Over the past couple of weeks we, have provided some interview excerpts from our set visit of Avengers: Infinity War. Today, our profile features writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus who are also known for other Marvel properties such as Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War. They return for parts 1 and 2 of Infinity War and give us some details of what to expect in this major event film. Keep in mind, this interview was before Black Panther and before we knew of M’Baku’s character arc.
Chris Markus: This is about the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is about everyone getting together or trying their hardest to get together to fight a guy named Thanos.
Steve McFeely: Who hopefully will come together in a way that will be satisfying, you know, we’ve been teasing Thanos for many movies and 30-second clips so hopefully all that lead up will allow us to really go to town with him and make him a villain that requires this epic level of storytelling. That’s the word I would use most often. It’s ridiculously big.
How long does it take for Thanos to take the screen? Like how much movies?
Steve McFeely: It’ll take 18 movies…
Chris Markus: We won’t tell you exactly but you are going to get Thanos, and you are not going to feel like we continued to jerk you around…
Steve McFeely: In many ways, it’s Thanos’ movie.
Are there any character pairings that you think people will be very surprised to see?
Chris Markus: I don’t know about surprised because it’s very hard to surprise people.
Steve McFeely: That’s not true at all. I think we will surprise the hell out of people. I mean, I don’t know if we can tell you what the pairings are, but yeah. One of the goals, after Civil War, we got in a room for about four or five months, trying to crack these two ridiculously big things.
Chris Markus: You have a wall of characters, and at a certain point you just go.
Steve McFeely: Yes, 100%. We talked a lot about, was it Joe Russo term strange alchemy. What is it when you put the two characters together even in a fairly normal, traditional situation. Because we’ve invested in those characters and know them we sort of delight at the idea of those two people rubbing against each other. We always chase delight. And terror. Lots of terror.
Chris Markus: Yeah. We’re coming off of Civil War, we’re coming off of Winter Soldier so that there’s lots of backstory that still needs to play out in addition to the Thanos situation like I just walked by Sebastian Stan there. You could put Bucky in a room with anybody and they’re going to go “Oh, shit.” It’s the maniac.
Steve McFeely: That’s right. We have unfinished business.
Chris Markus: He’s shot Natasha twice as far as I can keep count, so it’s going to be interesting.
What about bringing in the cosmic universe? That seems to be something we’re all very curious about.
Steve McFeely: That’s part of the strange alchemy. One of the reasons that first Avengers movie was so popular and so exciting is you were taking four franchises and smashed them into each other. Hopefully, we have the same kind of magic here where we get to bring this completely different set of characters and smash them into varying groups of our characters. That’s another thing to think about and one of the challenges we’ve had is how do you make sure this is not 25 people moving from one scene to one scene to one scene to one scene. We’re a little facetious about it but we talk about how it’s like Nashville, right? So you’ve got four or five different stories that weave together and then come together and then break apart, so you get all these different pairings in groupings of four and five and six.
Chris Markus: Even in that way, not unlike something like Game of Thrones where you have this vast canvas with characters who you’ve been watching this guy over here in the west and this girl over here in the east for years — it has that feeling of massive plates shifting and finally bringing these characters near each other.
Are you saying that this movie is going to be on par with Daenerys finally meeting John Snow?
Steve McFeely: Actually, yeah. I am absolutely telling you that.
Chris Markus: It’s going to blow that away.
What can you say about how it starts, because how it stands now, a lot of the characters in the MCU have led scattered. Where does this kind of pick up?
Chris Markus: That is something we didn’t want to blow off. We didn’t want to devalue Civil War by, you know, the first thing having a phone call saying let’s all get back together because it’s an even worse guy! No, everything’s fine now. We dragged that a long way through it so that we are valuing the resentments we built up between these characters.
Steve McFeely: They’re ill-prepared to handle this.
You mentioned that this is Thanos’s film, but I know that M’Baku has also been added to the cast as a villain.
Steve McFeely: It’s M’Baku and Thanos. That’s it. No, it’s not. There’s a substantial Wakanda kind of proportion.
Was there any other that we expect to see?
Chris Markus: Well, that man just killed something over there.
These are our main villains at this point?
Chris Markus: I don’t even confirm villains.
Steve McFeely: I would not confirm M’Baku’s [being a villain] for our purposes.
