‘The Marvels’ Director Nia DaCosta Opens Up On Superhero Fatigue And Creating Her Own MCU Story

Complex caught up with director Nia DaCosta on making her new film, being the MCU's youngest director ever, and more.


Nia DaCosta is ready to make her mark on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

The bright, energetic director is making her MCU debut at the age of 33, becoming the youngest of the group of elite directors to helm a Marvel movie. She’s also the first Black woman to direct a superhero film, an important milestone for an industry that’s been committed to diversity in storytelling. 

Of course, there are a lot of expectations when it comes to directing a Marvel movie, both critically and commercially. “I know there’s a lot of noise,” DaCosta says. 

“My main concern is really just having people enjoy the thing, as opposed to it reaching a benchmark of success that has nothing to do with the work any of us did.”

As Marvel continues through Phase 5, The Marvels enters as the 33rd installment in the timeline. Ahead of its release, we caught up with director Nia DaCosta about her upcoming film, combating superhero fatigue, what it’s like directing an MCU project, and much more. 

This interview has been edited in length for clarity.

So at 33, you're the youngest director to helm an MCU film and also the first Black woman to do so. How are you feeling right now? 

Nia DaCosta: I'm feeling good. It's really exciting to finally be able to release the film and to just show everyone the great work that my cast and crew did.

Joining a franchise as big as Marvel definitely has to be a bit intimidating. What were some of the biggest concerns that you had before joining the project?

NDC: I had a lot of concerns because I come from an independent background, and you have pretty much full control when you're making your own film. I had made a studio movie, so I knew what it was like to not have full control going into a film. 

So I wanted to talk to a lot of the directors and other people who are inside the universe, to find out if I could still basically find a way to do my work inside of such a big machine. And if it would be enjoyable, if it would be soul sucking.

I wasn't worried about being able to do the job. I was worried about how it would make me feel, to be honest. So that was really my line of questioning for all the directors I interrogated before I took the job.

Did you really connect with any of the directors—and are you still talking to any today? 

NDC: Oh, for sure. Destin Cretton is my homeboy. I love him so much. He was just so vital to me during the process. Ryan Coogler is amazing. Taika [Waititi], I've known for a while. He was really helpful. James Gunn gave me some of the best advice. 

I think Marvel hires a lot of great human beings. It was such a great community of people who've made this universe, so it's great to be able to reach out to them.

I don't think it's a stretch to say superhero fatigue is real. What are your thoughts on it,  and how do you go about combating it?

NDC: Yeah, I think it is real for sure, but it's like an ebb and flow with any kind of genre that is dominating what people are talking about. I think with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was so unique what they were doing and it was so successful that a lot of people wanted to emulate it.

And I think now that we're in the era of streaming, obviously people want more of a thing that works. So it's getting more and more and more. And so we're in the flow right now. 

For me, what was exciting about this movie in particular was what Marvel wanted to do with it. They were taking some really fun risks and doing some really cool things and really having a lot of fun with the switching and the Flerkens.

And these three women in the center of it, were so dynamic and interesting on their own. So I thought that was a really great thing that kept me engaged and kept me excited.

As a comic book fan, what are some of your favorites? 

NDC: I have a lot of them. My favorite is probably the Chris Claremont run of X-Men. There’s so much in there, it’s just so good. And I know it's a cliche, but I think what he did was amazing and a lot of what he did in his run is what's being emulated decades on. So I think that's the one I’m most emotionally connected to.

I know that your first movie had a budget of under $1 million, but now you're at $250 million plus. Can you talk to me about some of the creative opportunities that you had and some of the struggles that come with a movie with an extremely large budget?

NDC: I think the biggest difference, in a positive way, is you have so much support. Anything you need, you can get—cast, crew locations, etc. You just get a lot of support to do anything and you're encouraged to sort of go on.

And then on the other hand, of course, you know, there's a burden to having a higher budget. There's a much bigger burden of success on a movie with a budget that's over $1 million. 

But my main concern is really just having people enjoy the thing, as opposed to it reaching a benchmark of success that has nothing really to do with the work any of us did.

I know you got to influence a lot of the story—with costumes, locations, etc. Can you talk about that? What were you most proud to see in the final product? 

