humor too,’ and that’s the secret sauce at Marvel, right? It has humor, and heart, and emotion, and spectacle. But it has humor. You’re hard-pressed to find a Marvel movie that doesn’t have humor in it somewhere."
Russo then went on to discuss his and Anthony's experience in pitching 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, admitting, "It was a lot of filmmakers fighting for the movie:"
"And we went in the room to pitch on [Captain America: The Winter Soldier] but we were comfortable enough with where we were in TV at the time that we’re pretty adamant about our vision. We’re adamant about executing that vision and we’re adamant about having control, because we’re like ‘Look, we produce TV constantly so we’re a little bit of a machine. And we know how to execute efficiently.’ And we went through a process. It was a lot of filmmakers fighting for the movie. Our pitch was to turn everything on its head and throw out everything they’d done in the first movie in a weird way, so let’s go post-modern with it. And when we got the job, they were true to their word in that they gave us a lot of room. And they did for every project we did for them. So it was a completely different experience than we had in the past."
In recalling his early experience working for Marvel Studios, the Endgame director then circled back on his later experiences and what he and Anthony were allowed to do after having won Feige's trust, stating, "He'll support you... He'll support you killing half his characters, he'll support you killing Iron Man:"
"But Kevin, again, is a great collaborator and very trusting. If you win his trust, you can do whatever you want. He’ll support you. He’ll support your crazy ideas, he’ll support taking his two lead characters and having them try to kill each other, he’ll support you killing half his characters, he’ll support you killing Iron Man. And so we had a fantastic time working with them because we had a great level of control.”
Kevin Feige's MCU Timeline
Of all the filmmakers who have whelmed an MCU film, there's no doubt that the Russo Brothers make the MCU's Mount Rushmore of directors.
In addition to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, the Russos also directed Captain America: Civil War which, along with being an unofficial Avengers movie, introduced audiences to Tom Holland's Peter Parker and Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther before their own solo movies.
And, as Joe Russo explained, Kevin Feige trusted him and Anthony Russo to kill off half of the MCU cast in Infinity War and Tony Stark's Iron Man in Endgame. So if anyone knows what it's like working with Kevin Feige, it's the Russos.
Not only did this interview support the fact that Feige knows good storytelling and loves the material as much as the fans, but it also showed that - in addition to having a plan - Marvel Studios allows its directors freedom and control and will even support their "crazy ideas."
While some have questioned this practice, especially now that fans have more questions than ever about the Multiverse, it's worth remembering that this approach brought James Gunn, the Russos, Taika Waititi, and Ryan Coogler into the MCU.
Once again, it's clear that Feige always has a plan and, as Joe Russo explained, he knows what works and that will likely continue to serve both the MCU and its fans for years to come.