Last summer, I was invited alongside a group of journalists to visit the Atlanta, Georgia set of Avengers: Infinity War. You can read a more in-depth account about my experience on the set here, but suffice it to say that it was indeed epic. The amount of star-power in this movie is mind-boggling, and over the next several weeks I’ll be publishing interviews with the cast and creatives behind it all. They couldn’t reveal much in the way of specifics, of course, but it was really fun to just see their banter and interactions — which is really the crux of what the Avengers movies are all about.
So much has happened in the MCU since we visited Pinewood studios, and that’s something that the screenwriters of the movie are well aware of. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely spoke with us candidly about the challenges of connecting the lore of the previous movies (and upcoming ones!) into Infinity War, their comic influences, how this is really Thanos’ origin story, and much more:
Can you tell us what Avengers: Infinity War is about?
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: What isn’t it about? 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.
STEPHEN MCFEELY: Who hopefully will come together in a way that will be satisfying? We’ve been teasing Thanos for many movies in 30 second clips, so hopefully all the 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 is the word I would use most often. It’s ridiculously big.
How long does it take for Thanos to take the screen?
STEPHEN MCFEELY: It’ll take 18 movies [Laughs]
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: We won’t tell you exactly but you’re going to get Thanos and you’re not going to feel like we’ve continued to jerk you around and kept him in check.
STEPHEN MCFEELY: In many ways it’s Thanos’ movie.
You’ve talked, obviously, about how you’ve brought all these characters together but are there any character pairings that you think people will be very surprised to see?
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: I don’t know about surprised, because it’s very hard to surprise people…
STEPHEN MCFEELY: That’s not true at all. I think we will surprise the hell out of people.
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: OK. We will surprise people.
STEPHEN MCFEELY: 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 4 or 5 months trying to crack these two ridiculously big things.
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: We had wall of characters and at a certain point you just go *motions hands* – “That’s funny and that’s funny. What’s a story that could get those two [characters] together?”
STEPHEN MCFEELY: Right. We talked a lot about, it’s a Joe Russo term, “strange alchemy.” What is it when you put the two characters together, even in a fairly normal traditional situation, but since we’ve invested in those characters and known them, we sort of delighted in the idea of those two people rubbing against each other. So, we always chased “delight” – and terror. Lots of terror.
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: And there’s also…we’re coming off Civil War. We’re coming off Winter Soldier. So that’s there’s lots of backstory that still needs to play out in addition to the Thanos situation. Like, I just walked by Sebastian Stan out there. You could put Bucky in a room with anybody and they’re going to say, “Oh sh*t! He’s a maniac.” He’s shot Natasha [Romanoff] 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. How are the Guardians coming in?
STEPHEN MCFEELY: That’s part of the “strange alchemy,” right? One of the reasons that first Avengers movie was so popular and so exciting is you were taking 4 franchises and [claps] smashing them into each other. Hopefully we have the same kind of magic here, where we bring this completely different set of characters and smash them into varying groups of our characters. Another thing to think about, 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? So we talk, being a little facetious about it, but we talk about how it’s like Nashville [the movie], right? So you’ve got 4 or 5 different stories weaved together and then come together and then break apart. So, you get all these different pairings and groupings of four and five and six.
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: And even now, not unlike something like Game of Thrones, where you have this vast canvas with characters, and you’ve been watching this guy over here molesting this girl over here in the East for years and only now does it have that feeling of massive plates shifting and finally bringing these characters near each other.
STEPHEN MCFEELY: Are you saying this movie is going to be on par with Daenerys finally meeting Jon Snow? [Laughs]
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: I’m absolutely telling you that. Yes!
STEPHEN MCFEELY: It’s going to blow that away.
What can you say about how it starts? Because as it stands now, all the characters in the MCU are scattered. Where does this pick up?
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: That is something we didn’t want to blow off, didn’t want to devalue Civil War by having a phone call saying, “Let’s all get back together because there’s an even worse guy.” Nah, everything’s fine now. So we dragged that a long way through it so that we are valuing the resentments we’ve built up between these characters.
STEPHEN MCFEELY: They’re ill-prepared to handle this.
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: Yeah. And it shows.
You mentioned that this is Thanos’ film but are there any other villains coming that we should expect to see?
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: Villain is a derogatory term that Thanos wouldn’t agree with. Another one of the things we set out to do in this was, if Thanos is just a bad guy, then you’re dead in the water. It’s just a bad guy, you know? You get bored pretty quickly after he’s torn off the first few heads, and we have 2 movies. […] Hopefully you’ll come away from this the same way you do in the comics. He started off as a rogue villain but he’s his own thing now. Where you go, “I can’t say he was wrong.” *laughter*
Speaking of the comics, when you guys were cracking the story can you list any comics that you read?
STEPHEN MCFEELY: Oh geez, almost all of them.
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: A giant bound Infinity Gauntlet, but we read anything that had Thanos in it. Anything that had the [Infinity] Stones in it. A lot of Archie [Laughs]
Can you talk about how much of this will be on Earth? How much will be cosmic?
STEPHEN MCFEELY: We can’t give you a percentage but it’s fairly split. That’s part of the nature of all these groups coming together.
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: And we wanted to not have it be the feeling that it all comes down to Earth every time. It’s this sort of “Earth-ist” point of view that you have to tell. “In order to conquer the universe I have to take over this one little tiny planet.” We needed a broad canvas the whole time, so that it didn’t feel like, coincidentally, every stone is in America.
Can you guys talk about the collection of the Stones? We’re all watching like, “Well this is the one where the Stones sort of come together,” making it a little bit easier for the next person?
STEPHEN MCFEELY: They’re still spread out. Remember, one of our jobs, we’re big structure guys. So if you go back and look at Winter Soldier and Civil War particularly, they are — whether you like the movies are not, — they’re pretty well structured. Big choices have been made. We had to do the same thing here and yet we had 6 MacGuffins. It can be relentless if you do this right. Which means, every time you collect [an Infinity Stone] – I don’t mean to get into the screenwriting weeds – but every time you collect one, it can’t just be a check mark. It has to do something characterful. It’s got to move the plot forward, but it also has to stakes and cost for literal characters at the time, so that it’s not just a shopping spree. And I think we’ve done that and boy, we’re going to wrench some emotion out of each and every one of those moments that we can.