The Disney+ series WandaVision is the first property to launch the fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one which will dovetail between big screen features and streaming series.
But with Disney planning to make as many as ten Marvel Disney+ shows in the next few years, is it an embarrassment of riches?
Following WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a spinoff series of Captain America will debut this year on Disney+ followed by Loki, based on Thor‘s bad seed brother.
It wasn’t too long ago that Disney’s Lucasfilm sought to emulate a Marvel feature spinoff strategy with its Star Wars movies. Unfortunately, that was halted after the dismal B.O. results of Solo: A Star Wars Story; a situation of too much, too soon. In the wake of Solo, Disney is building out the deeper universe of Star Wars through streaming, with future shows like The Book of Boba Fett and Ahsoka, among others, while hatching Star Wars movies in new worlds, of which Marvel Boss Kevin Feige is overseeing one (Deadline recently broke the news that pic is being penned by Loki EP Michael Waldron).
Deadline landed some time with Feige this afternoon to ask him about how this new symbiotic relationship between its prized $1 billion-grossing comic book movies and Disney+ streaming series would work, and whether theatrical is bound to come up short in the long run.
WandaVision, which drops on Jan. 15, marks the first time that a Marvel streaming series has centered around two Avengers, in this case Scarlet Witch and Vision (ABC TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did star Clark Gregg’s agent Phil Coulsen from the earlier MCU movies. He died in Avengers and was brought back to life for the show. For the most part, except for Captain Marvel, he largely stayed out of the latter MCU movies while the series was on the air).
Exploiting a popular franchise concurrently between TV and film isn’t anything new, though it’s not a perfect science. In 1998, Fox released the big screen movie X-Files: Fight the Future ($189M) which built off the show’s most recent TV season. And in 1999, Paramount had the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut ($83M WW) while the animated series was airing on Comedy Central. Neither were massive blockbusters, yet neither did any overall damage to the their respective franchises. X-Files would run for another four years after the 1998 movie spawning a 2008 feature and two revival series in 2016 and 2018. South Park, which first launched in August 1997, is contracted to be on the air though 2022. That said, both IPs’ legacies were defined by their TV runs.
Still, Marvel has succeeded by swinging for the fences, and not being deterred in their execution. Hence, this new call-and-response between Marvel movies and streaming series could very well be the next big thing as we come out of the pandemic.
DEADLINE: Sidney Poitier is known to have dispensed the following advice to Denzel Washington: ”If they see you for free all week, they won’t pay to see you on the weekend.” Which brings me to: Is there any concern about the over-expansion of the MCU on streaming, that it’s going to impact the films at the box office?
KEVIN FEIGE: Well, it’s not free. And, it is not dissimilar to the worries I’ve had in my first few years at Marvel. Because the Marvel rights were separated among multiple studios, there would be multiple Marvel movies a year. There was one year when there were three in one summer. The question was ‘Whoa, how is this going to last? How is this going to survive?’ And my answer then, when I had no control over anything, was “As long as they’re different, as long as they’re unique and some of the characters might crossover and the Marvel logo is at the front.” But if they’re unique and interesting stories, that doesn’t go out of style. Finding something interesting and unique to watch at home, and eventually being back in a movie theater is how we escape, is how we learn and is how we grow. It’s our job as storytellers to utilize that format and tell interesting, different stories that happen to be based in 80 years of amazing narrative fiction of the Marvel comics and can tap into all the different genres. A black-and-white half-hour sitcom is very different very anything we’ve done before. It happens to star two Avengers and has the Marvel logo on it, but is wholly unique and that is what we had been working on for Disney+ and phase 4 features until we finalized Endgame.
DEADLINE: What’s so amazing about WandaVision is that it’s so avant-garde. You know something is going on underneath the veneer, but its satirical approach is very different. What gave you and Marvel creators confidence that fans would go down this rabbit hole with you? These are two very serious characters, and I would never imagine them in anything satirical.
FEIGE: Confidence is — I don’t know if I’m the most confident guy in the world. I think we always question things, but we don’t let fear guide us in our choices either. So, I believe there is a healthy balance somewhere. From the start of Marvel Studios, we always said we don’t want to make one kind of movie. When Iron Man worked, the first thing we announced was a WWII movie (Captain America) and a Norse God alien movie (Thor), and then a team-up movie (Avengers). So we always look to take the success or the goodwill that comes to us, and utilize that to expand to grow into Guardians of the Galaxy, and into Black Panther and Captain Marvel. And WandaVision was just an extreme version of that and doing it in a way that will have answers and will take the confusion, or the oddity or avant-garde nature of it and begin to put into the piece, as each episode is unveiled week by week. But we’ve always been rewarded for taking big swings and not for repeating ourselves necessarily. And we had great confidence in those two actors playing those two characters and that they could absolutely pull it off.
DEADLINE: We know with Monica Rambeau in WandaVision, her character connects into Captain Marvel 2, and that the series connects to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Is WandaVision a ramp to the revival of X-Men you’re planning?
FEIGE: In hindsight, in five years if when we’re talking about everything that’s happened, everything can be a ramp to everything, specifically though, yes, Monica in Captain Marvel 2 and specifically to Wanda teaming up with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
DEADLINE: It was announced at Disney Investor Day that you would not recast another actor in the role of T’Challa for Black Panther 2 following Chadwick Boseman’s death. Can you tell us more about that? Will this be similar to what was done in Tron where a younger Jeff Bridges was replicated via CG? Or is this a whole different angle on Black Panther 2? There’s been rumors that it will have a female angle.
FEIGE: So much of the comics and that first movie is the world of Wakanda. Wakanda is a place to further explore with characters and different subcultures. This was always and initially the primary focus of the next story. We’re not going to have a CG Chadwick and we’re not recasting T’Challa. Ryan Coogler is working very hard right now on the script with all the respect and love and genius that he has, which gives us great solace, so it was always about furthering the mythology and the inspiration of Wakanda. There’s also the task of honoring and respecting the ongoing learnings and teachings from Chad as well.
DEADLINE: Do you think Black Widow will stick to a theatrical release or go to Disney+? And what is your take on sending certain movies to streaming? Does it damage the brand, or do you think the audience is smart enough to decipher that we’re in the exception of a pandemic and that eventually, we’ll come back to the movies?
FEIGE: If I had a crystal ball, I’d look into it and tell you. I don’t. All I can tell you is that for the past three years since Bob Iger brought me into his office and talked about a streaming platform that would become Disney+ and asked us to start working on programs for it. Our long lead plan was to have the MCU and the storytelling woven between weekly episodic big swings on Disney+ and into the feature big swings in theaters. It’s my great hope that that continues. Don’t ask me week by week what is going to happen in this world, I have no idea and don’t want to guess. Everything we’ve done at Marvel Studios has been based in “Ok, if everything goes perfectly, here’s what we’d like to do.” And until this past year, things have gone remarkably well. And it’s my hope that the world gets back on track and we all get back into theaters, and that people will see and experience week by week for the low monthly fee of Disney+ of what we’re bringing there, and then be excited to get together with people again in real life and sit with strangers and share an experience on the big screen.
DEADLINE: Will you ever revive any of the Netflix Marvel series like Luke Cage, or Jessica Jones, etc. or is that era completely over?
FEIGE: Well, certainly you’ve seen what we announced at Comic-Con a year and half ago and on Disney Investor Day a few weeks ago, so that’s our focus. But I’ve been at Marvel long enough to never say never about anything.
Marvel Boss Kevin Feige On ‘Black Panther 2’ Post Boseman, ‘Black Widow’ Release & Why Streaming Plans Won’t Burn MCU At The B.O. The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deadline.