After Spidey, Marvel To Focus On Hulk’s Relaunch, Captain America’s Big-Screen Debut

X-Men spinoffs, 'Iron Man' also in pipeline, says studio's new president of production.

SAN DIEGO — Meet the new president of production for Marvel Studios, a surprisingly fresh-faced exec with big plans for the comic book blockbusters you’ll be lining up for over the next decade.

Offering an exclusive preview of what’s next for the company that brought us the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” films, the casually dressed Kevin Feige made it clear he’s as proud of the Marvel Comics stable of characters as he is of the one credential that makes him the perfect man for the job.

“I’m the biggest geek around,” Feige said proudly. “When I was a kid, I was like, ‘Where’s my Spider-Man movie? Where’s my X-Men movie? Where’s my Hulk movie?’ Selfishly, I have to say thank goodness they waited so I could be the one to help shepherd them to the screen.”

(Click here to check out pictures of your favorite Marvel superheroes.)

With the recent departure of Marvel CEO Avi Arad, Feige became the most visible link between the influential studio and the millions who’ve opened so many of its films at #1. Having assumed the majority of Arad’s responsibilities, Feige — a 2003 Hollywood Reporter pick for one of the top Hollywood executives under 35 — recently walked the floor at the massive Comic-Con convention, winning over fans and assuring them that their caped crusaders are in good hands.

“[We have] three directors working on upcoming movies that we’re doing ourselves as an independent slate,” Feige said of Marvel’s plans, which should prevent another “Elektra” or other less-than-loyal adaptations. “Iron Man is coming to the screen, the Hulk is coming back to the screen, and we’re having a fun time with a movie called ‘Ant-Man.’ ”

Those three very different projects (Iron Man is a classic character, Hulk a relaunch and “Ant-Man” a comedy) have, appropriately enough, attracted three disparate directors with surprising fondness for the Marvel universe.

“That’s one of the great things about working at Marvel — so many people grew up on these that the phone rings and it’s somebody you never would have expected [to be] a fan of comics,” Feige said. “People have been reading these for so long, and now they are coming of age and finding their power in Hollywood.”

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When “Elf” director Jon Favreau had Hollywood at his feet, he came to Marvel for “Iron Man.” Red-hot “Shaun of the Dead” writer/director Edgar Wright similarly stalked Feige and associates over the relatively obscure “Ant” title, and “The Transporter” action maven Louis Leterrier is determined to return “Hulk” to his green glory in 2008.

And it isn’t just behind-the-scenes talent hitting up Feige’s active cell phone: Nicolas Cage’s comics collection led him to “Ghost Rider” (due in February), while Topher Grace has professed geek love for his “Spider-Man 3″ character, Venom (see ” ‘Spider-Man 3′ Cast Confirms Love Triangle, Death, Soul-Sucking Costume” ).

Feige directly addressed rumors that it might be the final film for the friendly neighborhood web-slinger.

“There will be many more Spider-Man films to come,” he promised. “We already have stacks of ideas for the next one because of the wealth of stories in the comics. We could be making Spider-Man movies for the next 20 years, based on the 50 years of Spider-Man history we have.”

That doesn’t necessarily guarantee, however, that Tobey Maguire will continue as the man under the mask.

“When you’re concentrating on one movie at a time, there’s a beginning and a middle and an end to that process,” Feige reasoned. “We’ve been topping each one as they go, [and if that happens again], that’s the time for those discussions.”

Next year, audiences will once again encounter the Fantastic Four, who’ll be dealing with the classic character Silver Surfer and, possibly, his monstrous megavillain Galactus.

“Silver Surfer is herald to a very big thing known as the World Devourer, and needless to say, the Fantastic Four may be encountering him next summer,” Feige said of the flick that recently began filming (see “Alba Says ‘Fantastic Four 2′ Will Be ‘Exciting, Hot, New, Fresh’ “ ). “Dr. Doom is back and is more evil than ever. [Special-effects house] Weta is developing a new process, the way they did for Gollum and Kong, to bring the Silver Surfer to life. We’re going to use an actor for reference on set, and then it’s going to be turned into what I hope is one of the most spectacular CGI effects anyone has ever seen.”

After Spidey and the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s slate of independently financed flicks will kick in, beginning with the long-awaited story of Tony Stark.

“Jon Favreau couldn’t be more excited,” Feige said of the Iron Man movie. “He’s got a page on MySpace that has 10,000 fans already. He’s been looking through all the talkbacks, looking through all the forums, laughing at some things and taking others very seriously.

“We always stay true to what we feel is the right story to tell,” Feige added, referring to Marvel’s relationship with its Web-savvy fans. “But they can have more of an impact than they know.”

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword, however, and those very same fans have voiced skepticism over Marvel’s decision to rebirth the Hulk, a character whose 2003 movie was widely seen as a disappointment.

“[It's going to be] a little more Marvel,” Feige explained. “[We want] to make it a little more true to the comics.”

Feige wouldn’t discuss the future of Eric Bana, who has said that he’d like to return for another shot as the big guy.

“It’s much too early for specifics,” Feige said. “But Hulk remains one of our biggest characters, second only to Spider-Man in terms of popularity, so we’re going to bring it back to the screen in a big way.”

Sometime after that, Marvel and Wright will team to bring a much more obscure character to the screen.

“Ant-Man has been around for 40 or 50 years — he is Dr. Hank Pym, who gets shrunk to the size of an ant,” Feige said of the offbeat flick, due in 2008. “We said, ‘We loved “Shaun of the Dead.” What do you want to do?’ He goes, ‘Ant-Man.’ No argument from us. He’s started working on the story with his partner, [writer] Joe Cornish. We’re gonna have more fun with Ant-Man than we have been able to with the other characters.”

Beyond that, Feige is looking into non-sequel spinoffs for the X-Men movies.

“We’re working on a Wolverine prequel and an early Magneto story of how he came to be,” he said. “The X-Men universe is a universe unto itself, and there are literally hundreds of characters and thousands of stories that we could tell. We plan on telling a lot of them.”

Marvel is also planning to tell many stories outside the X-Men walls, with classic characters like Sub-Mariner, Nick Fury and — finally! — the powerful patriot with the red, white and blue shield.

“Captain America is in development right now,” Feige promised. “There’s a writer named David Self working on the script, and it’s part of the new slate we’re doing with Paramount. I think it’s going to be pretty exciting. He’s a few more years away, but what’s coming together is going to make fans very happy.”

With a full plate in front of him, this self-professed geek is going to work with the young Kevin Feige — who wanted to see these movies so badly — in mind.

“All those movies that I was waiting for as a kid that didn’t come,” he sighed, a grin creeping across his face. “Let’s make them now.”

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