NDC: Yeah, I remember asking my exec, “Who decides what the costumes look like?” And she was like, “You.” I was like, “Hmm, who decides like, you know, this and that?”

And she's like, “You.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.” So I just went ham. I really wanted to change Carol's costume.

I really love what Jamie McElwee did when he redesigned her look. And also, just thinking practically, she's invulnerable and could literally be naked and not get harmed at all. She doesn't need to have a bulky suit.

So I wanted to go to a more classic comic book look, which is basically spandex. I was really inspired by Spider-Man's costume, Black Widow's, you know, having something that looks close to the skin but also textured. So that was really fun for me. 

What was the most memorable experience from this entire production?

NDC: I mean, on the one hand, I really loved the shoot, overall it was so amazing. I have the best crew ever. They're just amazing. And being able to explore and be creative and have these really generative conversations and do the fight scenes, which I love, and being able to do them at that scale was so exciting for me.

And then as a nerd, as someone who's watched the MCU since I was 18 and watched Marvel films since I was like 12, being able to text Kevin Feige with opinions and thoughts is really great. And just to annoy him was one of my favorite parts as well.

Are there any specific characters or storylines that you're particularly excited for fans to experience when watching the movie?

NDC: Kamala Khan [played by Iman Vellani], I love her so much. I talk about her all the time. I'm really excited to see Ms. Marvel on the big screen because I think that's where she belongs.

One of the many things I text Kevin Fiege about is a trilogy, like let's bring her to the movie theaters. I want more and more of her because I think she's amazing.

Piggybacking off that. Even if people aren’t fans of Ms. Marvel as a character, I don’t see how they can’t be a fan of Iman Vellani as a person. 

NDC: Yeah, she's just the best. Incredible. 

I also know she's a huge comic book fan herself. Did she have any creative input in the movie?

NDC: Because she's a genuine fan, she will drag your ass. There’s one day, Kevin [Fiege] and I, we saw an Easter egg in the trailer and she’s like, “You’re both so wrong.” 

I remember showing her a cut of the movie and she was like, “What about this or this, or I love this. Can we see more of that?” You know, she's really smart as well. It’s not that she’s just a fan. She's really smart.

And also, she played Kamala in the TV show and she wrote a couple of issues of the comics. So I think that's out. You guys should go buy it. It's great to have her and she knows everything. Like, if we were confused on set, she'd be like, “Carol's actually 63,” you know, she just knows everything.

Variety quoted a source saying it was “kind of weird” that you left before the movie was 100% finished. But that actually is a very normal thing for directors to hop around projects like that. What was your reaction when you read the Variety piece?

NDC: Oh, I didn't read it. For me, the best thing is to really stay inside of the process of making the movie.

And I knew that going into making a Marvel thing that was so big and, because I used to be very online when I was younger and into so many fandoms, I know there's a lot of noise.

So I sort of kept to myself in that way and kept it inside of the process mostly. 

Were you in contact with Marvel throughout that process? 

NDC: The movie moved dates four or five times, and Marvel always knew what my schedule was like and what the limitations on my schedule were. And I started the movie remote for months because it was the middle of COVID. So because we have all these tools to make movies when people are in different places, it was still possible for me to be a part of the filmmaking process.

And this was also like, three and a half years, we're all in the trenches together for so long that by the time I had to go and leave, everyone knew what it was going to be.

I'm happy to hear that because I was upset for you.

NDC: I'm just here, minding my business, drinking water, staying hydrated.

Another criticism that a lot of people have with the MCU is its lack of creative control for directors. Can you speak to that criticism?

NDC: I think every director has a different experience at Marvel. At the end of the day, you're making a film on a series of three now. It's a constant conversation. It's a collaboration. It's a close collaboration. And it was absolutely my expectation when I took the job.

There’s a lot of speculation about the future of the MCU. Have you spoken with Sean Levy, Kevin Fiege, or any other people about the immediate future of the MCU’s direction and how things are tying in? 

NDC: Not with Sean but with Kevin? Yeah, I sort of know what's going on. But I'm in the dark as much as anyone else, to be honest.

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