"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" brings some major developments to the table for the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its recent release, and the screenwriting team behind the sequel, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely stopped by the CBR Speakeasy in Los Angeles to tease the far-reaching implications of the second "Captain America" sequel and how it affects everything from "Avengers: Age of Ultron" to "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
Plus, the duo discusses building up the Black Widow, drawing inspiration from Ed Brubaker's "Captain America" comic book run, and the already-under-development "Captain America 3."
On behind-the-scenes of coordinating with the television show: "There isn't as much interaction between the two projects as you'd think there would be, because schedule-wise, you can't get everybody in the room," Markus said.
"You also don't want that many voices," said McFeeley. "There's one dungeon master, and that's Kevin Feige. And he's mostly the film as opposed to the TV side. I think it's safe to say that 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' doesn't wag that dog, so when we say, 'We're going to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D.,' they have to say, 'Okay.' I'm told that they saw the movie and at the end when S.H.I.E.L.D. is -- 'Do I have a job?'"
"Aside from the title, it won't change the show that much because they're never at S.H.I.E.L.D.," said Markus. "[It's more like] 'Agents of Airplane.'"
On bringing together a number of new and old characters together in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier": "It was definitely a challenge, because you could just keep checking in with people and stay completely horizontal and have no build," said Markus. "Everybody had to lock in to the same central story. There weren't -- at no point could we have somebody with a b-story, [like], 'I'm mad at Captain America because he dinged my car and I also want to kill him!' Some movies, you have three villains, three stories and there's no drive."
"That's the difference. We know in our back pocket that even though it goes on the Internet that there are these four characters that may or may not be villains, we know that we're using them in a very specific way," said McFeeley. "If you've seen the movie, you know Batroc the Leaper is a first act guy. He's not equal to The Winter Soldier in terms of his import to the story. That's just structure in a screenwriting turing -- we knew we needed an intro James Bond villain to pick up with and put it down."
"People would be there in those spots, we've just decided to take the names," said Markus. "You would need someone doing what Natasha does in the movie, you'd need somebody doing what Batroc does in the movie. It's the happy upside of working in an interlocking universe that you can grab things from other places and make them do things you need done."
On building up the Black Widow's development: "Well she's cool because you don't know what her past is," said Markus. "I don't think it's the past of the comic book, I think she might actually be the age she appears to be. But everyone else is pretty much an open book. We know where Iron Man came from, we know where Captain America came from, and she's just shown up in a black outfit and has clearly done much worse things than anybody else. So, there's a lack of self-righteousness there. That's why she's so great next to Cap because she's done things he would never do."
"That's why we chose her, because she represents that moral ambiguity, that dark grey world that I think we live in now," said McFeeley, "and he comes from this past where he hasn't seen all the decisions we've made to get to this point. Since that was one of the big themes we've been working with, we needed a character that was going to push those buttons."
On the lack of spoken dialogue for The Winter Soldier: "There was some debate, but it's a question of -- he will get lines eventually if we keep making these movies," said Markus. "It's a question of where we eventually decided he would be at the end of the movie, how cracked would that shell be. When we got to the fact that it's just a hairline, he's not going to be glad-handing people. He's scary in that way. Darth Vader talks a bit, but he doesn't have long personal conversations about what he had for dinner. He just works better that way."
On challenging characters for "The Winter Soldier": "Zola. I've been wanting to shove him into everything for a while," said Markus. "But by necessity, he's a brain in a box now, serving the purpose of dumping an enormous amount of information on the audience at one point in the movie. We went over it a million times -- 'How do we keep this entertaining and not just the little talking icon on your computer.' Even though we've been through a million talking computers and a million downloaded intelligences -- science fiction is full of this guy -- we were also trying to make a realistic, grounded movie and yet drop a talking computer for 70 years ago in the movie. It was always, 'How do we do this so that it's in the context of the movie?'"
"Yeah, we can have Helicarriers fall from the sky onto a Triskelion in the middle of the Potomac, but a talking computer guy is too much," said McFeeley, laughing.
On drawing inspiration from Ed Brubaker's run on the "Captain America" comics: "We knew we didn't want to bring back the Red Skull. It's too soon," said Markus. "You don't want to have the same villain two movies in a row, so we knew that couldn't factor in there, so we didn't want to pop him inside another guy's head. We wanted it to be an American villain, we wanted this to be about corruption within the American system, so that took out the Russian guy. The rest of it was just fine-tuning it so it works within the Marvel Universe context. We had Zola experiment on him in the first movie deliberately so that, should we be so lucky to get a 'Winter Soldier' movie, there would be a reason to specifically grab Bucky out of the snow."
On where they are in development for "Captain America 3": "We're early, but we've made some good choices, I think," said McFeeley.
"Yeah, early, but with no time to sit back. We had a meeting on it two hours before the premiere," said Markus. "But I think it's going to spring naturally from where we end this one and not be a retread. It can't be another conspiracy and 'Still more people are evil! Now it's the Red Cross!'"