Interviews TV

Explosions And Trauma – How Kevin Feige Crafts A Show That “Doesn’t Suck”

Dressed in his iconic black baseball cap, Kevin Feige is an innovator and Marvel Studios’ most powerful weapon. From an underdog endeavor with a roster of meh characters to a cinematic empire, Feige’s refreshing, comic-book-based approach to blockbuster filmmaking—having heroes stand on their own then bleed into the next leading into one epic battle—has changed not only the way movies are made but also pop culture. Ever wonder why you’re sitting in the movie theater after the credits are over? That’s because of Feige.

After 23 films and entering into Phase Four, it was time for Feige and Marvel Studios to deep dive into the mindset of characters who are the backbone of The Avengers.

While WandaVision explored the stages of trauma, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier tackles race in America, and PTSD all while delivering action-packed sequences that we miss from going to the movies.

“This is the second one that is coming out onto Disney+ but, as everybody knows it was our first one that we started, so Malcolm got to experience a bunch of filmmakers who’d never done TV before, trying to figure out but it ended up working out very well because it was really meant to prove to ourselves, the audience, Mr. Mackie and Stan there that just because it’s on TV doesn’t mean it’s not gonna be as big as it possibly could be as a movie and that we were working just as hard on it and putting all of our blood, sweat, and tears into it,” said Feige.

(L-R): Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily Van Camp) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

“Which is why in this first episode it really starts off with a bang. We kept saying, ‘If we’re gonna do a series with Falcon and Winter Soldier in it, we need to at least start off with the best action that we’ve ever seen.'” And we’ve seen a lotta cool action with both of them before. And more importantly, as I think you also see in that first episode and will see much more of over the course of the series, learn who the heck they are.”

“We know a little bit about the poor Bucky Barnes and what he’d been through. Sam Wilson, other than that he likes the job and is an inherently moral, man and had been in the service and worked with PTSD, we didn’t know much about ’em. So, it was really an opportunity to go deep,” Feige continued.

Playing out over the course of six episodes, the show is a cinematic experience that draws inspiration from buddy cop films like 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, and Rush Hour. However, the recurring theme of emotional trauma provides emotional balance to the series while making our superheroes relatable.

“I think definitely. I think you feel [the trauma] more because we have more time with the Disney+ series, but I think that’s something we’ve always tried to do. Iron Man 3 was all about Tony Stark’s PTSD from Avengers essentially. It’s always about exploring. What’s great about the Marvel characters is, you’ve always heard us say is their flaws, is grounding something for as crazy and extraordinary and science fiction and fantasy and supernatural as the MCU can get, it’s grounding in the character experiences and the emotions of the character.

(L-R): Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

“And that’s always by far the most important anchor for any story we’re gonna tell. And there has been a lot of trauma for these characters over the years and you can easily forget that or brush that under the carpet because there’s sparkly portals opening and people cheering and Iron Man punching a flying lizard. But really, if you think about it, which we do, we think about what if we were those characters, what if we lived this, there would be horrific elements to that that would have repercussions years down the line. And  that is very fun to explore.”

Just like WandaVision connects to the larger story of Phase Four that continues into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the fallout from Endgame directly impacts the lives in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which will impact other characters and storyline from upcoming TV shows and films.

“The characters of Bucky and Sam are essential to the MCU and as they change or as they evolve, or whatever they go through could and should have a big impact on the-on the MCU. So-so the answer is yes, it is hard to navigate every fan theory that’s gonna pop up. Not everything is world-shattering to the point of bringing in some giant element to the comics that it’s never been in before or smashing the earth in two and creating two plants, right?”

“It can be character shifts that have massive, massive, um, implications for the stories we’re telling in the future. So it will be a combination. And the end of the show does split the earth in two.”

