Interview: Marvel’s Kevin Feige Returns to Space with Guardians Vol. 2

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Interview: Marvel's Kevin Feige Returns to Space with Guardians Vol. 2

Marvel’s Kevin Feige returns to space with Guardians Vol. 2

Marvel’s Kevin Feige is a busy man. When we visited the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in April 2016 in Atlanta, Captain America: Civil War had just been released, Thor: Ragnarok was filming, they were just beginning production on Spider-Man: Homecoming at the studio, and Avengers: Infinity War was in early stages of production. But Feige and producer Jonathan Schwartz took the time to show us a sizzle reel from Guardians Vol. 2. As we sat in a room lined with storyboards from the new film, we got our first look at the new Baby Groot.

Q: So, why hasn’t Groot gotten bigger? What’s the story behind that?

Kevin Feige: Well, I don’t know if you’re aware, but the growth cycle of a Groot is slower. This movie takes place relatively soon after the events of the last film. Do we say exactly how long it is?

Jonathan Schwartz: It’s like a couple months.

Feige: Just a few months, so he’s probably just grown out of that pot and stepped out, and is now this size, but as James I’m sure will tell you, he’s just as dumb as big Groot was, and I mean, he’s not really a baby. As James said in that sizzle, he gets, he gets mad at people. And then of course, the fun thing is, as you saw briefly in there, whereas Groot was Rocket’s protector in the first movie, Rocket is Groot’s protector, and they sort of all are in this movie, which was something we had talked about and planned on. It was one of those things, when we were making the first film, and we were just concentrating on making that film as great as it can be, there are always little things that we say, boy, if we get to make another one, it would be really fun. And from the moment we were shooting and animating Rocket on Groot shoulder, we were saying, on the next one, we’ll reverse it. Wouldn’t that be cool? And that’s what we’re doing.

Q: Are you going to be doing anything different with Groot’s voice, since obviously Vin Diesel has that deep, gravelly…

Feige: He will sound different, yeah, but he’ll still say that same thing. [laughter]

Q: What has happened since the, you said there’s a few months, what has happened between this film and when the first film and this film starts?

Feige: I think they’re giving it a shot at being more organized heroes. They are, they are available for do-gooding, so to speak. It doesn’t always good well, but they try that. And when we first meet them, in the beginning of the movie, they’re on a place called Sovereign, where they’ve been asked to help with these, this giant sort of inter dimensional beast that comes out and eats their batteries, their power source, and wreaks havoc on their planet, and the Guardians have been asked to come in and dispatch with that thing, and that’s how our film starts, and their legend. And their mythology has grown and spread throughout the universe, because they defeated Ronan and because they were able to hold, Peter, in particular was able to hold an Infinity Stone and not die, which also has spread his legend.

Q: Is this inter-dimensional beast a nod to the “Cancerverse”…

Feige: Not specifically. We don’t talk about that. It’s more just a fun beast for them to attack in the opening title sequence.

Q I assume that Peter Quill’s legend growing only makes Peter Quill more of an *sshole.

Feige: It doesn’t take much to make Peter Quill more of an *sshole. Yes, there’s a pompousness. James, I’m sure will talk about it more eloquently when you see him today, but they’ve all grown a bit more pompous and you know, the garage band that then gets multi-platinum album, and have egos to go along with that, is certainly the case, which is true for all of them frankly. Not Drax as much, but all of them, particularly Quill.

Q: Is this team still getting to know one another?

Feige: I mean, they are, of course, but they are really and truly a family, and you’ll hear James talk about that a lot, and one of the things I think makes James so special as a writer/director, and you saw it in the first movie, and it’s even more so in this film, is for as fun as it is, for outrageous as it is, characters named Taserface, Baby Groot, killing people and throwing them around, it is very, very emotional, and not cynical in the least. It is very, very truthful and sort of unabashedly so, in its emotions. And it’s a very special combination, that I think James is perfect for, and that’s sort of the crux of this whole movie.

Q: How does Kurt Russell factor in?

