In 2019, it’s hard to imagine any new movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe being anything less than a Hulk-smashing success at the box office. But Marvel Entertainment chief Kevin Feige says the upcoming The Eternals, despite its star-studded cast and huge budget, is taking exactly that kind of risk — and it’s not the first time he’s felt that way about a big-budget MCU movie.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in a far-ranging interview, Feige said The Eternals is risky for a lot of reasons: It introduces the world to characters who’re relatively unknown outside of the comics, it costs a ton of money, and it’s focused on continuing Marvel’s tradition of making movies in which the superheroes’ powers aren’t as important as their emotional and conflicted human traits.
“[Director] Chloe Zhao is on the Canary Islands right now with ten amazing actors shooting The Eternals — a group of characters that nobody has ever heard of, outside of a very small group of people,” said Feige.
“It is a very big movie. It is a very expensive movie. And we are making it because we believe in her vision, and we believe in what those characters can do, and we believe that we need to continue to grow and evolve and change and push our genre forward. That's a risk if I've ever heard one.”
Feige revealed that some Marvel characters who are only now coming into the MCU were originally set to be a part of Marvel’s original movie lineup — including Shang-Chi, which is in development with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings for a February 2021 release. “There were a lot of good characters on that [original] list,” Feige said. “…I think Shang-Chi was on that list. There were characters that are only now [having movies] being made on that list.”
Regardless of character, shaking up genre conventions and mixing in elements of outside genres into the Marvel formula has always been part of the MCU’s recipe for success, Feige said. The Eternals is only the latest in a long line of MCU films (and now, he noted, Marvel TV shows like the upcoming WandaVision) to do far more with superheroes than simply show CGI actions shots where stuff blows up. It’s a big reason why he believes the original Iron Man was a riskier box office bet than even 2008’s The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton.
“Remember: We were making essentially two movies at the same time…The Incredible Hulk was the ace in the hole…That was the ringer; that was the ‘safe’ one,” Feige explained. “Iron Man was the risk. Because everybody had heard of the Hulk, and most people had not heard of Iron Man,” he added, saying that Tony Stark’s relative big screen obscurity actually proved liberating for Marvel — since it allowed the studio to tell a fresh story; one that, unlike Hulk, didn’t have to conform to fans’ preconceived ideas of what Tony Stark’s human flaws might look like.
The ability to tell deeper stories than simple good-versus-evil matinee fare, Feige said, is a big reason why he doesn’t agree with recent MCU criticisms from directing icons like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. “I think it's fun for us to take our success and use it to take risks and go in different places,” he said, adding that “everyone” has their own ideas of artistic risk. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” he said, and “I look forward to what will happen next. But in the meantime, we're going to keep making movies.”
Movies like The Eternals, in other words — which introduces MCU fans to a fresh batch of Marvel comics heroes when it lands in theaters on Nov. 6 of next year.