Marvel closes a decade­long story with ‘Avengers: Endgame’

The Tribune (SLO) - - Ticket - BY LIND­SEY BAHR

About five years ago, Marvel Studios pres­i­dent Kevin Feige found him­self on a re­treat in Palm Springs plot­ting the fu­ture for the wild, ex­per­i­men­tal “cine­matic uni­verse” that he helped start in 2008 . He wanted to do some­thing that they hadn’t done. He wanted an ending.

And after a quick pitch to Robert Downey Jr., Feige, di­rec­tors An­thony and Joe Russo, and screen­writ­ers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely started plot­ting a way to bring this saga to a close, brain­storm­ing when­ever they had a mo­ment – even in between takes of “Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War.”

Any­one who saw “Avengers: In­fin­ity War” knows they weren’t kid­ding around. Thanos lit­er­ally dis­solved half of hu­man­ity, in­clud­ing Spi­derMan and Black Pan­ther in an event known as “the snap” that’s in­spired tears, memes and more fan the­o­ries than the in­ter­net can hold. Talk about a cliffhanger.

End­ings are a rar­ity in the fran­chise movie-mak­ing busi­ness; es­pe­cially when one’s pop­u­lar­ity has only mul­ti­plied as the movies of Marvel have. But Marvel Studios, which has never shied away from a little rule-break­ing, is tak­ing a sledge­ham­mer to that old “don’t leave money on the table” maxim, and au­di­ences will fi­nally be able to see how they do it when “Avengers: Endgame” opens na­tion­wide Thurs­day.

“(Ending) is not a scary word,” Feige said. “It’s a nec­es­sary word.”

What ex­actly that means for the Marvel Cine­matic Uni­verse (MCU) is some­thing of a state se­cret. Feige said that this will be “de­fin­i­tive,” though.

“Peo­ple can de­bate and dis­cuss what that means be­fore they see the movie,” Feige said. “But for us that means bring­ing to a con­clu­sion the first three phases, the first 22 films in the MCU, so that ev­ery­thing there­after is a new start.”

So “new” in fact that Feige won’t even dis­cuss what’s to come be­yond the July re­lease of “Spi­derMan: Far From Home.” He won’t con­firm re­port­edly in-the-works pro­jects like the “Black Widow” stand­alone, “The Eter­nals” or “Shang-Chi,” or talk about plans for the 20th Cen­tury Fox prop­er­ties like “Dead­pool” and “X-Men” that are now un­der his purview.

They have the next five years mapped out; they’re just not letting au­di­ences peek be­hind the cur­tain un­til after “Endgame.” It’s that big.

“How we leave ‘Endgame’ will help de­fine where we’re going for many peo­ple,” Feige said.

But how does one talk about a movie that no press has seen and no ac­tors or cre­ators are al­lowed to dis­cuss in de­tail? Well, care­fully and cryp­ti­cally.

We know some things. That the heroes left like Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Cap­tain Amer­ica (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruf­falo) and War Ma­chine (Don Chea­dle) are deal­ing

THEY HAVE THE NEXT FIVE YEARS MAPPED OUT; THEY’RE JUST NOT LETTING AU­DI­ENCES PEEK BE­HIND THE CUR­TAIN UN­TIL AFTER “ENDGAME.”

with the dev­as­tat­ing loss post-snap while try­ing to fig­ure out what to do with Thanos. A help­ful “Avenge the Fallen” campaign served as a re­minder of who sur­vived and who didn’t (some of the dusted were even a sur­prise, like “Black Pan­ther’s” Shuri). We also know they have a new weapon in Brie Lar­son’s Cap­tain Marvel, whom Sa­muel L. Jack­son’s Nick Fury man­aged to page be­fore dis­solv­ing into dust.

Will char­ac­ters die, though? Prob­a­bly. Will the ones lost in “the snap” re­main gone? Un­clear (although some who have up­com­ing movies, like, say Spi­der-Man, won’t). But the cast and film­mak­ers aren’t giv­ing any­thing up, or even com­ment­ing on the fact that this might be the last of Evans as Cap­tain Amer­ica, which the ac­tor him­self tweeted about months ago.

“I still don’t know what hap­pens in this movie,” said Lar­son, who ac­tu­ally even filmed her scenes in “Endgame” be­fore “Cap­tain Marvel,” which came out ear­lier this year.

Film­ing proved an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for many of the ac­tors, a lot of whom have now been work­ing to­gether for al­most a decade or more.

“I was pretty tearyeyed,” Evans said. “This is the cul­mi­na­tion of a re­ally long en­deavor. It kind of wraps up the jour­ney for a lot of these char­ac­ters.”

It led to a lot of re­flec­tion, about where they started and how they’ve grown. Johansson noted that she’d been de­vel­op­ing her char­ac­ter for 10 years now, and is ex­cited that Black Widow has evolved from a “sexy sec­re­tary” type to a more fully re­al­ized woman.

“The whole shoot felt pretty nos­tal­gic,” Hemsworth added. “We were con­stantly talk­ing about when it all started to how we pulled this off and what we were a part of.”

But he also admits he was “kind of happy to get off the set.” An eight­month shoot can wear even on Thor.

And in­deed the shoot was gru­el­ing. The di­rec­tors, who did “Win­ter Soldier,” “Civil War” and “In­fin­ity War” said it was the hard­est of their life.

“This went far be­yond any­thing we’d ever done be­fore,” said An­thony Russo. “There’s a rea­son why movies aren’t made this way nor­mally.”

But that this was un­con­ven­tional was also the draw.

“I think the only rea­son we stuck around, is be­cause they were com­mit­ted to an ending and we’re de­con­struc­tion­ists,” said Joe Russo. “We like to take things apart and see the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of what hap­pens. ‘Win­ter Soldier’ the good guys be­came the bad guys, ‘Civil War,’ we di­vorced the heroes, ‘In­fin­ity War,’ we killed half of them. We like to smash it and look at how you can put the pieces back to­gether.”

And no one, not even Feige, re­grets putting the MCU on this one-way path. That’s not to say he never sec­ond guesses him­self, how­ever.

Two weeks be­fore “In­fin­ity War” came out he had a mo­ment of panic about the snap.

“That ending was one of the reasons why we wanted to make the movie. That’s how we sold it to Disney. We were con­fi­dent in it,” Feige said. “But then a week or two weeks be­fore the film came out, I went, ‘Oh no. We’re killing all these peo­ple. What if the au­di­ence to­tally re­jects it?’ ”

Speaking just a few weeks be­fore “Endgame” is un­leashed on the world, Feige has found him­self in a fa­mil­iar spot.

Feige said: “It’s not un­til the movie is com­pletely finished, which ‘Endgame’ is now com­pletely finished, when you can’t touch it any more that you go, ‘Wait a minute: Should we have touched it more?’ ”

Pho­tos by Disney/Marvel Studios via AP

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark in “Avengers: Endgame.”

Scarlett Johansson plays Black Widow in “Endgame.”

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