Feige: Kurt Russell is a, is a mysterious figure, an adventurer from far parts of the galaxy, who has heard the legend that has spread of the Guardians that I mentioned, and has come to, and has come to meet them and check them out for the first time.

Q: So, what is the main driving, the sizzle made it seem like it was Quill looking for his father and also something with the Ravagers, so what is the main drive here?

Feige: It’s a combination. The Ravagers are a big part of this, are a big part of this movie, much more so than even the first film. We did a costume test for the Ravagers. You always do makeup and costume tests on every movie, and usually people come in, and they stand around. Chris Pratt will put on his outfit and stand there and turn around and we point at his butt, and you get the gist of what the costume is going to be. With the Ravagers, we had them all in full costume and full makeup, and then James put them all together and basically just said, act like the Ravagers. I’m telling you, I could have watched that footage for three hours. It was hilarious, and it was amazing seeing these guys. They’re some of the same actors from the first movie, a lot of new actors playing new characters and new Ravagers, and there’s something just really sort of chemically interesting that happens when you put them all together. There is a story, that Yondu has gotten soft, that Yondu has a soft spot for Quill. He clearly at the end of the first movie opens the orb and sees that Infinity Stone is not in there, that a little troll doll is in there, and he smiles. It’s a very sweet moment in the first movie. I think it shows that, you know, I think he cares about Quill maybe more than he even admits, but there are other Ravagers who think that was sh*tty and think they should have hunted him down and killed him right on the spot, and there is an incident in the first act of this movie, where they’ve been hired to get him, and yet again, Yondu is like, we’re not going to take down the Guardians of the Galaxy. We’d be crazy to do that. We’d endanger ourselves. We’d get the entire Nova Corp, everybody would come after us if we did that, and Taserface and some others are like, bullsh*t, you just saying that because you’re soft on Quill, and it leads to a mutiny. And in that we have a sort of a subplot of these mutinous Ravagers, and Yondu and Rocket and Groot sort of teaming up and escaping from that mutiny to go help Quill, and you may have noticed without much ceremony in the sizzle, but we see it with great ceremony in the movie, he gets a big, a much bigger fin on top of his head, which was James’ sort of nod of the head to that bigger fin he had in the comics, and also because he looks frickin’ awesome in that bigger fin.

Q: Can we confirm that Elizabeth Debicki is Ayesha, and Chris Sullivan is Taserface?

Feige: Yes, yes. Did we not confirm that? That is correct. That is correct.

Q: What can you tell us about Ayesha. Would you call her the main villain?

Feige: You know, she and Taserface together, she is, she’s the one who hires the Ravagers to go after, to go after Quill, because, and this is sort of a spoiler, so you should be a little careful about it, after the opening that I already described, where they’re paid to protect these super duper expensive batteries, that run the entire Sovereign planet, they’re walking away, they’ve defeated the monster, they’re heading back to their ship, and Rocket reveals to Drax that he’s stolen like three of these batteries, because they’re really expensive and they’re not going to notice and who cares, and they’re kind of, the Sovereign are kind of d*cks anyway. They’re very pompous, and they’re gold and they’re easily offended, which we’re also told early in this sequence, and that there’s a very particular way you need to deal with them, and you need to speak with them and you need to be delicate, which is not easy for the Guardians, and certainly not easy when Rocket reveals that he’s snagged these things right out from under them, and that creates a bit of strife for them as the Sovereign end up chasing after them, less because they want those three batteries back, but more because how dare they insult the great Sovereign people.

Q: So how does Nebula fit into the story then, because she sort of went off on her own at the end of the last one. We don’t know…

Feige: She cut her own hand off, jumped onto a ship, and flew away. She comes back into the story relatively early on. In fact, we realize that the payment for the mission that the Guardians have done on Sovereign is to get Nebula. The Sovereign has captured Nebula, and are doing sort of a prisoner, are exchanging her for the services of the Guardians helping them, and they want to take Nebula back to Xandar, to have her, to have her arrested. Things go awry on that journey, and she becomes a much bigger player in the film than she was in the first one, and as James said in the sizzle and can talk more about today, you explore that dynamic between them as sisters, as adopted sisters who both clearly were raised in less than ideal circumstances by Thanos, and it’s sort of Nebula’s deciding does she want to kill Gamora or is she going to set aside this sort of internal rage within her. And she does spend some time teaming up with Taserface for much of the movie too.

