On May 16, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely came to Boston to talk about their work with Marvel Studios and the passion that they, and everyone at the studio, has for making these movies. They also shed light on some of the internal workings of Marvel Studios and reiterated what’s been said before that the studio is very flexible and open to new and fresh ideas.
When it comes to writing in the MCU, Markus talked about how useful it is having this backlog of story and characters to play with. For example, he mentioned that during the development of Civil War they needed a government official to introduce the Sokovia Accords and it just so happened that there was a government official in the MCU played by “William f-ing Hurt!” So as writers, they’re able to use this rich tapestry of storytelling to enhance the current film. And Endgame is almost an embodiment of that idea. The film references or connects to literally every other movie in the MCU, but it does so in a natural and organic way.
“The fact that when you’re telling a story there are things that need to happen that if you were writing a free standing movie it would just be ‘Steve gets in an elevator and just goes down.” But because you have this backlog you can reach back and go, ‘You know the other time he was in an elevator…’ So everything you would do anyway is given this enhanced meaning by having this big thing to draw on.” – Markus
Throughout the talk they fielded multiple questions about the decision to kill the only female original Avenger. It’s a bold move and a decision that they knew wouldn’t be without controversy. And it’s made even more difficult because they also killed a female fan favorite character with Gamora in Infinity War. But Markus and McFeely explained the reasons it felt right for Natasha to commit the ultimate sacrifice saying,
“Clint’s not pointed toward any sort of sacrifice. It would have been sad and it would have been heroic, but it wouldn’t have been the inevitable end of Hawkeye. Natasha has been known as a person who had no choice in her life and was taken as a baby and raised as a weapon and made to do terrible things and has been absolving herself of that over the course of time… She’s been working for so long to wipe out the red in her ledger. And so when we knew we could have done either one of them, it seemed like that is the only direction for Natasha’s arc and we wanted to give her a big hero death.” – Markus
“We certainly debated it and knew that killing the first female superhero of the Marvel Universe was not going to be without controversy. So we even outlined one where Hawkeye went over and our Visual Effects Supervisor Jen Underdahl said ‘That’s bullshit, don’t do that.’ She was adamant and I really listened and went ‘Thank you. Okay, we’re going to own this.’ But it was reassuring that we’d done the right thing.” – McFeely
When discussing how they keep everything under wraps, they talked about some of the measures that are taken to secure the script. It turns out that some of the actors are given the full script, but most are only given the scenes they appear in. They also talked about writing fake scenes to protect crucial bits of information in case the script falls into the wrong hands.
“Generally most actors got just their pages. If they raised a stink they could go into a trailer and be handed an iPad. The original Avengers all definitely had the full script and read it and some other actors wanted to read the whole thing for their process. But in general they mostly had about 10 or 15 pages of script. And sometimes we would write fake scenes or fake ends to scenes so that if it was lying around somewhere because somebody in some department made a mistake, ‘Natasha gets back up and walks away.’ That sort of thing.” – McFeely
“I wish I could remember the specifics of this, but there was a fake scene that would allow them to fully prep what we needed except for maybe a thing or two and the person who needed to know what that was would know. But I think somebody had not given props the real one. And literally in the script it said something like, ‘They see a hot dog on the table’ and it would be an Infinity Stone in the real script and we show up and there was a tray of hot dogs!” – Markus
One of the most interesting topics covered in the talk was when they discussed the passion that everyone at Marvel Studios has for making these films. The writers for these big Hollywood blockbusters are often looked at as hired guns who do whatever the executives tell them. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. McFeely emphasized that his writing for the MCU is not only a great job, but more importantly it’s creatively satisfying.
“The MCU has allowed us to write a lot of different types of stuff. And yes it’s all under the superhero umbrella, but I’ve never felt restricted by the material. The peanut butter sandwich scene is just a lovely human scene and that type of writing is in all sorts of movies, it just happens to be with a hundred year old super soldier and a former KGB assassin. But they’re both sad! It’s been liberating because often in Hollywood they say ‘one for us and one for them,’ but these are both man! Like these are for us! I really enjoy writing these but they’re also the big movies.” – McFeely
This is very reassuring because, counter to what some might think, Marvel Studios is actually very open to letting the creative team behind each film tell the story that they feel is right. They made it clear that Marvel Studios have cultivated an atmosphere of collaboration where they’re allowed to take the story in the direction they think it needs. There isn’t a mandate for where characters need to be in order to set up the next film. Marvel has a general idea of where they’d like the story to go, but they take it one film at a time and make sure that each installment is as good as it can be.
“We can talk as much as anybody about the overarching Marvel plan. But the overarching Marvel plan has been extremely vague. And that’s why it works…It’s very organic. If it was a lock step plan I don’t think we would have gotten this many movies. Because somewhere along the line we would have written a movie because you needed it to get you somewhere. Kevin Feige’s watchword (which has become the nature of the company) is you just make that movie. And that’s your entertaining movie and you forget that there’s ever going to be another movie coming up because if you mess up there might not be another one. So do that one.” – Markus
They also talked about how writing for Marvel allows them to do these big and crazy films while also writing some very human and character driven moments. It’s one of the reasons that the MCU has been so successful, because the directors and writers do their best to not let spectacle get in the way of telling a compelling story. And while Avengers: Endgame is certainly a spectacle, it also has some of the most human and emotional moments in the MCU.
When asked about bringing this chapter of the MCU to a close, they talked about how everyone at Marvel was in agreement that everything was on the table and that they weren’t going to worry about setting up the next ten years of franchises. From it’s conception Endgame was conceived to be just that, an ending.
“That was the mission, to say goodbye to the six original Avengers… Kevin Feige would very often say, ‘You’ve seen Toy Story 3 right?” Now they don’t die in that, but there’s a moment that’s lovely where they’re all going into the fryer and emotionally could we get there? Would it be okay for us to all be in tears because we know they have to do this?… That’s what the design of that second act was, it’s not just a stone shopping spree, it’s an opportunity for catharsis. So that Tony can put to bed his daddy issues, Thor can put to bed his obligations to the throne, and Steve can realize there might be a life out there for him.” – McFeely
“It’s about bringing these characters to the point of completion so that if we’re never going to see them again you can feel okay, that they were left in a sound place.” – Markus
As far as we know Endgame not only concludes this chapter of the MCU, but it also marks the end of Markus and McFeely’s time with Marvel Studios. Having written the entire Captain America trilogy, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers 3 & 4, it’s undeniable that their impact on the MCU has been huge and will be remembered for years to come. While they may work with the studio again further down the road it’s likely they won’t ever do anything quite as big as these last two Avengers films. They’ve had an incredible run and I’m excited to see what they do next!