After an Avengers: Endgame premiere screening that packs as much intricate storytelling and surprises as any Hollywood blockbuster you’ve ever seen, there was another surprise right after at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Every current Marvel Comic Universe star was onstage, making speeches and taking bows. The actors who play the original Avengers — Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner — gave very emotional speeches, with the guys trying to figure out who cried most often during the premiere of a very emotional and moving film. But the big surprise was that the largest standing ovation was reserved not for those actors — some of whom move are hanging up their costumes — but rather for the Marvel producer/executive behind them, Kevin Feige.
The attention was well deserved. While rival DC is now finding its footing after a long miss and hit string of mostly dark brooding movies that forgot to be fun, Feige closes the chapter on a Marvel movie run whose success will never be duplicated. Starting with 2008’s Iron Man, he has launched one successful superhero franchise after another, with none that would be considered anything less than a success. Marvel did this despite its most famous comic book universes — Spider-Man and X-Men — residing at other studios. I can recall when he was putting all this together, how reps of talent would gripe about having to sign on to modest deals with options that called for them to appear in up to 10 Marvel movies. I doubt any of those actors would complain now, about being tenured members of that universe. Actors like Robert Downey Jr remade themselves and enjoyed life changing experiences as a result.
Has anyone overseen as much unblemished success as Feige at Marvel? Even in his hitmaking heyday, Steven Spielberg had 1941; most legends had at least a few misfires. When launches like Captain America and Thor started to feel a bit leaden, Feige was smart enough to insert Joe and Anthony Russo to turn Captain America into a veritable bowling ball who mowed down rivals in breathtaking action sequences, and Taika Waititi to inject a mischievous wit and energy into Thor: Raganarok. Even second tier launches like Doctor Strange, Guardian of the Galaxy and Ant-Man have been pleasant surprises. Feige has distilled the best qualities of a group of directors, while maintaining a level of oversight. He quickly deflected the standing ovation, which is how he always behaves and his lack of desire for the spotlight is part of his success.
Feige hides under that familiar baseball hat and immediately deflected the praise and brought up Marvel Comics icons like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee — whose final appearance in a Marvel movie was touching and funny. Feige’s lack of hubris has always been refreshing. I’ve heard he’s humble and grounded enough that when he takes his family to the Disney parks, he doesn’t take the guided tour of the parks that allows VIPs to cut to the front of the line. He actually stands in those long lines with his family.
He’ll have many challenges ahead when he can’t rely on the same coterie of Marvel fixtures, but the billion dollar returns of the franchise launches Captain Marvel and Black Panther underscore that Marvel movie fans will follow him anywhere. He unveils a new iteration of Black Widow with Scarlett Johansson finally getting a solo film, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye getting a birth on the Disney + streaming service, and new franchises like the Angeline Jolie-starrer The Eternals and the Asian-centric Shang-Chi coming. You can see a level of inclusion and diversity in that Avengers film last night and glean a hint of what’s coming, and none of it feels forced.
The premiere crowd featured the likes of Matt Damon and Kevin Hart — either would fit a future Marvel movie — as well as MCU members like Black Panther director Ryan Coogler. But the night belonged to what seemed like 40 actors who were part of a 3+ hour film.
Feige and The Russos will hate this talk, but the big mystery is handicapping the box office prospects for Avengers: Endgame in terms of all time global top grossing films. The new film is better than the last, so how can Avengers: Endgame not surpass its predecessor Avengers: Infinity Wars, which finished only $20 million behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the fourth biggest film of all time? It was interesting to see Jon Favreau there to reprise his Happy Hogan character in the film. It was Favreau, along with Downey and Feige, who got the Marvel run of dominance started when he directed the first two Iron Man films. And it was both of them who pushed so hard to lock Downey into the role. But Favreau is also a nemesis to Avengers: Endgame‘s assault on the box office record books: he directed The Lion King, the only film that has a chance of giving that film a run for its money.
Both of these films might not overtake James Cameron’s $2.7 billion all time champion Avatar, but Cameron’s Titanic, which holds second place at $2.18 billion, is clearly vulnerable. Also taking bows at the premiere was Disney chief Bob Iger, whose forward thinking and at the time widely derided $4 billion buy of Marvel — when rivals like Paramount couldn’t see the potential — also is an important part of Marvel’s film success story.