After 22 movies, perhaps the most ambitious franchise in the history of film was concluded this year with Avengers: Endgame.
And what an ending it was. One that managed to tie up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s myriad loose ends, satisfy both the comic-book elite and mainstream audiences, and offer enough closure to ‘feel’ like an ending - while keeping things open enough to make sure the MCU lives to fight another day.
It was an astronomical task, made effortless by the magician’s behind the curtain - writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. MCU veterans, they wrote five of the 22 MCU movies. Most importantly, they were in charge of Captain America’s arc, from The First Avenger through to Endgame, only diverting off course slightly to write Thor: The Dark World.
Here are 9 amazing things we learned speaking to Markus and McFeely, when we caught up with them between BAFTA screenings of Avengers: Endgame.
- These are the best Avengers characters, ranked.
- The 5 best movie endings, according Avengers: Endgame's writers
*mild spoilers ahead*
1. They thought Captain America would be it
“We were writing a movie that takes place 70 years before the others. I mean, when [making Captain America: The First Avenger] there were only a few other movies in the MCU, but it seemed like if anything was going to be a self-contained thing, and might not carry on, it would be that one,” explains Christopher Markus to ShortList.
“So now, to be 11 years into our relationship with Marvel and to have told this many stories - but also to have told only one story - to have gotten to take Steve Rogers that far, is pretty mind-boggling.”
2. The tone shifts between movies were important
3. Their scripts don't have superheroes in them
4. They write bad stuff to get to the good stuff
When it comes to the writing process, there is a great deal of refining to get to what is seen on the big screen, as Markus reveals.
5. They no longer know who has written what
This back-and-fourth process means that the finished script has been written by both, but it would be hard to pick apart what is Markus and what is McFeely - even the writers can no longer tell.
6. Not everything in their scripts is for you
Even the biggest MCU nut will have times when they watch a Marvel movie and some scenes don't quite hit. But there's an obvious reason for this - sometimes, it just wasn't written for you. Whether this is bringing a movie back to its kid-friendly comic-book roots or focusing on characters that offer little interest - it's about building a more rounded view of superheroes. In short: it's not all about you.
7. They were on set 95% of the time
A screenwriter's job no longer finishes in pre-production - not if you are part of the MCU, anyway. For Markus and McFeely that meant moving to London for Captain America: The First Avenger and to Atlanta for The Avengers movies (they are usually based in LA). They did this, as they were needed on set - whether to re-jig lines on the day, or to prepare for the next day's shoot.
"That process is a groove on big-budget filmmaking. It’s not unlike a TV show as you are kind of like shooting the same thing all day, a page a day," says McFeely. "That means in the morning when they are setting it up and blocking it, that is when Chris and I are most helpful. That’s when rewrites come up, as the set may be different to what we thought or Robert Downy Jr has an idea. After the first couple of hours, when Chris and I make adjustments or alts, we are kind of done for the rest of the day."
"Done on what’s being shot that day," notes Markus. "Then frequently we’ll have next week’s scenes, tomorrow’s scenes… everything can be tuned up a bit - certain things can be fixed in stone, or at the very least putty. They’ve been shot so you can fit them better."
8. It's still fun watching famous people read their lines
A byproduct of being on the set also means that the writers get to see the actors perform their lines - and this is something for the two writers that never grows old.
"I haven’t lost any of that," says Markus. "Sometimes on Day 80 when you have to get your butt to the set at 7am, you may be a little, you know, but in general I still walk on sets and I just pinch myself. Part of it is that I understand the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into all departments - holy crap, somebody built that and it looks real - but another part is that famous people are going to say things I wrote, that’s awesome! When I lose that I will retire."
9. Saying goodbye is a hard punch
Avengers: Endgame is officially the biggest movie of all time, which is not a bad thing to have on your CV but for Markus and McFeely while the box office is great, there was something more satisfying about penning the ending to the MCU as we know it.