Q: It seems like familial conflicts seem to be kind of a through-line, whether its Rocket and Groot and their relationship, obviously Peter and his father, Gamora and Nebula. Is that, you know, big kind of subtext of this movie, people interacting with their own families and fathers…

Feige: Absolutely, and Peter and Yondu, and Peter and his real father, who may show up.

Q: Speaking of his real father, there’s a location over here that is named J’son, which is his father’s name in the comics. It appears to be a location, as opposed to a person. Can you sort of speak about the location that is J’son?

Feige: You know, this room was scrubbed before you guys came in. [laughter] You can’t take everything out, I guess. It’s a very good, it’s a very good question. You should ask James. [laughter]

Q: I guess sort of following up on that question, we see a bunch of different locations. How many locations are we going, how many planets are we going to this time. How big is the scope of the galaxy this time?

Feige: I would say its as big, if not bigger than the first movie. Sovereign is a planet, Bearheart is a planet. Some of these names, actually, in fairness, even not being cute about the J’son thing, some of these names change, because they’re not often referenced in dialogue, so it comes down to the locator. We changed a lot of the names back and forth before we locked them in in the first movie, but Sovereign is a planet, Bearheart is a planet, Contraxi is a planet, J’son is a planet, so four or five. We see glimpses of two or three other worlds, but these are the major locations.

Q: Is there any Thanos in this?

Feige: No.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how Mantis comes into the fold and why she..

Feige: Yes, yeah. Mantis is, who’s on set today? Who are they going to see? Is she on set today?

Q: Everyone is there.

Feige: She’s amazing. Pom Klementoff, which may or may not be the proper pronunciation, is really amazing and is really unique and is really, and her portrayal of Mantis, she auditioned for the part many, many times, along with many, many other people, because James is doing something very unique with Mantis, who has never really encountered other people and other humans before, humanoids before, and makes Drax look like the most world-savvy person there is, and it’s a tough thing to do and to be endearing, and she’s pretty amazing at it. She comes into the story along with the Kurt Russell character, and doesn’t know the other characters and doesn’t know much of the world, and there is a, talking about the bondings between characters, she and Drax spend a lot of time together in this story as well.

Q: I’m guessing, I mean, Mantis in the comics is a highly-complicated, weird character, whose history makes little sense. I’m assuming we’re sort of clean-slating it here with this version of Mantis, or is the celestial Madonna stuff in play?

Feige: Those specifics are not in play, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less complicated and weird. [laughter]

Q: The first Guardians, even without Thanos in this one, did a lot of heavy lifting for setting up what will become Infinity War. Without Thanos in this movie, what role would you see it functioning within the larger MCU as we’re building toward Infinity War.

Feige: I mean, this is really, again, all, I always say, all the movies, Civil War is a standalone story about that, but that fits into it. This is even more of a standalone story than that. This is about the characters. This is about their evolution as heroes, as their own internal family, as the group, a group of characters known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. You know, the way this film ends, and the team at the end, will inform future things, but there’s nothing that nods directly towards it.

Q: There’s, looks like a Nova Corp ship back here, but John C. Reilly and Glenn Close are not in this one?

Feige: John C. Reilly is not in this one.

Q: Glenn Close might be.

Feige: Those are two models from the first film. They were like, let’s bring them in here, put them in the room. [laughter]

Q: With Nova being introduced in the last movie as sort of a species or police force, are we going to see an evolution of that…

Feige: Certainly you could see that someday. This movie is not set up for that in any way.

Q: One thing I think people loved about the first film was how weird and crazy you guys got. Are you pushing with this film or is it like you’ve now established the universe.

