If your favorite character died or got a weird haircut in Avengers: Endgame, these are the people to blame. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are the (not-so) secret chroniclers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They wrote Thor: The Dark World as well as the latter two Captain America movies, and both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame — and so they know more than anyone else, other than Kevin Feige, about what’s what in the MCU.
We couldn’t actually ask any questions about Endgame at the Endgame junket, because Marvel did not show the film. How do you talk about a movie that you can’t talk about? We tried it, and it goes a little something like this.
I'm intrigued by the idea of character bibles. Do you use or enforce character bibles for Marvel?
Christopher Markus: They can sometimes hinder us. They are implied. With characters with a clear history that we need to know, like Gamora and Nebula and Thanos, we'll try to glean everything we can. It's improvisational around a set of themes, so that you can... It is pretty free. If you were going to do something radically ridiculous, someone would go “hmmm, maybe not.” Other than that... not really.
What sort of opportunity do you have, then, to push forward with a character like Captain Marvel, who was not super-well established before these movies?
Stephen McFeely: Not when we started! Then they made an entire movie about her. But that's perhaps a unique situation. Brie Larson stepped onto a set for the first time as Captain Marvel in Endgame, then went and did Captain Marvel. So we had to write a character who had a theoretical movie and then theoretically 20 years [after that], appeared in our movie — and didn't do anything that was so radical that it invalidated what hadn't happened yet!
Christopher Markus: I think we can — in those situations where there's another movie coming, I don't think it's our place to do some radical change with them. When they are a primary character in the movie, as long as it is within the parameters of the story, we'll try to push them as far as they go. If somebody says stop, we'll stop. But the watchword has always been "spend it all on the movie you're making."
I love eighties horror, not because all of those movies are great, but because you didn't go into one movie knowing that there was going to be a sequel. So writers might create problems for the next person who had to write one of those movies. Have you experienced that with Marvel?
Christopher Markus: I mean, sometimes there is a little bit of fun in going, "Oh, OK, you left it there. Kinda wish you hadn't done that, but maybe there's a way to turn it into lemonade.”
Stephen McFeely: Marvel sequels aren't like other sequels, right? They are absolutely willing to push the characters forward. The characters wear the previous movies on their sleeve. You know that they've gone through these things. If you've seen any of the Captain America movies, his core might be the same, but we've really beaten him up over a bunch of movies. One of the reasons Endgame might be different is because we're definitely going to end stuff. This is the first book, and we're gonna put it over here and that means saying goodbye. And so it will be somebody else's problem to deal with very specific fallout. Good luck to that person.
So are those people not going to be you?
Stephen McFeely: They haven't asked!
Christopher Markus: It won't be immediately, but we're always happy to come back. We're kind of maxed out — we've done everybody now. The stakes can't be higher. We need to get some people back to...
Stephen McFeely: We need to do My Dinner With Drax, or something.
Looking back at Narnia, where you wrote several films in a series that didn’t get to end, how does this feel compared to that experience?
Christopher Markus: It feels... healthier. In terms of... With the Narnia movies, particularly after the first one, there's a real tension between the book and the movie. Because the books aren't movies. They're fundamentally not shaped like movies, and they don't have the three-act payoff. These are conceived as films. They feel more proper.
Stephen McFeely: We're certainly knee-deep in them more. This is our sixth, and with every movie we sort of sneak into the inner circle a little bit more.
Christopher Markus: There's a lot of good stuff in the Narnia movies, and we worked with a lot of great people. There was always a bit of, "that is a lovely book, and am I betraying it by trying to bend it into the shape of a movie?"
How did you answer that question ultimately?
Stephen McFeely: We got fired! [The whole room laughs]
I’ll show myself out.