Kevin Feige: The Greatest Filmmaker of the 21st Century

Feige has been at the epicenter of it all

At this point, 20 movies in — — with the 21st, “Captain Marvel,” debuting March 8 — — it’s almost reductive to say that Marvel Studios is on a run. What it has done, if you ask anyone that remotely exists behind the scenes of the Hollywood scene, is rewrite the rules. Sequels, prequels, and spin-offs have come and gone, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe, like the comic books it sources from, tells one sprawling story. From 2008’s “Iron Man” straight through the impending April release of the massively anticipated “Avengers: Endgame,” it has all been apart of one vision, one man’s vision. That man, that filmmaker, is Kevin Feige.

Now, the term “filmmaker” is narrowed down by many in that of a director or a screenwriter. While those two gigs are significant to the filmmaking process, producers are the ones that get the Academy Award at the end of the day. They’re the ones that put it all together, they are those who decide to fund this project or that project, and they are what makes the movie-making business such a difficult feat to pull off. Often, they are considered as the bank of Hollywood; in other ways, they are collaborators; it merely depends on the producer and their style.

That said, Kevin Feige is a bit of both, but the best way to frame him is as a showrunner. I’ve long argued that the MCU, despite its grandeur and success, is not always hell-bent on creating complete movies. I love it with all of my heart, but there are movies in the franchise that are merely meant to get us to the next chapter, to the next story, to the next thing. What that does, is evaporate the resolve for a film’s finale, it means we are merely spending time with a character for no apparent rhyme or reason, other than to check in.

However, it’s a testament to the success of Marvel Studios and its showrunner Kevin Feige that their success continues despite making a movie like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” which is arguably a story made for fans who miss their Guardians, and that’s about it. So, it’s worth making the point that some of these movies have been better than others — — 2011’s “Thor” and 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” are both in the mid-60s and mid-70s are Rotten Tomatoes compared with the 90s scores by “Black Panther,” “Captain America: Civil War,” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — — but all in, those 20 movies have amalgamated a massive total of $6.8 billion domestically (unadjusted for inflation which adds an extra $400 million) and almost $18 billion worldwide for Disney. That success naturally makes the other studios envious. And that envy has led to a collage of would-be universe builders that never really got out of the gate.

We’ve seen DC try and pull it off with their own toy box, and they have their fans, with an amalgamated $1.9 billion at the domestic box office in a matter of 6 movies, and almost $5 billion worldwide. But those movies have many critics and have never become apart of the pop-culture lexicon in the same fashion as the MCU, but they do have their fair shot in comparison to the former Universal plans for a Dark Universe which closed-up-shop late last year.

Sony hoped to launch its own schtick with Spider-Man before giving away the character to Marvel and now is left to their own devices with a financially successful anti-hero character with no hero to battle. Although, they do have a critically and financially successful animated series to capitalize upon with “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” And Paramount is on the right track with their Transformers Universe with the stand-alone “Bumblebee” being a critical success but never catching stride at the box office in any real meaningful way.

Most of the problem with these studios is the blueprint they intend to follow, rushing to the scene instead of slowly building to their time in the spotlight, and another dilemma seems to be, at least for Warners Bros., that you need a Kevin Feige. They believed that their big guns were enough to get their foot in the door, and it was, at least in marketing, but Marvel Studios has made the lesser of comic book fandom become followers of obscure character like “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Iron Man,” and presumably “The Eternals” whenever they decide to make that movie.

Feige, 45, and Marvel Studios have taught a moviegoing audience who may have never even thought about picking up and flipping through a comic book before, how to absorb a narrative over the course of differentiating stories, characters, and uniquely made worlds. With movies plotted until 2022, the studio shows no sign of slowing down, despite their reported break over the next year following “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” It is the most widely regarded and well-known story of the 21st century, to the point that a movie like “Avengers: Endgame” has a more than fair chance at breaking the opening weekend box office record that the “Avengers” film before it set almost a year prior — — which was $257.6 million mind you.

That’s an insane amount of loyalty to come by as a storyteller, nevermind a film studio. And Feige has been at the epicenter of it all, getting his first credit as an associate producer on 2000’s “X-Men.” He shepherds the pastors of the MCU in the way of a showrunner — — which is why the comparison exists — — someone who can keep the larger story flowing through specific installments to a handpicked team of collaborators which include some of film’s best and brightest like that of the Russo Brothers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, James Gunn, Ryan Coogler, and others. Not to mention the sheer amount of star power to be had in each of their projects, from Chris Pratt to Scarlett Johansson to Robert Downey Jr. to Brie Larson to the mighty James Brolin.

It’s an impressive team that has been formulated throughout ten years, and all of it maintains a level of quality control and a unifying vision — carrying with them someone who encyclopedically knows the subject matter but isn’t so close to it that she or he can’t make massive alterations. Feige seems to understand, implicitly, what makes Marvel’s characters resonate in a way that few of the other studios’ universe architects do.

And he’s one of the many big-time producers, alongside Kathleen Kennedy (who is in the running for the title above), that recognizes the power in diversity. Electing a movie like “Black Panther” to be made from a vision that wasn’t his own as a white man, and giving countless opportunities to a vast array of black artists like recent Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter. It’s a movie that brought an entirely new audience to the table with the highest domestic gross of the 20-film bunch with $700 million. And the upcoming “Captain Marvel” is a female-led, and female made, big-budget flick with grave importance to the MCU as a whole. Especially the character in consideration is arguably one of the more O.P (over-powered) in the entirety of Marvel Comics.

Sure, Feige’s Academy Award shelf is a bit dusty and vacant, but as I’ve said before, the Academy Awards are not my measurement of quality. And don’t get me wrong, this is purely a subjective title to award a filmmaker. But, what Feige and the teams that he has brought together, almost single-handedly, have done for both comic book fans and moviegoers as a whole, is special.

This a Rod Serling-like run, we are watching a story be told to an audience so massive that it’s harder to find someone who doesn’t watch these movies than vice-versa. And Feige has said that the future directions are different and hold keys to doors that are hither-to-undreamt-of, he knows that this original 11-year-long story must, inevitably, come to an end, with most of the newer characters going forward, and the older ones, meeting their final demise.

It’s a hard thing to swallow as a fan, but Feige knows that good stories have good endings, and great stories don’t allow themselves to be buckled down by the minutiae of a narrative that refuses to end. Although, in comic book storytelling, nothing is ever really dead. And that’s something Kevin Feige knows too.