Chris Markus: Villain is a derogatory term that Thanos wouldn’t agree with. One of the things we set out to do in this was if that Thanos is just a bad guy — you’re dead in the water because that’s just a bad guy and you’re bored pretty quickly after he’s torn off the first few heads. We have two movies.
Steve McFeely: Sort of metaphorical with the heads, but not really.
Chris Markus: Hopefully you will come away from this going, you know. The same way you do in the comics where he started off in the rogue villains, and he’s his own thing now. Where you go, I can’t say he was wrong?
When you were cracking the story, can you list any comics that you read that were influential on this?
Steve McFeely: Oh, geez almost all of them. That cheesier piece had some close ups to this omnibus that we had sort of over posted it. It’s like a giant bound infinity. We’ve read everything that had Thanos in it, anything that had the stones in it, a lot of Archie.
Can we talk about how much of this was on Earth? How much of this is going to be cosmic?
Steve McFeely: Yeah, we can’t give you a percentage, but it’s fairly split. That’s part of the nature of all these groups coming together.
Chris Markus: We wanted to give it, not have it be the feeling like, it all comes down to Earth every time. It’s sort of Earth-ist point of view to tell a science fiction story. In order to conquer the universe, I have this one, little, tiny planet. We needed a broad canvas the whole time so that we didn’t feel like coincidentally every single stone is in America.
Can you guys talk about the collection of the stones, how the stones are almost helping you guys shape your story?
Steve McFeely: They’re still spread. Remember one of our jobs is to look at Winter Soldier and Civil War particularly that whether you like the movies or not they’re pretty well structured and the big choices have been made. We had to do the same thing here and yet we had six McGuffins. It can be relentless if you don’t do this right. Which means every time you collect one, and I don’t mean to get into the screen writing weeds but every time you collect one it can’t just be a check mark it has to do something characterful. Its got to move the plot forward but it also has to have stakes and cost for literal characters at the time so it’s not just a shopping spree. I think we’ve done that. Boy, we’re going to wrench every bit of emotion out of each of those moments that we can.
Can we drop Thanos for a second, the MCU has one thing that the franchise has been dinged on is that the villains are just not as impressive. I’m curious how you’re navigating that?
Chris Markus: Part of it is motivation, if you have a villain who just wants to kill somebody just wants to take over the world because it seems like the thing to do or has been paid by the Russians to take over the world, run for president. That guy is not very interesting, he’s pathetic. We take this from Starlord, Thanos is a immoral philosopher. He’s not the devil although he does sometimes have the devil standing next to him. We wanted that all the way through. To have a villain with understandable motivations and emotions. Thanos has a family, Thanos has two daughters that we know of, Thanos has eight million backstories in the comics but they’re all kind of sad.
Steve McFeely: This is what I point out is that my favorite two in the entire MCU are Loki and Killgrave because he’s creepy and awful but really cares in a strange way.
And totally doesn’t see himself as a villain.
Steve McFeely: For sure, and screen time right? A lot of screen time for both those characters. Chris is right, they both have these weird family relationships. Thanos will get the benefit of both those things. He’s got daughters that he clearly has to deal with and James did a nice job of setting the table for us and so we are certainly going to run with that. Screen time, this is not an origin story. Very often, again in the screen writing weeds we’re trying to get a character up and off the ground and so the bad guy tends to be a foil for the development of the hero. That’s not the case here. If anything it’s the opposite, our heroes are foils for the villain whose story we need to tell writ large.
Could you clarify what you were saying about the devil?
Chris Markus: The Mephisto, in the comics.
That’s what I mean, is he in this movie?
Chris Markus: I can neither confirm nor deny the existence Mephisto. I just meant he’s often seen in hell. He’s something more elemental.
Will these films get into more weird other worldly characters like a personification of that or is more motivated by family?
Steve McFeely: It’s cosmic and crazy but in a way that we always try to ground stuff. Particularly in Winter Soldier and Civil War we took stories that everyone is familiar with Brubaker’s Run and Civil War, Miller’s Run but make a different soup out of the ingredients. We’ll do something similar here because we owe it to these 18 movies worth of characters.
You talk about structure, are you structuring it as one huge movie or one movie push it aside, the second movie?
Chris Markus: Both.
Steve McFeely: You can’t have the second one without the first one but our hope is that it’s breakfast and then lunch.
How do you guys approach introducing a major character to the MCU like you did with Black Panther in Civil War before his movie with Captain Marvel before her movie, Pip the Troll before his movie? There’s a Pip the Troll movie.