Feige: No, we’re pushing. We’re pushing with it. James had, there are a handful of things that we discussed about what the next movie could be about, as we were finishing the first movie, and we’ve been, we’ve released the first movie and James went off for a little while and took some of those things, and came back and had a pitch for this movie that was amazing, and we were in the midst of a couple of other projects at the time, as we always are, you know, a lot of which were not easy. None of them are easy and you’re tangling through different story lines and stuff, and James delivered a 64-page treatment, and we were dealing with all these other things and all this stuff, and I was like 64-page treatment, like why can’t it just be 4 page, each sheet, what? I started reading it, frickin’ off like, it was amazing. It was really, it was really, and you know, it’s changed, it evolved a little bit, but it was so well thought out and so set up in payoffs and character beats and jokes and, that it was just like, [breathes] maybe I don’t have to worry about this one. And of course, we worry about everything, but what was great, and the thing that was so cool about it is it was, and a little bit easier than the first movie, I guess, Peter your question, that you know the character’s voices now. We were defining all of them as we were going in the first movie. Now you know their voices, so when you read it, you hear that, so to that regard, yes, these characters’ voices are just as distinct and fresh as they were the first time. However, the overarching storyline and where the story takes us, I think is perhaps even more unique and more daring than the first film, in terms of there’s maybe an easy way, and a hard way, but the hard way maybe could be more interesting, which is kind of what Guardians was all about for us, as building a movie universe, and we’re certainly going that way as well, in this movie.

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Q: Was the music a part of that pitch and did you listen to it, and how does the music play into this one.

Feige: I think he gave a disc at the same time when the treatment came out, right around there.

Q: Is the music sort of like diegetic in this again.

Feige: What does that word mean?

Q: Is it basically off the tape sort of, talk about how the role of the music.

Feige: It is all off the tape. It’s all off of Volume 2. I would say that the other Guardians now know that music is a thing for Peter, so in early scenes, what you see Baby Groot doing here, which he’s just Groot in the movie, but on set we call him Baby Groot, he’s setting up these little outer space speakers so that the music can play for all of them, because Quill likes to hear music when he’s fighting. So, it does go more than just his headset, but it’s all based off of Volume 2, and I would say that a couple of the songs, and particularly one song has very unique lyrics that play in much more specific part into the plot, than any song did in the first film.

Q: Were you able to get all the songs you wanted?

Feige: We’ve cleared all the songs that were in the script, yeah, yeah. You don’t actually pay for them until you cut the movie together and decide. If you use the first movie as a track record, every song, maybe one or two songs came out of the movie that were, that had been in the script, for length more than anything else, but we’ll probably end up using the vast majority of them, and certainly the ones that tie into the plot and dialogue are in.

Q: We’re not getting any closer to bringing this team to Earth at any point, are we? It seems like you’re going out further.

Feige: We are going out further, yes, yeah. There’s a little bit, there’s a little bit of Earth in this film, but it’s not these characters going to Earth.

Q: Does Peter Quill only listen to mixtape Volume 2 now, or does he revisit the first one?

Feige: Right now it’s only Volume 2.

Q: With the first one being such a big success, and with people really keying into this portion of Marvel universe, do you sort of see, going forward, more films set in this part of the universe? I mean, we’ve been so Earth-bound in the rest of the MCU. Is there a possibility of the Nova Corp or other cosmic Marvel characters sort of branching off from this foundational stone?

Feige: Yeah, for sure. I don’t know about branching off from this, but certainly inhabiting similar areas from this. A lot of our upcoming movies will. I mean the upcoming movies will be as much out here, as they are on Earth, starting with not Spider-Man, starting with Thor: Ragnarok. Thor: Ragnorak takes place, there are three scenes on Earth in Thor: Ragnarok. Everything else is Asgard, and not any of these worlds, but worlds that certainly, let’s put it this way, in Thor lingo, it’s beyond the Nine Realms. There are other planets that we spend a lot of time on in Thor: Ragnarok, that certainly people would say, oh, that’s sort of like the Guardians world, but they’re just other areas of the Marvel cosmic universe.

Q: As the Guardians reputation spreads through the galaxy, are they going hear even a whisper of the Avengers or Thor or anything like that. Are we going to get a sense that it is sort of the same universe, even just a quick mention.

