Marvel’s Kevin Feige on ‘Guardians Vol. 2’s New Heroes and Villains, and the MCU’s Cosmic Future
If you’ve read our full Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set visit, and you still want more details from behind the scenes of Marvel’s next big blockbuster, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s the nearly full conversation (which we’ve lightly edited for length and clarity) that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige had with the assembled press on the set of Guardians 2. Below you’ll get more details on the film’s story (if you’re really worried about spoilers, you might want to skim that part), particularly how Yondu and Mantis fits into the new roster of the Guardians, along with some concrete details about the movie’s place in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. (No Thanos! No Infinity Stones!)
It’s a great conversation with tons of cool info (like the juicy tidbit that Thor: Ragnarok will have just three scenes set on Earth) to tide you over until Guardians 2 roars into theaters on May 5.
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. 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.
Are you going to be doing anything different with Groot’s voice, since obviously Vin Diesel has that deep, gravelly…?
He will sound different, yeah, but he’ll still say that same thing. [laughter]
What has happened between this film and the first film?
I think they’re giving it a shot at being more organized heroes. 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 interdimensional beast that comes out and eats their batteries, their power source, and wreaks havoc on the planet. The Guardians have been asked to come in and dispatch with that thing, and that’s how our film starts. 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.
I assume that Peter Quill’s legend growing only makes Peter Quill more of an a--hole.
It doesn’t take much to make Peter Quill more of an a--hole. Yes, there’s a pompousness. James [Gunn], 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, [like] 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.
Is this team still getting to know one another?
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 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.
How does Kurt Russell factor in?
Kurt Russell 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 meet them and check them out for the first time.
So, what is the main driving force of the film? The sizzle made it seem like it was Quill looking for his father and also something with the Ravagers. What is the main drive here?
It’s a combination. The Ravagers 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 you saw bits of in the B-roll, sizzle, 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 s---y 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 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 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 much bigger fin on top of his head, which was James’ sort of nod to that bigger fin he had in the comics, and also because he looks frickin’ awesome in that bigger fin.
Can we confirm that Elizabeth Debicki is Ayesha, and Chris Sullivan is Taserface?
That is correct.
What can you tell us about Ayesha. Would you call her the main villain?
She’s the one who hires the Ravagers to go after Quill, because after the opening that I already described, where they’re paid to protect these super-duper-expensive batteries, that run the entire Sovereign planet, 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 the Sovereign are kind of dicks 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.
So how does Nebula fit into the story then? She sort of went off on her own at the end of the last one.
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 have captured Nebula, and are doing sort of a prisoner exchange for the services of the Guardians helping them. They want to take Nebula back to Zandar 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. 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.
It seems like familial conflicts seem to be kind of a through line, whether it’s Rocket and Groot and their relationship, obviously Peter and his father, Gamora and Nebula. Is that the big subtext of this movie?
Absolutely, and Peter and Yondu, and Peter and his real father, who may show up.
I guess sort of following up on that question, we see a bunch of different locations. How big is the scope of the galaxy this time?
I would say it's as big, if not bigger, than the first movie. Sovereign is a planet, Bearheart is a planet ... 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 ... We see glimpses of two or three other worlds, but these are the major locations.
Is there any Thanos in this?
Can you talk a little bit about how Mantis comes into the fold?
She’s amazing. Pom Klementieff is really amazing and is really unique. She auditioned for the part many, many times, along with many, many other people, because James was doing something very unique with Mantis, who has never really encountered other people and other humans before, and makes Drax look like the most world-savvy person there is. 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 bonding between characters, she and Drax spend a lot of time together in this story as well.
Mantis in the comics is a highly complicated, weird character. I’m assuming we’re sort of clean-slating it here with this version of Mantis, or is the celestial Madonna stuff in play?
Those specifics are not in play, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less complicated and weird. [laughter]
The first Guardians 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.
I always say, all the movies, Civil War is a standalone story about that, but that fit 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.
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…
Certainly you could see that someday. This movie is not set up for that in any way.
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?
We’re pushing with it. There are a handful of things that we discussed about what the next movie could be about as we were finishing the first movie. We 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, a lot of which were not easy. None of them are easy and you’re tangling through different storylines and stuff, and James delivered a 64-page treatment, and we were dealing with all these other things, and I was like “A 64-page treatment? Like why can’t it just be 4 pages?”
I started reading it, [and] it was amazing. 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 so cool about it was 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 ... 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.
Was the music a part of that pitch? How does the music play into this one?
I think [James] gave a disc at the same time when the treatment came out, right around there ... It’s all off of [Awesome Mix] 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 here, 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. 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.
Were you able to get all the songs you wanted?
We’ve cleared all the songs that were in the script, yeah. You don’t actually pay for them until you cut the movie together and decide. We’ll probably end up using the vast majority of them, and certainly the ones that play into the plot and dialogue are in.
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.
We are going out further, yes. There’s a little bit of Earth in this film, but it’s not these characters going to Earth.
Does Peter Quill only listen to mixtape Volume 2 now, or does he revisit the first one?
Right now it’s only Volume 2.
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.
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 up here as they are on Earth, starting with Thor: Ragnarok. There are three scenes on Earth in Thor: Ragnarok. Everything else is Asgard, and not any of these worlds, but worlds that, 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.
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.
They might know about Thor. It doesn’t come up. I don’t think they know anything about the Avengers.
How are these villains different from any of the other villains that we’ve seen so far in the Marvel universe?
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.
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. Taserface thinks “Who cares about the other Ravagers, and this guy getting soft?” Taserface is not a nice guy.
What have you learned about creating villains for Marvel movies?
It always varies, but it always starts with what serves the story the most and what serves the hero the most. 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. 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.
Will we see any Infinity Stones in [Guardians Vol. 2]?
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?
It’s mainly these two different groups. 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 personal stakes.
Is it a challenge finding time for every person in the sequel?
I think it comes down to the screenplay again. I think Civil War 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. Again, it’s not about the amount of screen time. It’s about what they’re doing in the screen time they have.
Some of the fun of the first Guardians movie was the way it rather audaciously subverted a lot of superhero movie tropes, down to Peter Quill challenging Ronan to a dance off. Can you talk about how that will continue in the next movie, if at all?
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 the James had.
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. Mantis joins the group. Are we going to see, as the merch and stuff comes forward, are we going to see more women?
That was very frustrating for us, because we see it from the other side. When I say we, I mean the filmmakers. We’re presented with the stuff that’s being made, and Black Widow was all over that. 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. 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 women at the forefront of the story.
So, is that something that you’re going to be more involved in going forward, making sure that there is that representation?
There is, in as much as what we can have sway over. We can’t have sway over what a retail store stocks 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 send it back until it does.