(L-R): Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

“We really did approach it like we do the movies. Which is, we better make this great, or we won’t be able to do another one. If we were able to do another [season], there are certainly ideas. The slight difference and I think is becoming clear with Wandavision, that they really will go back and forth between the Disney Plus series and the Marvel Studios Features. So, where characters show up, and how sometimes will be in a direct season two. Sometimes will be in a feature, and then into an additional season. We’re just not gonna say who does what right this second.”

“We have a future charted for characters post-Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I don’t want to say much more than that,” Feige teased.

Captain America is “missing” and the honeymoon phase of people reunited with their loved ones is over. Gone are the celebrations welcoming home the loved ones taken away during the snap.

People are losing hope, wondering will it ever get better? While there are enemies to face, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier dives deep into the lives of superheroes once the costume comes off and they’re alone with their thoughts. As soldiers of war, the most dangerous threat are their thoughts, the silence always seeping in.

Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Sam, who turned down being the next Captain America (“it feels like someone else’s”) struggles to step in as a provider to his family that doesn’t need nor wants his help. To them, he’s not The Falcon, but the brother and uncle who left them alone to save the world when times got too hard. Sam now grapples with putting the pieces back together in a world that just sees him as another Black man in America.

While this feels like a new origin story for the characters, Marvel Studios is inspired by the trajectory of the characters’ lives from the comics. Just as the comics evolved, we will see this evolution played out in the series.

“The cast is prologue, the clues are everywhere in what has led to this moment. Sometimes it’s just a name, but oftentimes, we do pull of course from the lineage of their biography from the comics and then tweak it as is appropriate for the point, you of time we’re introducing those characters in the MCU. Stay tuned over the course of the series.”

Even when it comes to shadow organizations such as S.W.O.R.D. and HYDRA who played key roles in the lives of The Avengers; especially Bucky. “You can always look at the comics, right? We always take our lead from what has happened before and those organizations come and go in various forms over the years, so they always could. And the new organizations like S.W.O.R.D. that you saw in WandaVision, so yes. There’s always an inherent need for certain above-board or shadow organizations sometimes in the MCU.

Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

“We never would have attempted this or tried this or had been excited to bring, a series to Disney+ if we didn’t have unbelievable actors like Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan playing these characters and being able to bring them to life and know that we can pile six hours on and it will work.”

Like WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is an intimate look into not superheroes but humans grappling with the struggles of grief. Grieving for the lives they could have had if they never became superheroes and grieving over the life moments they missed during a single finger snap. While these two characters had a brief moment together in Civil War, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a deep dive into the relationship of two people who equally hate, yet respect each other through their shared PTSD trauma as soldiers struggling to make sense of their new reality. It rather refreshing watching characters we’ve followed for almost a decade given a chance to breathe and settle into themselves.

Feige credits the creative talents behind the series and the freedom of Disney+ with allowing them to tell stories they would have never imagined before.

“It’s taking advantage of the different story-telling medium that we have with Disney Plus, and what excites us in the room. What makes us interested, excited, what could happen at the end of an episode that would keep us interested? We’re all fans within Marvel Studios. So, it really is kind of the same balance that we’ve been trying to strike for the last ten-plus years. And figuring out, yes, how to exceed expectations, but also how to subvert expectations. I’ve never thought of it in terms of what people want versus what they need. It’s just, how do you provide the best, most engaged level of storytelling to the audience? And sometimes that is subverting what they expect. There are times where something comes up totally out of left field that even we weren’t anticipating. Like, for instance, the aeronautical aerospace engineer, that is asked about. That turns into a whole thing. That was new, to us. But other than that, we’re usually quite in sync with what people are expecting, and either delivering on that or surprising and subverting that. What if we said, ‘No. No more surprises.’ No more.

“They could go further with [head writer] Malcolm Spellman and Kari Skogland bringing them to lives in ways that are above and beyond. [Producer] Nate More who bought in Malcolm and Kari and who was there every single day all making what this show is; the show that doesn’t suck. It doesn’t suck.”

The Falcon And The Winter Solider is streaming on Disney+ now. To learn more about the show, check out our cast interview.

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