Anthony and Joe Russo were mostly known for TV comedies. Shane Black for the quip-stuffed action-noir Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. James Gunn had landed a hit with the cult comedy-horror flick Slither. Kevin Feige saw a spark in all of them, and a place in the MCU. And so Phase Two came to be defined by a move into genre films — a spy thriller, a space opera, a… well, a Shane Black movie. Shaun of the Dead writer-director Edgar Wright had been working for years on Ant-Man, but would leave the project over creative differences (he retains a writing credit). He’s said Marvel didn’t want to make an Edgar Wright movie; Feige says that “the idea with Ant-Man was always to do a heist movie.” When new director Peyton Reed came on board, “he totally understood that conceit, and that promise.” Reed’s sequel, Ant-man and the Wasp, is released this summer.
Ant-Man wasn’t the only new character to join the MCU in Phase Two; this was also the stage when we got to meet a band of a–holes known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. “We didn’t want to be a studio that only made Iron Man films, or later only made Cap’ or Thor or even just Avengers films,” says Feige. “What was unique for us [about Guardians], and what we had great access to, was the Marvel comics. At the time, they had relaunched the Guardians characters and included Rocket Raccoon, and included Groot. It seemed like the most unlikely group of misfits ever put on screen. And it seemed like something that would be incredibly fun.” Critics and audiences agreed — the movie scored 89% on the Tomatometer and the series has the highest average Audience Score of any franchise in the MCU.
“As we were entering Phase Two, the idea was to continue what we had done in Phase One — which was not just telling new stories with those same characters, but making the same kind of choices with regards to cast and filmmakers that we had [made] the first time. That did mean filmmakers who hadn’t necessarily done quote-unquote ‘giant movies’ before, but had a unique point of view and a unique angle on the world. Shane Black certainly fit that bill for Iron Man 3.”
“It could be very easy by part three to fall into a trap of being too familiar or too similar or just more of the same. I looked back at my favorite film series, and the ones I love the most are the ones that did unique things in part three. Those were also the ones that would often continue to four, five, six, seven, eight. [Look at] the Friday the 13th movies. Jason Vorhees didn’t get the hockey mask until Friday the 13th Part III, [but] you think of one thing when you think of Friday the 13th — Jason Vorhees in the hockey mask. Weird example as compared to the MCU, but an example of deepening and furthering a film series in unique ways. With Iron Man 3 we really wanted to take Tony to new places. We had a great advantage in that The Avengers had been released between Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3, so suddenly Tony had a whole other level of anxiety that he had to deal with.”
“Joe and Anthony [Russo] are great filmmakers. From the very first meeting we had on Winter Soldier, we said, ‘Their names keep popping up on these cool television shows that we love. Let’s meet with them.’ They completely understood what we wanted to do with The Winter Soldier, they inherently understood the ’70s political thriller nature of what we wanted to do with that film. That led directly to Civil War, and it was midway through Civil War when we said, ‘Do you want to do two Avengers movies – at the same time – for us?’”
“We always knew in Phase Two we wanted to take another swing, another big swing, and that was Guardians of the Galaxy. I always wanted to do a space movie, I always wanted to do a franchise set in outer space…. And I loved telling people that we were going to do this movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, with a raccoon and a tree, and people going ,’I don’t know what you’re talking about, you guys have gone crazy.’ James Gunn did have that reaction initially, but as he will tell you, he was driving home and he started to think more about these characters, and he started to fall in love with the notion of this raccoon. He flew to North Carolina, where we were filming Iron Man 3, and we sat down with him. He had an unbelievable take on it. He had a new outline — the cover of which had a picture of the very first Sony Walkman. With no explanation. I looked at it and I thought, ‘This is going to work.’ Because we knew we wanted Peter Quill to have a connection to Earth in a way that most intergalactic outerspace heroes don’t have. When I saw that Walkman I thought, ‘He’s going to do it through music,’ which is genius. And that’s what he did.”
“Thanos goes back with us to the very end of Phase One, to those last shots of Thanos at the end of the very first Avengers film. Joss wrote him into the script — he just turns around, you see his little smirk. And that really was the beginning of us beginning to seed his grand story arc, culminating in Infinity War. As we were working on Guardians, we wanted to touch on Thanos again, and actually see him for the first time, and we wanted to cast a great actor. Josh Brolin was the idea that popped into our head — the only name ever associated with Thanos for us. And it was our great fortune that it required just one phone call, and he immediately kinda understood what we wanted to do, and trusted us. So he sat in his chair, in his big Thanos throne, for that one scene in Guardians, with the promise that he would have a showcase role in Infinity War down the line. And, of course, what Josh has done — and, of course, we can’t talk about it too much because nobody’s seen it — but what he’s done with that character and that performance is overwhelming, is astounding. He’s an amazing talent.”
“I remember being in the lab set on the heli-carrier [during shooting for Avengers] and they were setting up for another shot, and [Joss and I] started talking about Vision and about Ultron and about Tony being the one to create him. And from that point it was just a given that Ultron was going to be the bad guy in the second Avengers film. Which was great because it also tapped into this angst, which Tony Stark continues to carry with him through to Infinity War, from the events of the first Avengers. This man who had this wonderful redemption arc, who doesn’t sell weapons anymore, and doesn’t want to contribute to the ills of society, and suddenly being exposed to aliens and other worlds and other threats from beyond in the Avengers, and how that affects a man who is a futurist, and who is constantly looking for ways to solve problems. His way in Age of Ultron went awry, which only causes him more angst.”