Feige: They might know about Thor. It doesn’t come up. It doesn’t come up. I don’t think they know anything about the Avengers. They might know, Volstag and Sif walked into the Collector’s lab once, so they sort of must know that they sort of, some people know they exist, but that’s not, that doesn’t come into play in this story.

Q: How do you go about, you know, the first movie worked so well, tonally and music and it’s funny and everything. How do you go about not just repeating that this time, sort of giving this its own sort of separate space to work in.

Feige: Well, going to all these different planets, going to very different, very different locations, and introducing all the new characters that are introduced in this, in this movie, and evolving significantly the relationships Yondu, Nebula, of supporting characters from the first film, is certainly a couple of the ways that James is doing that.

Q: How are these villains different from any of the other villains that we’ve seen so far in the Marvel universe?

Feige: Well, I mean, they are less grandiose in their, Taserface and Ayesha are less grandiose in their ambitions than Ronan was, for instance. Ayesha just wants to kill them, for slighting her, and Taserface wants to lead the Ravagers and thinks that, as I said, Yondu got soft. We learn that there are many Ravager factions, of which Yondu controlled one large faction, and a faction that frankly was not necessarily beloved by the other Ravager factions, in large part because they did things like traffic kids from one place to another, which the other Ravagers didn’t love necessarily and set Yondu apart from them. Yondu is getting softer. His experience with Quill in the first movie perhaps is softening him a little bit, certainly more so than the other Ravagers like, and Taserface thinks, who cares about the other Ravagers, and this guy getting soft, we’re going to be, we never say pirates of course, but that’s sort of the inspiration for them, regardless, and there are a couple you saw in the B-roll, references to walking the plank. Taserface is not a nice guy.

Q: What’s at the end of that plank?

Feige: Outer space. The deadly vacuum of space.

Q: What have you learned about creating villains for Marvel movies, because you know, earlier in Phase 2, as well, like the scale was always really big, like Ronan, but even Baron Zemo in Civil War, it’s very small in scope. What have you sort of learned as you guys are getting this far into the ..

Feige: Well, I mean, it always varies, but it always starts with what serves the story the most and what serves the hero the most. We’ve been criticized, if a big criticism of ours is that we focus on the heroes more than the villains, I think that’s probably true. I don’t think it will always be true and I think some of you spoke to Chris and Steve at the Civil War junket. When the heck was that, yesterday? Last week? And they talked about, in appropriately oblique terms, Thanos. Thanos in Infinity War is, you know, in a movie that has a lot of characters, you could almost go so far as to say he is the main character, and that’s a bit of a, that’s a bit of a departure from what we’ve done before, but that was appropriate for a movie called Infinity War. In a lot of cases, Ronan, Ronan’s great, Lee Pace awesome job, absolutely serves it, but certainly was there to go up against our heroes and to give our heroes a reason for coming together. And I think it’s, I hesitate to even, in 2008, there are two superhero movies that came out. One focused on the villain, one focused on the hero, and we at Marvel looked at them, like yeah, we focus on the heroes. We don’t mind that. We like that. Please don’t start a flame war. (Laughter) We don’t, nobody wants that. We don’t do that. But, so again, it really always is what serves the story. Loki, great character, serves, you know, in a lot of ways, Thor. Zemo served that conflict between Cap and Iron Man.

Q: Do you find that you might start having these villains that don’t just go away after one movie, like you had with Loki and Thanos, like you might start incorporating these villains you can develop like your heroes?

Feige: Sure, I mean, they won’t all, if we’re talking about Phase 3, they don’t all, a lot of them can continue. Thanos is the biggest one, of course.

Q: Will we see any Infinity Stones in this one?

Feige: (Pauses) No.

Q: It seems like the scope of this is big, but the scale seems to be small and personal. Is there sort of a universe ending or planet-destroying threat that we’re not seeing here or is it really just these two different groups that kind of …

Feige: It’s mainly these two different groups. There are a few, there are things, there are things, there are other surprises and other things that happen in the movie, over the course of the story, but all of it is in the service of very, very, very personal stakes.

