It was eight years ago that the names Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely first appeared on a Marvel Studios film, as co-writers of 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Since then, the longtime screenwriting team (they first met in 1994) have been the main writers on perhaps the most important sequence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 22-film canon, starting with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), then Captain America: Civil War (2016), followed by Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and now, opening in just under two weeks, Avengers: Endgame.
The story threads they first began pulling on with the first Captain America film — the discovery of the Tesseract (a.k.a. the Space Stone), the origin of Cap himself, the loss of Bucky Barnes — all formed the spine of the MCU’s main, overarching storyline: the eventual destruction of the Avengers, the quest by Thanos to find all the Infinity Stones for his insane plot, and the way both narratives converged in Avengers: Infinity War, leaving half the universe — and half our heroes — dead.
Now Markus and McFeely, working for the fourth time with directors Anthony and Joe Russo (and, of course, MCU overlord Kevin Feige), bring this massive saga to what all of them have been saying is a true finale in Avengers: Endgame. As with Infinity War, and for only the second time in the MCU’s 11-year history, Endgame was not screened for journalists before a recent press day in Los Angeles, leaving us to experience the film’s highly anticipated shocks and surprises along with everyone else but making interviews somewhat…difficult.
Nevertheless we tried our best as we sat down with Markus and McFeely to not so much extract spoilers from them, but to attempt to gauge what Endgame sets out to achieve, what it means for the future of the MCU, and whether the writing team sees this as the end of their time in the MCU as well.
Den of Geek: So how does it end?
Christopher Markus: With a bang.
Stephen McFeely: That’s right. Or is it a whimper?
How much did this movie, if at all, change conceptually or narratively from that day in October 2014 (during a Marvel press event announcing Phase 3 of the MCU) when Kevin announced Infinity War Part 1 and 2?
McFeely: Kevin didn’t have anything then. No, we cracked it the last four months of 2015 after we got back from Germany when we were doing Civil War. It has not changed conceptually since then. It has certainly been a bucking bronco as we’re just trying to keep it on the path. Infinity War particularly, there were a lot of ways to get to this. Endgame less so. Endgame sort of was what it was. Scenes have changed all over the place and the roster’s changed a little bit. Conceptually, not at all.
Did it always end the same way or were different outcomes discussed?
Markus: Largely, once we settled on the outlines, the end was pretty well set. The roots there shifted every now and then but we always got to the same place.
Are business considerations ever a part of that?
I’m not trying to pin you down on who dies or who doesn’t die, but does anyone say, “Look, this guy’s leaving”?
McFeely: No, I mean not on our end. I can’t tell you why anyone might give us sort of directives from above. In general, it is story. It sometimes might be schedule, there could be something like, we just can’t have that guy for three years or whatever, or this person’s not available. That might dictate a couple of things. In general, it’s what’s best for the story at the end of this chapter, you know? I can’t reiterate enough. It’s a book, you close it, and you put it on the shelf. It’s really ending this part of this.
That’s been a recurring theme in a lot of the interviews that you, the Russos and Kevin Feige have done.
McFeely: Well I just assume Disney has designs on, you know, more stuff. But not like this.
Would you say, is the MCU, when the smoke clears, is still recognizable after this?
McFeely: Oh yeah.
Markus: I mean, it’s still a universe. We haven’t ended the universe.
McFeely: Just half the people.
Markus: I think tonally it will live on, but it’s, you know, this is over. It’s a weird concept but it is over.
McFeely: Yeah, these stories are going to hopefully have a chance to be good because we can end them, you know what I mean? You don’t have just this sort of treading water sequel.
Are there a lot of narrative arcs and threads that started ten years ago that are resolved here?
McFeely: Yeah, and that’s how good storytelling happens. Your favorite novel doesn’t not have an ending.
Markus: That’s why it’s three hours long. Not because it’s bloated full of babies being killed or Easter eggs. That’s 21 preceding movies worth of characterization that needs to be respected and honored in the way it should be.
I think there’s a lot of misdirection going on with what we’ve seen so far from the trailers. Have you guys read anything online and you said, wow, that guys a little too close for comfort?
McFeely: Well, Ant Man going up Thanos’ ass obviously (Editor’s note: yes, that was a real theory someone posted online). I’m not sure why we’re not reshooting.
Markus: Too close for whose comfort? There are ones that are totally off the mark but kind of brilliant. I don’t know which ones I’m talking about at the moment, but I’ve read some where it’s like, wow, that is utterly inaccurate but well thought out. It would work. You found some loopholes that actually would work. It’s more fun than unnerving.
The last movie was, to me, a space opera in a lot of ways combined with superhero action film.
McFeely: It’s hard to explain. It’s not very often that we look at … We looked at Three Days in the Condor for Winter Soldier, and went oh, that’s the structure of some of these types of conspiracy type movies. But this is … Not a lot of people have tried this so there’s not a thing we could just easily crib from. It’s hard to say what genre it even falls into. Again, it’s honoring this particular film experiment as best we can.
Thematically, I think Infinity War was about different people coming together for one goal, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for your goal. Is that theme kind of carried over?
McFeely: The cost of heroism? For sure. In a dark time, what are you willing to do? What are you willing to surrender, what are you willing to endure to do what’s right”
Any scenes that were particularly emotional for you guys to write?
Markus: Yeah, I can think of a couple that were emotional.
McFeely: Well, do you ever get emotional writing them? That’s not how you operate.
Markus: No, but there are ones where I can sense the emotions that humans have. They’re not always the ones you’d think they are.
McFeely: There are a few that came out of the box kind of done because we knew what they were and they stayed that way. That’s pretty gratifying when you go, “ah, turns out we nailed that first try.”
Are you guys done in the universe for now? The two of you?
Markus: For the moment. We’ve been on the job kind of semi-continuously since 2008. So it’s, you know, for Marvel’s own good we need to go away and write about people in a room who can’t fly.
McFeely: So we can come back and do it again. We had 10 years of amazing collaborators and working on the biggest damn movies in the world. If they call us and say will you come back and help or start or whatever, we’ll answer the phone. They’re great.
Is there anybody, especially now that all the Marvel characters are coming under one roof, that you would want to work on if Kevin calls you up and says, “What would you guys like to do? Take your pick.”
McFeely: I wasn’t a big comic book fan so my knowledge of the X-Men and the ancillary characters isn’t great. (Markus) might know more.
Markus: I think there is a great Cyclops movie to be made where he’s not the stiff jerk boyfriend. I think he’s awesome. You could do right by him. But that’s a long way off.
Avengers: Endgame is out in theaters Friday, April 26.