“Harry Potter” did it, and so did “Twilight,” “Divergent,” and “The Hunger Games.” And, for a couple of years, it seemed like Hollywood’s reigning franchise was going to take a stab at it, too — splitting the final movie into two parts. When the third and fourth “Avengers” movies were announced in October of 2014, Marvel’s original title treatments hinted at two movies split from one idea, including “Avengers: Infinity War Part I” and “Avengers: Infinity War Part II.” But by the time “Captain America: Civil War” hit theaters in May of 2014, the shared title had been jettisoned.
As screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely explain, that seemingly small choice signifies something much bigger: a firm division between two films so distinct that they may as well come from totally different genres.
“I would say it’s more an issue of labeling and branding than what movies we were telling,” McFeely explained. “‘Part I’ and ‘Part II’ implies that you took one big piece of source material, you cut it down the middle, you took a famous book, you cut it in half, you charge people twice. We were clearly not doing that. We’re not taking a story that everyone knows and cutting it in half arbitrarily. We were just trying to tell two big movies that were related in some way.”
Markus cut in: “But are very different.”
Despite the title change, the screenwriters are adamant that nothing actually changed on the page and they had always intended on crafting a pair of separate stories. “They’re really different,” McFeely said. “So it’s not like we changed course. It’s just the labeling was disingenuous and not doing us any favors. I can’t underline it enough: Literally nothing changed other than the title of the movie.”
Yet the inherent connections between the films — both part of a larger story and a series within it — remain intact. “Even though we don’t call the movie ‘Part I’ or the next one ‘Part II,’ like all of our movies, it connects with the movies to come and of course, most specifically with the next Avengers film,” Feige said.
So, just how different are these films?
“We sort of treated it like different genres,” McFeely said. “I know Marvel gets a rap for like, ‘all the Marvel movies are the same,’ and I find that BS. ‘Ant-Man’ is not ‘Black Panther.’ It’s just not fair. So it’s more like that, it’s more like the difference between ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Black Panther.'”
It’s a sentiment that Feige also echoed, and while he was characteristically cagey when asked about the specific differences between the films, he could confirm the “different genres” assertion. “Although we haven’t started working on the marketing campaign for ‘Avengers 4’ yet, I’m not sure it will be apparent how much that is the case until people actually see the movie, but that was the idea,” Feige said. “To do two very distinct movies.”
Feige added that it has always been Marvel’s intention “to try all different types of genres and all different types of films and I think that’s what we’ve done over the course of these 19 movies leading up to ‘Infinity War,’ 22 movies leading up to ‘Avengers 4’ next year. And certainly [we] want to continue to do that.”
Don’t look to “Infinity War” to provide too many hints as to what’s to come in its followup. “[After you see the film] I think you’re probably gonna have fewer ideas about what it’s gonna be than you do now,” Markus said. “I’m gonna put it that way.”
Pressed for more details, McFeely did share that while there are “very few” comparisons for the newest film, “It’s relentless in the way that ‘Winter Soldier’ was, a propulsive movie.”
While the two films were envisioned as separate entities, they did spring from the same place that the writers always like to tap into: “limitless” freedom, in Markus’ own words. The screenwriters have always spoken highly of the freedom granted to them by Marvel, even when they’ve been tasked with films that require a dizzying amount of connections and callbacks. The same held true for “Infinity War” and its sequel.
“We generated about 60 pages of ideas that had nothing to do with each other, that all could have been an ‘Infinity War’ movie, and let our minds go simply crazy, and then handed them to the powers that be and said, ‘Which one of these do you like? Which ones can we draw a line connecting? And how do we build a movie off these crazy things?,'” Markus said. “The watchword has always been to do something fresh, do something new, and keep doing that throughout the course of both movies.”
While few movies are a safer bet than a Marvel Cinematic Universe entry — especially one like “Infinity War,” which benefits from the inclusion of tons of characters and the culmination of many storylines — Markus and McFeely do believe there’s a certain amount of risk-taking involved with this one. “No one made this movie scared,” McFeely said. “It’s risky. There’s a lot going on. Its ambition is quite high.”
Part of that ambition might be attributed to moving the film’s point of view away from the heroes, opting instead to explore a superhero story from the perspective of a supervillain, something the MCU hasn’t previously attempted on this scale.
“It’s nearly from the point of view of the antagonist,” McFeely said. “It’s very much a Thanos-centered movie. That’s kind of the only way we could do it. One guy is forcing the issue, and forcing all these other characters to come into his orbit, so that’s the only way that this could make sense.”
Switching around the perspective may even allow Thanos (Josh Brolin) to tap into some audience empathy. Markus and McFeely have previously touted the importance of writing characters for “the man or the woman inside the costume,” a philosophy that extended to looming baddie Thanos.
“We treat him like he’s human,” McFeely said. “He has wants, he has needs, he has pain, he has relatives. There’s nothing sort of non-human about Thanos other than his purple-ness and size.”
One connection fans can look for between the films hinges on character representation between the projects. While many fans have bemoaned the apparent lack of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) representation on marketing materials, theorizing that such a lack of the bow-and-arrow-slinging hero means he’s getting little screen time in “Infinity War,” it’s all part of that larger division.
“We always gave ourselves permission to look at someone’s representation over the course of both movies, [and] that not everybody was gonna get everything in each movie,” Markus said. “And that certain characters were better suited for the story we were telling in ‘I,’ and certain characters better suited for the story in ‘II.'”
And while audiences may walk away from “Infinity War” not knowing what to expect from the plot and tone of its untitled followup, they can at least start ruminating on the possibilities of who will be there to carry the sprawling cinematic universe to a long-teased conclusion (of sorts).
“By the time you watch the second movie, hopefully you’ll feel that everyone was well-served,” McFeely said. “I could see how some people at the end of first movie might go, ‘Oh, my favorite character didn’t have that many scenes.’ Odds are that character will have a lot more scenes in the next one.”
“Avengers: Infinity War” opens on Friday, April 27. The fourth untitled Avengers film is scheduled to be released in the United States on May 3, 2019.