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[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Captain America: Winter Soldier]
Marvel Studios films often end in mayhem, but Captain America: Winter Soldier has arguably the most far-reaching conclusion of them all.
The film ends with Captain America (Chris Evans) bringing down SHIELD – a move that has major implications for future films, as well as ABC’s Agents of SHIELD.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely say Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige urged them to craft an ending that would be massive, and they were eager to comply.
“Kevin doesn’t want us to take small steps,” McFeely tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So we’ll take big swings, and sometimes he’ll pull us back and sometimes he’ll add to it and say ‘No. Bigger. Let’s take down all of SHIELD.’ Then we rub our hands together and go, ‘Fabulous.’ ”
Read the full conversation below, where the writers reveal how the Agents of SHIELD team reacted to the film’s ending (“Holy crap. Do I have a job tomorrow?”), what Marvel reference they had to cut (hint: Ant-Man), and what mysteries still remain for a threequel.
You also wrote the first Captain America and the Thor sequel. What were the challenges going into this film?
Christopher Markus: We knew we didn’t want to go the “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what anything is because I’m from 1945” route. We wanted to explore how he would feel about where the character of our society has gone during the time he’s been away.
How did the decision to dismantle SHIELD come about, and what sort of approval did you need from the Marvel brass?
Stephen McFeely: We couldn’t do that without Kevin Feige coming in and saying “Hey, it’s OK to take down SHIELD.” It allows Steve Rogers to effect change. And there’s no greater example of the Marvel Universe and how it operates than SHIELD. If Steve can take that down, then he’s brought a significant change. We’ll throw out ideas, and Kevin doesn’t want us to take small steps. So we’ll take big swings, and sometimes he’ll pull us back and sometimes he’ll add to it and say “No. Bigger. Let’s take down all of SHIELD.” Then we rub our hands together and go, “Fabulous.”
Markus: The debate was, “What’s a big enough thing for him to tackle?” It can’t just be one man is embezzling from the slush fund. When Kevin said “Make it as big as possible. Take down SHIELD,” it was like, “Okie-doke.”
What does this mean for ABC’s Agents of SHIELD?
Markus: We’ll see how everyone feels about it at ABC.
McFeely: When they screened it for them two months ago, I think everyone liked it but kind of went, “Holy crap. Do I have a job tomorrow?”
When you were writing Alexander Pierce, whom did you imagine you were writing for? Did you have a sense someone like Robert Redford would be playing it?
Markus: We never dared to think, “Oh yeah, we’ll just get Robert Redford.” As we talked about what kind of movie we wanted to make, we kept referencing a lot of movies he had been in. When they said, “We’re talking to Robert Redford about it,” it was so perfect it almost seemed like it couldn’t be true.
You reference Stephen Strange and Bruce Banner in this movie. How do you decide what Marvel seeds to plant?
McFeely: We throw them all in. We knew that character at that moment was going to list a bunch of people who represented threats now or in the future to Hydra. We just chocked it full of people and no one ever cut [the scene] out. (Laughs.) Kevin has to decide whether it’s OK to say this guy or that guy. We did the same thing with the targeting sequence. Our first pass at that probably had Hank Pym [aka Ant-Man] in it. People come to expect little Easter eggs and DVD/Blu-ray moments.
Markus: it’s all about if they work in context. If it seems like a wacky Thor reference to make a wacky Thor reference, then they don’t work and we don’t do it.
What about the post-credits scenes? Are you given a blueprint for where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to help decide what the scenes should be?
Markus: More often than not, the post-credits scene is done by the director whose movie it is referencing. James Gunn did the one at the end of Thor: The Dark World because it was essentially a Guardians of the Galaxy teaser, and Joss [Whedon] did this one because it’s essentially an [Avengers: Age of Ultron] teaser. We did not have too much to do for that one, other than to tear down SHIELD. The Bucky at the Smithsonian scene was planned as the end shot before we wrote the script. We knew that was how we wanted to end the whole story.
When you wrote the first movie, did you know Bucky would be used again for a sequel?
McFeely: We knew we liked Sebastian Stan and that he brought a haunted quality to his performance in the second half of that movie. We had certainly laid in the pipes necessary to explain why he might be alive 80 years later. We put Zola experimenting on him so you’d have sympathy for him at the time in that movie – but also it was laying groundwork for later.
Having Zola be this old-school artificial intelligence was pretty wild.
McFeely: It was not without controversy. It took a lot of time to get that right.
Markus: It was the perfect way to bring Hydra through – to take this character who already exists. Every movie, you’re faced with what is essentially a talking head explaining things. It was fun to go, “What if he’s literally a talking head explaining things?”
You say it was controversial. Was this on your end or on Marvel’s?
McFeely: Both. Steve finds out, “Oh my God. There’s this big, buried secret.” How are you going to demonstrate that? Are you going to find a secret file and flip though pictures? The ominous presence who can talk to you and answer questions seemed much more interesting to us. In a world with Helicarriers and wing suits, no one batted an eye. But we had long conversations with everyone throughout Marvel if we could really do this talking computer.
Was there anything you wrote that you liked but which didn’t make it into the movie?
McFeely: On the Blu-ray they’ll be not too many extra scenes. There’s an entire scene with Agent Sitwell [Maximiliano Hernandez] and Maria Hill [Cobie Smulders]. It’s got a nice back-and-forth dialogue and gave a little extra to both of them that wasn’t necessary, ultimately.
Markus: There are things we talked about writing that I don’t think we got around to writing. Like, are we going to examine who Sharon Carter [Emily VanCamp] really is? Which we’ve left for the future. There’s no room in the movie for Steve to stop and go, “Wait. You’re the great-grandniece of the woman I love? And is it weird that I’m attracted to you?”
What was your favorite scene to write or to see on the big screen?
McFeely: I am particularly fond of the lady councilwoman kicking all sorts of ass and revealing herself to be Black Widow. It was risky to write. I didn’t know if it’d make it all the way through. It made it all the way through, and it usually brings the house down.
Markus: To watch – I love when Cap gets on the boat and starts kicking ass. People are periodically saying, “Alright, so he’s strong. What’s the big deal about Captain America? Why would you need him on your team? Why would you send one man against a boat?” And all of a sudden it becomes crystal clear. It’s just like, “Oh. Right! That guy!” It just ups him in a very quick and dirty way.
Captain America: Winter Soldier was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and also stars Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie.
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