As with Infinity War before it, Avengers: Endgame has been shrouded in secrecy -- and will remain so as long as humanly possible. So unlike the majority of press days, at which point journalists have seen the film they're sitting down to discuss, aside from trailers and one clip, nobody has seen anything of Endgame.
"And we can't tell you anything!" screenwriter Christopher Markus told me.
"Tell us about yourself," Stephen McFeely added with a laugh.
The writing team behind the Captain America movies, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Infinity War is not new to Marvel's cinematic universe, after all, or to the great lengths the studio will go to protect its secrets. Still, when Markus and McFeely sat down with ET, they opened up about writing the ending to a decade's worth of stories and how they feel in the lead up to Endgame's release on April 26.
"We've been sitting on this for years," McFeely explained. "So, the idea that it has marched all the way there, has gotten better and better as more people sort of weigh in and bring their skills to it, and now?" He chuckles. "Yes, I'm anticipating a healthy baby child that people will love."
ET: Backing up to Infinity War, the unsnapped who survived in the end, were those always going to be the characters who remained? Or did you have versions where you played with different characters staying and going?
Markus: I think primarily it was locked. There were a couple small variations, but you find out pretty quickly who has story and who doesn't. And if they were standing around seeming like they didn't have story -- [snaps] away they go.
McFeely: That's right.
Were there any who switched last minute?
Markus: No. I mean, they were locked in pretty early. There might have been, in the first draft, [some] switcheroo.
When I spoke with you for Infinity War, you said one of the ideas you'd toyed with for a while was a, quote, "giant f--king snake."
McFeely: [Laughs] Yeah!
Where in that movie would that possibly have been?
McFeely: Ah! Yes, I can tell you that. For the longest time, we were working on a Thor arc where -- not unlike what's in the movie -- he has to go on a journey to get the weapon that's going to supposedly kill Thanos. And early on, he was going to have to fight, essentially, a dragon. [Laughs]
Markus: It was an already existing ax that was in a particular place that happened to be guarded by a giant snake. It got incredibly ridiculous, but it's hard to let go of a giant snake once you start it rolling and people start drawing pictures of awesome snakes and you're like, "We can't get rid of that. Look at it!" But finally, cooler heads prevailed.
McFeely: To be honest, we figured out that it also could illuminate Thanos. So when you got to Eitri, [Peter] Dinklage's character, and he tells you, "He was here and he did this to me and I made the glove." Like, it took us forever to realize, Oh, we're idiots. That's what it should be the whole time and it could do more than one thing! It just took a long time to get there.
I don't know if the Endgame run time has been officially confirmed, but we know it's in the ballpark of three hours. That's a lot of real estate. Does that result then in less darlings you have to kill along the way?
Markus: I mean, no, because I would say the run time is 100 percent necessary to tell the story. Like, it's very lean. It doesn't have a lot of "we just left it in because it's funny." To tell the story this big, you need that much real estate. So, we cut as many darlings as we always do, because they looped out of the plotline to make you laugh or something and it was like, "Eh, that's gotta go." So, no, there's an equal pile of sad little funny things that didn't make it.
What was the page count of the first draft of the script?
McFeely: First draft of movie two was probably, I want to say either 163 or 178. There was no way that was going to be the [final] draft, but we had to start somewhere. We certainly turned it in in the 160s.
McFeely: So, that's when we roll it out there and we say, "All right. What stays? What goes? What can we do better? We all know we can't shoot that."
It's been made clear that Endgame is the conclusion to this years-long saga. Did you always know what the ending of this was going to be?
Specifically? Or generally? Or was it a situation where you knew how it was going to end but not how you'd get there?
Markus: Things always shift in the writing, but I think we all knew where it was going and it was a matter of how best to get there so that it feels most satisfying or most earned.
This movie was shot before Captain Marvel, so this was Brie playing the character for the first time. Was there any version of the Captain Marvel script when you wrote this?
McFeely: No, no. When we started this there was nothing for nothing. Remember, we're cracking this in the last four months of 2015. OK? So, Civil War has not come out. Doctor Strange has not come out. No one's thought about Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Ant Man and the Wasp--
Markus: I think there was a Guardians 2 script.
McFeely: Yes. That's about as far as there was--
Markus: But it hadn't been shot yet. So, yes, a lot of this was predictive, where it's just like, "Let's hope this chimes with the character a bit." [Laughs]
McFeely: And adjust as need be.
What was that adjustment process like? How much did the script have to change from when you were breaking it in 2015 to when they went to film it? Where there big things that you had to account for that you just hadn't had any idea about?
Markus: Because of the other movies? No. I don't think there was anything massive that we had to change gears for. There were things that became better because of the value that the other movie had acquired. You know, when we cut to Wakanda in the first movie, the outside world had no association with Wakanda. It was just cutting to a place that we all knew was Wakanda and were like, "That's probably cool. I dunno." Huge f--king cheer in the movie after people had seen Black Panther! And it's, like, awesome. Hopefully things like that continue to happen where, you know, [we] pretty much trust the Marvel machine by now that like, people will fall in love with this thing and when you bring it into this context it's going carry some love with it.
One of the things people loved most about Carol Danvers is that she does have such a specific voice. What was it like to be the first ones to have written that character without anything to go off? Did you eventually get anything from the Captain Marvel team to guide you?
McFeely: We had conversations, for sure. And day one -- Brie's first day -- Anna [Boden] and Ryan [Fleck] were there. So, we had conversations. We said, "Listen..." You know, we showed them the script. "Here's where she is in our script and this is the voice that--"
Markus: "Here's how we think about her."
McFeely: "This is how we think of her and you tell us if this screws anything for you retroactively." And they did not have a problem with it, and so it was up to Brie to start a character years and years after she was going to play the character for the first time. I have a lot of sympathy for her. That's a tough acting job, to get in your head real fast.
Markus: It is very weird in that that movie takes place, what? In '96?
Yeah. '95, '96.
Markus: She's not only playing her character in another movie, she's playing her character much later where any number of unthought-of things have happened to her. So, it's fun.
When you saw Captain Marvel, was there anything about Brie's performance or the voice of that character that was different than you expected or that surprised you?
McFeely: No. We had read scripts along the way, as soon as they were available. [Laughs] I'm always charmed to go into Marvel movies that we haven't worked on and see how it all comes together. No, we sort of had a sense that, "OK, if we put Carol here, I know where you're going to start her." And they started her in the way that we all thought she would. And it's not a different person. It's not like she got hit in the head or anything.
Fans really reacted and are excited to see Carol and Thor together in the trailer.
McFeely: Very powerful.
Is there anything you can tease about what the dynamic between them is like?
Markus: No. [Laughs]