Please enjoy this excerpt from Backstory’s spoiler-specific interview with Avengers: Endgame co-writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely from Backstory Issue 37 by Jeff Goldsmith.
This is just small part of our 6,500 word interview and if you enjoy what you’ve read, we hope you’ll consider buying Issue 37 as a single issue or becoming a subscriber.
**Note: Spoilers are contained below!!**
Without a doubt Avengers: Endgame has been 2019’s most anticipated film, and upon arrival, it delivered the emotionally resonant ride fans craved. In under a week, Marvel’s conclusion to its 21-film story arc has made nearly $400 million domestic, as it storms past $1.4 billion worldwide. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s first credit was the well-received 2004 HBO film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. From there they embarked on their first franchise, 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which in turn led them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. That film was so well received they continued working with the company on Thor: The Dark World and returned for the Captain America sequel, The Winter Soldier and then wrote and createdthe Marvel TV show Agent Carter. What’s significant about Winter Soldier, other than being a fantastic sequel, is it marks the first time Markus and McFeely worked with directors the Russo brothers, with whom they continued collaborating as the team shaped the MCU’s greatest storyline via Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers: Infinity War and now the Avengers: Endgame.
The performances, effects and direction in Endgame are fantastic, yet it’s the storytelling that has captivated fans of all ages. For over a year after the conclusion of Infinity War, audiences have wondered how the world will recover after Thanos (Josh Brolin) gathered the six Infinity Stones and snapped his fingers to instantly eliminate half of all life in the universe. The six remaining original Avengers survived the snap: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and War Machine (Don Cheadle), now joined by a few new surviving heroes, including Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Okoye (Danai Gurira)—and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who is back from the Quantum Realm. It’s his return that guides the plot of Endgame, wherein he suggests the team pull off a time heist of the Infinity Stones in the past so the Avengers can build their own gauntlet in the future in order undo Thanos’ deadly snap. The morning after Endgame hit theaters worldwide, Backstory was quite pleased to have an in-depth chat with the co-writers about their experience bringing the massive story to its glorious conclusion.
Backstory: The Infinity War/Endgame storyline is a massive undertaking, how did you work that out in the beginning—did you outline everything at once?
Christopher Markus: We outlined everything.
Stephen McFeely: It was the last four months of 2015, we locked ourselves in a conference room at Marvel and, Beautiful Mind style, put both movies on all the walls around us. And we slowly banged our head against the wall until we had a structure and a decent outline for both movies. We wrote them during the first four, five months of 2016 and then rewrote both, sort of switching back and forth over the course of ’16 and then even through production of ’17. You would certainly recognize them from both the outline and the first draft. Scenes and sets changed and at least one time-heist mission changed, but the center idea, the premise, did not change.
You’re partially using the comic’s narrative but with a completely different set of characters integrated into the MCU narrative. What was it like in the room with [Marvel Studios head] Kevin Feige for some of that early planning, even with some of your discarded ideas?
Markus: It’s been so long and so hard to keep track of the ideas we actually did decide on because there’s so many of them jammed into the movie. I can’t remember what we rejected. There was a long scene between Rocket and Jane Foster [Natalie Portman] that was very funny. We never shot it because in the end all you needed was what you saw, which was Rocket sneaking past because you didn’t have a primary Avenger in the scene, therefore there wasn’t a ton of emotional repair work to be done. It was just funny, which is nothing wrong. It was just sort of him explaining the ridiculous situation to her and her grasping it and jumping ahead of him on the science. And it was satisfying, but it didn’t…justify its place.
That’s funny. Some have wondered if Rocket’s attacking her with his syringe device would’ve had Thor in that timeline, which would have been amusing as well.
McFeely: Attacking is a strong word.
When outlining complicated scenes and characters, some writers color-code things as a way to track emotional arcs, action arcs and story arcs. Was there any of that going in your Beautiful Mind writers’ room?
Markus: I believe there was some color-coding of the cards going on Steve’s part. But oftentimes it falls apart just due to an office-supply situation. Like, Thor is a green card, but we’re out of green cards, so now the blue cards are Thor. It’s lot of me just farting around with pens making things.
McFeely: It was only two bulletin boards of four-by-six cards.
Was it a security concern, where nobody at Marvel could go into that room?
McFeely: Yeah, it was definitely sort of siloed, so your [Marvel] keycard did not necessarily get you in there.
Markus: But also once you went in there, a lot of people just backed out rather quickly, because it looked kind of psycho. They were like, Oh, no, I don’t wanna get stuck in here.
In 2015, you were essentially mapping out material for years into the future, including end tags of films you weren’t writing. What was it like collaborating with Kevin Feige on that?
Markus: He particularly had to work with a kind of bifurcated mind because he’s working on three movies that take place before it, two movies that take place in the middle and then the [final] two movies. So it was interesting to watch. He definitely fought for making the two [final] movies sort of freestanding stories. Obviously they’re connected, but he never wanted a part one and part two. He never wanted a cliffhanger. Some people call the end of Infinity War a cliffhanger, but it’s not. It comes to a definitive end. It’s just sad.
As you said when Backstory interviewed you for Infinity War, it’s a hero’s journey for the antagonist.
Markus: Exactly. Kevin pushed for a different feel, a different sort of structural take for the second movie so it did feel like its own separate event.
McFeely: Kevin’s the coach in a way. He lets the players really have to go win the game. He’ll encourage you and say, “No, you can do better. That snap should probably come at the end, don’t you think? Write yourself into a corner.” But there’s not really a dictate other than to feel.
Fans worldwide since Infinity War have wondered how they’re going to undo the snap. They don’t have a Time Stone so time travel overall hasn’t been discussed. Was the idea of a time-heist plot something you came up with early, or were there other ideas going back to the comic, which uses the Soul Stone and the world within it? Or were there other variants you experimented with that led you there?
Markus: Well, everything was on the table at the beginning. We didn’t actually write any of the other variations, but we certainly talked about what if Soul World, which is a real thing in the comics, was a real thing here? What if they were just rescattered across the universe? But a lot of it seemed too much like a repeat of movie one. You collected the stones, which were scattered. Now they’re scattered again and you have to collect ’em again. It seems that’s not upping it, it’s just doing it again.
McFeely: It came mostly from how much we wanted to explore character. We really wanted to roll around in the misery. We wanted to put the onus on the six O.G. Avengers and really let them deal with the loss. We sort of think of that five-year jump as a chance to tell a [Marvel Comics] What If? story, to move all your characters five years and find them in different places. So any version that didn’t really seal the deal and put the snap in concrete didn’t get that. You had to own the consequences and start all over again. That slowly led us to the time-travel do-over, and we know there can be an eye roll for that so we really tried to ground it in some real science—and certainly science the MCU had already rolled out for us.
To read the complete 6,500 word spoiler-specific interview in Issue 37 of Backstory, plus an interview with the Russo Brothers about Endgame click HERE to subscribe.
For more info about all the other articles in issue 37, view the Table of Contents.