I studied screenwriting in college. While the whole career part of that didn’t play out the way 22-year-old me would have wanted it to, much older me still enjoys it. Writing scripts that will never be made is a foolish pastime, to be sure.
A script is a written document meant to depict a visual and auditory medium. It is absolutely an art, but not meant to be read in the same way as fiction. Alas, I continue to find myself scratching away with pen and paper (I do write most of a first draft by hand–I told you, I’m old) or tapping away at the keyboard while making sure my dialogue is centered and my slug lines are in bold.
In addition to writing screenplays, I also enjoy reading them. Perhaps it is a slight sign of self-loathing to check in on what people who actually made it are doing? Or maybe my delicate writer’s hands can’t hold up a big heavy book? Whatever the reason, I have amassed a library of scripts. I will be putting that collection to good use, I hope, in a recurring series (of which this is the first) here at MMH comparing and contrasting what I read on the page with what I saw at the movies (when that was a thing).
For my first piece, I wanted to see how writers handled a big moment in a blockbuster. Not just a big moment, a huge moment. A moment that made me stifle a cheer in my throat, to maintain an illusion of coolness I never had to begin with, right there in the theater. I chose the climactic battle in Avengers: Endgame.
Here are the script pages:
Here is the video for the corresponding section:
The screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, should get a ton of credit. Putting a movie together––two really, considering Infinity War––that tells a coherent story with so many characters and threads to tie up is a Herculean task. Of course, they were not out on an island.
Kevin Feige and the Marvel machine had a heck of a lot to do with this. In that vein, writing this movie was probably drastically different than when Iron Man was written pre-2008. Markus and McFeely had a decade’s worth of movies to draw from, not just for their own inspiration, but for our understanding as an audience. They could launch into complex situations that needed no explanation or character development. For example, when Captain Marvel saves Tony and Nebula, we don’t need to know who she is. We saw the movie. It was OK.
Perhaps that is a bad example because that is the one character that I did have questions about in terms of her involvement in the events of this film. Anyway, moving on.
The other people that deserve a lot of credit are Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of Endgame. Their stamp is all over this whole project as well. The fact that they could juggle the Thor’s beard worth of threads I mentioned above is nothing short of incredible.
Markus and McFeely’s style is one that is well suited for this undertaking. They do an excellent job throughout the film of being very clear about what is happening. In the flashback scenes, for example, they specify what moments they are referring to.
For the pages highlighted here, the action descriptions are almost stark––no pun intended. Each beat gets its own line. There are no descriptions of the scene. They focus on who does what. Not to say that they don’t add a little flair here and there.
One aspect I was most curious about before reading was how they would use their all-caps and other formatting choices. Typically, all-caps is reserved for the big moments when you really need to draw a reader’s attention to something. How would that work in a scene where everything is gigantic––including one character actually named Giant-Man––and the reader has to absorb a lot? In my opinion, they could have used all-caps a little less. It actually softened the effect for me, but at this point, I’m not putting the script down no matter what.
Still, as I mentioned, this is a blueprint for a massive undertaking and I think they pull it off very well. Even if I had not seen the film beforehand, I could picture these action sequences easily and vividly.
Now I’d like to point out some of the things I noticed.
Right away, some sequencing changes are apparent. In the script, we jump from Iron Man getting knocked unconscious to the group under the rubble and then back to Thor fighting Thanos.
In the film, we move from Clint retrieving the gauntlet to the Iron man getting knocked unconscious. I agree with the decisions made in the editing process. We don’t chop up the three Avengers getting their asses handed to them and we get to see it all together. It also creates a build-up to Steve Rodgers saving Thor in a smooth way. One could argue that breaking it up as it is in the script builds the tension or suspense of the fight. At this point in the story, I just think that we want to see this crescendo build.
In screenwriting, you do not have to write every single breath or action taken. The script toes a good balance between writing an impactful fight scene and leaving room for improvisation. Thanos’ blade acting like a boomerang and the brutal kicks to Thor are welcome additions. Cap’s shield and Mjolnir combos have also been beefed up a bit, which I like.
The moment where Steve picks up Mjolnir is perfectly written and even more perfectly executed. This is one of those moments where Markus and McFeely expand on the moment. They give the reader a little more poetry to work with.
The translation of the line “the only other man worthy enough to wield it…STEVE ROGERS” to the scene we get in the movie is…well…perfect. It was a payoff years in the making. By giving us the extra context in those words, they allow us to feel that weight. And then the Russo brothers throw in the dramatic music, the glorious shot of Steve catching the hammer, and Chris Evans doing Chris Evans things.
That is another aspect of writing which is unique to this scale of a movie. You can really write to the characters, but also the actors playing those characters.
When Steve is beaten down by Thanos, facing “such overwhelming odds”, there is a beautiful hesitation written in through the use of an ellipsis. I love how the Russos set it up on set. And I love how Evans crushes that ellipsis. He has just a split second where his face shows us so much, right before he stands. It’s a look of “I know I’m standing up.” Yet, it’s also a look of resignation. Of determination. He will stand up the same way he has against countless terrors and torments that could have destroyed him. This is why filmmaking is a team effort.
Speaking of teams, there is another little tweak right before Steve’s stand that I love that the Russos, presumably along with editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt, made. Directly preceding Cap’s choice, Thanos’ speech is broken up in the script by the arrival of his army. I like the change of having the army arrive at the end. We are not distracted by the magnitude of the arriving aliens. Thanos gets his triumphant moment. His words highlight the change in this 2014 version of the character.
Just to wrap up a few loose ends, I noticed a few cuts from the portal scene as well.
The Ravagers got mostly cut out––sorry guys. Scott Lang has a line of dialogue that is scrapped. I would have also maybe pulled the Wong-Dr. Strange exchange. It felt a little too on the nose.
It’s not a change, but I like that in the script I get all the names for things. Each of the different types of aliens has a name. Rhodey’s new gear is apparently called his Cosmic Iron Patriot armor. Stuff like that is fun.
Before this section gets capped off with the iconic and ten-years-in-the-making battle whisper of “Avengers, assemble,” there is one final change I want to highlight.
In the script, Sam Wilson gets the wonderful callback with the “on your left” line. Then he’s the first person that appears during the portal moment. The film version gives Sam the line, but the first figures to appear are those from Wakanda, namely T’Challa, Okoye, and Shuri.
This is the first time I’ve seen this film since the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Watching him come out of that golden portal, an athletic specimen, a proud leader, and a powerful presence, was surprisingly emotional. He nods, as if to say, it is all OK, I am here. The lump in my throat swelled. Flipping the order feels solemnly prescient now. It turned out to be a cool tribute.
So there you have it, a few of the things I noticed when comparing the script of Avengers: Endgame to the finished product. Obviously, there would be even more differences if I were to have used an earlier draft. This draft is the one that was submitted for Oscar consideration. I appreciated seeing the way the writers handled the scope of the project. Seeing the list of all the characters appearing out of the portals, and knowing that each one of them gets to have their moment, really underscores this.
Overall, this is a fun script to read and a good lesson in the superhero genre that Marvel has crafted. I hope you enjoyed this exercise. If you have suggestions for other movies I should do, hit MMH up on social media. Have a great day!