Just a few days ago, we learned that Kevin Feige will now answer directly to Disney chairman Alan Horn – escaping at last from beneath the thumb of Ike Perlmutter, the infamously miserly curmudgeon serving as Marvel’s CEO. This move was a de facto promotion for Feige, who now has one fewer person who can tell him what to do. Now, if reports from Heroic Hollywood and Birth.Movies.Death. are to be believed, Feige has further consolidated his power through the death of Marvel’s Creative Committee.
The committee is (or was) a group of both creative- and business-minded people who would shape Marvel’s movies at every step of the process, from writing the script to editing the final product. In other words, any time a writer or director had issues with creative restraints placed on them by the studio, their complaints were likely due to notes from the Creative Committee. If that committee is no more, who will be shepherding the movies of the MCU, making sure they fit within the established universe and move the overarching story in the right direction? Apparently, all such decisions will be made by Marvel Studios Co-President Louis D’Esposito, Producer and Executive Vice President of VFX Victoria Alonso, and of course, Kevin Feige himself.
Many see these changes as a good omen for the MCU – after all, Feige is the man responsible for making Marvel Studios the juggernaut it is today, and the Creative Committee did cause more than a few directors to feel as though their work was being compromised. Most famously, Edgar Wright left Ant-Man due to the differences he was having with the committee. But I’m not entirely convinced that laying the future of the MCU at the feet of one man is the best move for Marvel. I can think of two prominent instances when one visionary with a phenomenal track record was given total creative control: Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple, and George Lucas when he made the Star Wars prequels. Below, I’ve outlined an argument why Feige will become Marvel’s Steve Jobs and continue to lead them to further greatness…and an argument why he’ll become their George Lucas, and doom them to mediocrity and failure.
The Steve Jobs Argument
Kevin Feige is, of course, Steve Jobs. Although Jobs was immensely controlling and, by all accounts, a nightmare to work for, he was also a genius with a vision for his company that no one else could see. After founding Apple in his garage and growing it to become a billion dollar company, Jobs was ousted after a clash with his board of directors and CEO John Sculley. As soon as he left, Apple began a downward spiral that continued until Steve Jobs returned and led Apple into its golden era with products like the iPod and iPhone. In much the same way, Kevin Feige has led Marvel Studios into its golden era. Before Feige became President in 2007, Marvel’s movie track record was spotty, and in the hands of other studios who had bought the rights.
It was only through Feige’s vision of an interconnected universe that Marvel Studios became the single biggest name in summer blockbusters. Like the mp3 player, the idea of franchises existing in the same universe was nothing new. However, the total integration and flawless execution of every element made both the iPod and the MCU a revolution. Every mp3 player that came after the iPod was playing catch-up, just as every cinematic universe is doing with Marvel now. Steve Jobs was able to see the big picture, and predict what people would want far before they ever knew they did. Feige has proved that he’s capable of doing the same. Both men took existing but unpopular ideas, and turned them into money-making machines.
When Jobs was confined and controlled by his shortsighted CEO and board of directors, he left Apple and the company nearly went bankrupt because of it. Had Feige continued to be shackled or opposed by Ike Perlmutter and the Marvel Creative Committee, he probably would have jumped ship as soon as his contract allowed (likely in 2019) and it would have been the death of the MCU as we know it. Fortunately, Disney has averted that disaster by recognizing the importance of allowing Feige to carry out his vision unfettered. Besides, it isn’t as though Feige has total control over every single aspect of Marvel’s films – he still will have to delegate to writers and directors. Only now, the writers and directors won’t answer to a confusing and often contradictory committee, they’ll answer to a single brilliant conductor. To paraphrase Michael Fassbender in the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic: “Musicians play the instruments. Kevin Feige plays the orchestra.”
The George Lucas Argument
Kevin Feige is, unfortunately, George Lucas. In the beginning of his career, Lucas had a vision that led to the creation of arguably the most influential franchise of all time. Though he faced constant constraints and opposition, his movies defined a generation and became beloved by millions. He was by no means the only creative force behind Star Wars – episodes V and VI were written by Lawrence Kasdan and directed by two other people not named George Lucas. These others weren’t Lucas’s underlings, they were his equals. They shared his vision, and helped him refine it to make it great. Most importantly, there was always someone with Lucas to tell him “no.” Until, of course, the prequels.
After Lucas spent decades as a living legend, he’d convinced the world that he could do no wrong. When Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was announced, with George Lucas himself both writing and directing, people were convinced that it was going to be another home run. After all, the last Star Wars movie that Lucas wrote and directed by himself was Episode IV, the movie that had started it all. But of course, with nobody to help him distinguish his bad ideas from his great ones, the prequels were a massive disappointment to nearly everyone who saw them. The Marvel Creative Committee, and even Ike Perlmutter, served as Kevin Feige’s counterweight. He, like Lucas, needs someone to balance him, to restrict him, to say no to him. As Feige continues to reduce the number of people to which he has to answer, he also reduces the chances that there will be anyone left to recognize when he has a bad idea. Writers and directors of the MCU will continue to buckle under Feige’s weight, until he eschews creative filmmakers entirely in favor of yes-men who will do whatever he says. In effect, Feige (a producer with no writing, directing, or editing experience) will be in total control of the MCU’s creative process. Feige’s continued consolidation of power will stifle creativity to the point that the MCU becomes bland, disappointing, monotonous fodder.
So which of these arguments is right? It could be either one, or neither. Obviously, both scenarios are exaggerated best or worst case scenarios, and the truth is probably somewhere in between. Feige’s probably not an infallible genius, but he’s probably not a power-hungry dolt who won’t listen to advice either. Still, the recent restructuring by Marvel has left Feige with an awful lot of power, and as a certain Marvel character once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”