Steve McFeely: There’s a lot of conversations and I’m neither confirming nor denying what you just supposed neither on Pip the Troll or how Captain Marvel works. We have had to juggle both Marvel, Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Marvel specifically because they all exist in various ways in and around these two movies.
Chris Markus: Not to mention Thor Three.
Steve McFeely: At least that’s before this first movie, Panther is too. We think we handled it and solved it in fairly clever ways but it certainly was an issue. If you want to do what you want to do here, how does it affect this movie and not just make this movie? Why is Ant-Man and Wasp not in Infinity War part two? We’ve got to work on that, figure that out.
Chris Markus: How do you not fall into the trap of what these movies are sometimes accused of which is just beating each other and not being standalone movies? You can’t make them overly dependent of each other and yet you still want to have this blood stream flowing through the universe.
Steve McFeely: Paton Reed and his group of writers are going to make whatever movie they want. We had very small requests. It would be great if right there, if that person was, is that okay? Good? You always make the best movie you can. Same thing with Black Panther and the same thing with Marvel. They’re going to make the movies they’re going to make. In this unique case, very small tiny, suggestions for beginnings and endings like that.
The Oscars are kind of notoriously against the idea of a superhero genre, I’m curious what you guys think it will take for a Marvel movie to actually get that attention?
Chris Markus: I don’t know, people mumble about it with various movies for various reasons. There was an article about Wonder Woman this Monday, I heard about it with Logan, none of which are us. Someone has to come to Jesus so to speak and take a look at the amount of work that’s been done.
Steve McFeely: You can work very hard on a crappy movie, you’re not just rewarding work.
Chris Markus: Return of the King is no better or worse than the other two but it got cumulative awards. Frankly if you go back and look at it, you’re like really? You gave that the Oscars. Maybe you had extra Oscars that year.
Steve McFeely: Two Towers was better, lets face it.
Chris Markus: There’s one level where there does have to be this sort of, well fuck that’s a bigger achievement than anybody’s ever pulled off on a multi-movie scale. Also, I don’t know what it’s going to take to remove the prejudice from the eyes of these people. It’s a civil rights drama and we’re the victims.
For Thanos, you called him a moral philosopher and I’m curious because I don’t think he’s going to be literally talking to the devil, you can’t confirm or deny that. He’s not just going to be spouting his philosophy out. Can you say anything about who’s Thanos’ supporting cast? How did you crack that?
Steve McFeely: Good for you, that’s a little structure. Yes, you need it to make sure he wasn’t just all by himself. It also means that you didn’t have the same scene over and over again as he went and collected stones and knocked people around. That’s how you get this tapestry film where you have emissaries who are doing some of his work while he is doing a lot of his own heavy lifting. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say about order. End of Ultron, not our movie.
Chris Markus: We all sat there and went what the hell is he talking? Where was he when he did that?
Steve McFeely: Is that canon?
Chris Markus: Is that the real boss? Thanos turns out to have quite a few people to talk to both on his side and not on his side. Weirdly I think he’s the most understandable guy in the movie sometimes.
Does he have an arc in this movie? It seems like he just wants to get a bunch of stones and…
Steve McFeely: That’s the other thing sorry, one of the big challenges is how to make sure he’s not just a relentless machine collecting stones like he’s going shopping. We want to give him a full weighted emotional story. You can kind of say this is Thanos’ origin story so that he will get the weight of any of the previous heroes in terms of the decisions he has to make in order to get what he wants.
Chris Markus: A big thing about all of these movies that lead to, all the way along the line we wanted to give people choices and make them continue to have to sacrifice this decision for this decision and not have it be just, I have no choice in this matter. Aliens attack New York City what are you going to do? Not fight them? No, you have to fight them. Not criticizing that but in order to sustain this long of an epic to keep the waters a little muddy, to keep them going like interesting he did that, I might not have done that. To do that for everybody, heroes and villains alike until you get to the end and go, huh shouldn’t have done that.
We see a bunch of the Avengers here but there’s no Iron Man, Thor or Hawkeye can you talk about their roles?
Steve McFeely: As I said earlier, it’s Nashville so everyone is in a different bubble and some bubbles come together and break apart. Some bubbles come together for the third act, that kind of stuff. Everyone is scattered.
Avengers: Infinity War premieres in theaters nationwide April 27th.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.