Kevin Feige is the grand poo-bah of all things Marvel, orchestrating a series of motion pictures that have fully brought that vaunted comic-book universe to life. Alan Taylor is the latest director tasked with carrying on that legacy, having cut his teeth on numerous prominent HBO series like Game of Thrones and The Sporanos. He helms the second Thor feature, The Dark World, which opens this week: part of Marvel’s Phase Two series of films overseen by Feige. The two sat down at the recent junket to talk about the film and Marvel’s plans for future movies.
Question: Can you start with the use of humor in the film? This movie has much more humor than any other Marvel film I’ve ever seen.
Alan Taylor: I’m so grateful to hear that that’s what’s coming back from the audience as they see the film for the first time. I went into it thinking that my first task was to darken the world and deepen it and dirty it up a little bit. I sort of felt like that was my mandate going in. And then as we started the process, I realized, “Oops. if we’re gonna darken it, if we’re gonna deepen it, if we’re gonna possibly kill off some characters that we love, we’d better make darn sure that it’s balanced on the other side.” A certain amount of humor is the key to the Marvel Universe and the Marvel language. The Avengers came out while we were starting it, and Iron Man 3 came out while we were finishing it, and they set the tone. It’s called The Dark World, and there are certainly dark currents in it, but yeah, the humor was critical.
And I can’t say enough great things about Stellan Skarsgard. He was the first thing we shot. I think we started with him in Stonehenge, running around with a thong on; he’s probably one of the few men I know who walks into something like that uninhibited. Didn’t even bat an eye. He’s hilarious and always truthful in his performance. Just great.
Q: I was surprised to find that this was actually one of the shorter Marvel films out there. What was the editing process like, and how much footage can we expect to see in the Blu-ray?
AT: There’s so many obligations to a movie like this. It has to be dark and emotionally engaging. It also has to be funny and constantly earn its entertainment value. Part of that process is condensing and tightening and making it roll along as quickly as it can, so that it is fun. So naturally some things fall out that you wish didn’t fall out. Some things dear to my heart that I love. I mean, Chris Eccleston and I were talking about some things that we really savored that had to fall away. I’d be really grateful if some of those appear on a DVD or a Blu-ray at some point.
Kevin Feige: I think there’s about 10, 12 minutes of footage on the Blu-ray.
AT: There’s always some rumor going around. This is my first encounter with doing work while the Internet watches. I had a little bit of that on Game of Thrones, but nothing prepared me for this. There was a rumor about a running time argument at one point. And it was funny, because I don’t think anybody in a position to know – me, the editors, Kevin, anybody – knew how long the movie was at that point. There was never a running-time issue. It was always, “How can we make it better, funnier, more effective? How can it land harder?” So in that process, some of my children had to get murdered and put on the floor. I’m sure they’ll have an afterlife.
Q: You mention the humor. In terms of the tone, the Marvel cinematic universe is matching the comics more closely. It’s getting more fantastic, more out there. I wonder if the humor was a part of that, a way of trying to ground some of that to make it palatable.
KF: Humor is definitely the key. We’ve got spaceships in this movie and other planets in this movie. And we found in the past that humor is an amazing way to get the audience to sort of just embrace and accept all of those worlds and all that craziness and all these costumes. It goes back to the first Iron Man, and we like to think it works pretty well.
Q: Tell us about the villain here. Why was it important to do Malekith and get away from Loki a little bit?
KF: Tom Hiddleston is great and he’s turned into a very integral part of our universe. After The Avengers, we wanted to play him in a slightly more ambiguous way. And in order to do that, we needed somebody who could drive the entire storyline, and give Thor something very scary to fight against. Malekith was the right fit.
AT: One of the major themes in the film is asking yourself what you’d sacrifice for the things you believe in. Most of our characters have to confront it in one way or another, and Malekith expresses it very clearly. He actually confronts Odin about it in a scene that you will find on your Blu-ray: what will you give up to defend the things you believe in? Every character goes through a turning point like that in the movie, and Malekith is the kind of guy who would sacrifice anything for principal. Thor goes another way, of course and Loki… well, you’ll just have to see what path Loki takes.
Q: Both Marvel and DC have had successes at the cinema, but Marvel seems to have a very, very good strategy for a universe, not just on the big screen, but obviously TV as well. How coordinated is that, and how far ahead are you looking?
KF: We’re a very tight-knit group at the studio, so all of the movies are very, very coordinated. We have them announced through the end of 2015, but are planning as far out as 2017. Sometime next year, we’ll announce what those films are for ’16 and ’17. The TV division is up and running now, and Agents of SHIELD obviously, was their first series. I know they’d love to bring more things to the TV screen. I’m not sure exactly what or when that will be. In terms of SHIELD, they sort of cue off of what’s happening in the movies and occasionally check in with us and go, “Would it be okay if we play with this bit?” It is quite coordinated, but it’s such a small group that it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming task. It’s just a heck of a lot of fun.