Q: There were rumors that the Guardians were going to take over Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure. Can you talk about that and what their role will be in the parks world?

Feige: I can’t really, I can’t really talk about it, but I know that Imagineering has been talking about it for years and I think we’re getting closer to actually seeing more of the Marvel characters in the parks, which is something that, you know, I’ve wanted to see for a long time. The timeline is very different when it comes to building giant park rides, as I’ve learned, but so I think you’ll see the incorporation of many Marvel things, but that could be over the next 10-15 years.

Q: Will we see the Guardians show up in any of the other films coming up, after this sequel or just go to a third film or will they all come over to Infinity War. Will we see them in Thor: Ragnarok?

Feige: It could be anything, man. [laughter] You really don’t know anything. [laughter]

Q: Is it a challenge finding time for every person in the sequel, because coming out of the first one, everybody had their favorite and it was a little bit surprise who rose to, like I love Groot or I love Rocket, so when you get to a sequel, some people might be coming in wanting a lot of Star-Lord, some people might want a lot of Yondu, like is it…

Feige: They will get a lot of both of those things. No, I think that’s, I think it comes down to the screenplay again. I think Civil War, and Chris and Steve and Joe and Anthony did a magnificent job of balancing those characters and there are many more characters in Civil War than there are in this movie, but that’s one of the things that James does incredibly well, and again, it’s not about the amount of screen time. It’s about what they’re doing in the screen time they have, and I think every single character on these walls has great moments, and more than that, great arcs over the course of the movie, for sure.

Q: Can you talk about Baby Groot’s costume, and why he has clothing on this time and how that came to be?

Feige: He only has it very briefly and that is a Ravager costume, which the very mean Ravagers sort of quickly sew and put him in, because they think it’s funny. Groot does not think it’s funny.

Q: Some of the fun of the first Guardians movie was the way it like, rather audaciously subverted a lot of superhero movie tropes, you know, down to Peter Quill challenging Ronan to a dance off in the final battles. Can you talk about whether, how that will continue in the next movie, if at all.

Feige: Well, I would say the spirit of that continues throughout the entire movie, starting with an opening in which they’re supposedly the heroes, but they went and snagged the frickin’ thing they were supposed to be protecting, which was a very early idea that James had.

Q: This is obviously complicated by different departments involved in this question, but with the first Guardians, there was a lot of concern that when the merch came out, Gamora wasn’t seen in a lot of places. This movie has Nebula forwarded, Mantis joins the group. Are we going to see, as the merch and stuff comes forward, are we going to see more women? Is the follow up to that where’s Black Widow campaign that people were having on the internet.

Feige: That was very frustrating for us, because we see, we see it from the other side, right. When I say we, I mean the filmmakers, because we’re presented with the stuff that’s being made, and there’s, I don’t know if there’s an absolutely equal sampling, but Black Widow was all over that stuff. Gamora was all over that stuff. What we don’t see is how much of it is in any given store. How easy is one piece of merchandise to find versus another piece of merchandise. So, we see the stuff and we go, oh great, these are all our characters, they’re all great represented, they’re all going to be sold, and then we find out, oh, you can’t find this, you can’t find that, or there’s lunch boxes or a backpack where a certain character is not on it, and I think the outrage was great, because that’s not going to happen anymore. And that was one of our big things we set out to do and was very important to James as well, was putting, as we did in the first film, with a number of characters, even more so this time, putting women at the forefront of the story.

Q: So, is that something that you’re going to be more involved in going forward, making sure that there is that representation?

Feige: There is, in as much as what we can have sway over. We can’t have sway over what a retail store, how many items of what they want to stock on a shelf, but when toy sets come over, or t-shirt designs come over, if they’re not represented properly or representative of the film, we’re not even saying is the equality of each gender specific, we’re going does it represent the movie we’re making, and if it doesn’t, we send it back until it does. Have a great time on set. We’re making another movie around the corner here, which I’m going to spend my day on, but you’re going to go see a lot of sets you saw in here.

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