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The untold truth of Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame was one of the most hotly anticipated movies of 2019, and for good reason. The 22nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe followed up on the Infinity War storyline, wrapped up the massive Infinity Saga, and brought some much-needed closure to several different characters' stories. The three-hour bladder buster was funny, epic, tragic, heroic, and all-around crowd-pleasing, satisfying fans and breaking box office records across the globe with ease.

As with all tentpole movies, the fourth Avengers film also comes with a ton of background factoids that make it even more intriguing. It's a phenomenon that Marvel movies, in particular, are especially good at generating, thanks to the secrecy that surrounds each project — something that Endgame took to all new levels with its avidly spoiler-free marketing efforts. Once the movie was released, though, the secrets began pouring out. Here are some of the most interesting tidbits that make us love Endgame even more. Spoilers ahead!

Five different endings?

It's a well-known fact that directors Joe and Anthony Russo will go to extreme lengths to keep their Marvel creations under wraps. The stakes were so high with Endgame, though, that it saw them take the secrecy mantra to incredible lengths. For example, they teasingly apologized to the spoiler-prone Tom Holland for dusting Spidey at the end of Infinity War and consequentially keeping him at arm's length for the promotion of Endgame. They also "fired" Mark Ruffalo after a string of spoilers had put him on thin ice.

One of the best methods for keeping everyone in the dark, though, was the way the Russos handled the script. The overwhelming majority of the actors only got pieces of the screenplay to work from. This naturally made it harder for anyone to leak information — intentionally or otherwise — since they didn't understand the whole story in the first place. One actor, in particular, though seems to have been given special spoiler-proof treatment: Ruffalo.

The Hulk actor was reportedly given a partial script with dummy scenes in it, and even said that he "shot, like, five different endings to this movie." But even that didn't stop him from accidentally giving something away. In one interview, he joked about what he presumably thought was one of those "dummy scenes."  The spoiler? He declared that "[Captain America] gets married in this!" Oops...

Out of order

Endgame would be the second MCU outing for Carol Danvers, who had arrived on the scene just weeks earlier in her own superhero flick, Captain Marvel. For actress Brie Larson, though, the entire experience of playing Carol was actually reversed. Larson had filmed her scenes for Endgame before she ever had a chance to flesh out the character in her own film. This explains why Danvers' hair and makeup ended up looking so different in Endgame — a fact that the Russo brothers attributed to Larson and her makeup crew, who were still experimenting with how to present her.

As an added twist, the first scene she ever filmed was set during the events of Endgame, but technically ended up in Captain Marvel. On The Tonight Show, Larson recalled that her first day of filming was for the end credit scene for her own film, which showed her arriving at the Avengers facility post-snap. In true Russo fashion, though, the actress was given her lines only, didn't know who else was in the studio that day, and filmed her part alone in front of a green screen. She didn't even know which movie she was filming the scene for.

The only one to read the entire script

While the Russo brothers bent over backward as they tried to keep actors like Ruffalo, Holland, and Larson from spoiling the script, there was one person that they didn't mind showing the whole thing to: Robert Downey Jr. While discussing Infinity War and Endgame in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, the pair cryptically explained that RDJ was "probably the only one to actually read the entire script." They followed this up by adding that Captain America actor Chris Evans may have also seen the whole thing, but they were only certain of Downey.

The official quote seems to have said been in reference to Infinity War. Whether or not Robert Downey Jr. technically got the entire Endgame script too, though, it doesn't change the fact that the MCU superstar was clearly on a different level from his fellow actors during filming. Not to say that the extra level of respect wasn't well-deserved. After all, everything had started with Iron Man just a decade earlier. And with Endgame ultimately serving as the Iron Avenger's swan song, it seems very appropriate that RDJ would be trusted with some of the most sensitive MCU knowledge to ever exist.

Thor's ex

Fat Thor was, in a word, amazing, and the sequence where he and Rocket pay a visit to past Asgard was pure comedic bliss. The trip through the old palace was a fun romp down memory lane (remember, Asgard has already been destroyed by the time Endgame takes place), and Thor's conversation with his mother, Frigga, was a nice touch that helped to shape his otherwise largely comedic role in the movie.

Of course, the main reason the pair of Asgardians of the Galaxy are there in the first place is to retrieve the Reality Stone. At that point in time, it's in its fluid form and is using the God of Thunder's ex, Jane Foster, as a host. Foster, who has been absent from Marvel films for quite a while, appears more than once before Rocket gets to her with his giant, scary-looking Aether-extractor.

But it turns out that Natalie Portman didn't actually film any new footage for Endgame. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Russos explained that they had been able to salvage unused footage from Thor: Dark World in order to get all of the scenes they needed for Dr. Foster. That didn't mean Portman wasn't involved, though. While the footage was enough for them to work with, they did ask the actress to record "a little bit of voice-over when she's talking in the distance, that's it."

Behind the scenes

In the days after Endgame lit up the theater marquees, Star-Lord actor Chris Pratt stirred up attention by releasing an "illegal" video that he had taken on set while preparing for one of the film's key action sequences. The shot sported an impressive number of A-list actors who, to quote Pratt, "likely will never be in the same room again."

The once-in-a-lifetime video showed nearly all of the famous actors, mostly in sweats and comfortable clothing, chatting and discussing their scenes as casually as if they were a group of high schoolers hanging out after class. Chris Hemsworth is seen — without the Fat Thor beer gut — and Chris Evans can be heard talking about how "establishing the discussion over coms now is good." The video gave a unique glimpse into the back end of a film that had been kept so tightly under wraps since day one.

There was one odd element to the video, though. Gamora actress Zoe Saldana and Nebula actress Karen Gillan were noticeably absent from the celebrity potluck. That's not to say that two actors weren't there plastered in blue, purple, and green makeup. In fact, they're clearly visible as Pratt pans across the set. Karen Gillan finally cleared things up when she commented that the two daughters of Thanos were looking a bit different because she and Saldana were represented by their body doubles for the scene.

One last cameo

Stan Lee was a comic book titan for over half a century. While he was an important creative mind behind the scenes for decades, though, his neck-deep involvement in all things Marvel also led to a memorable series of fan-favorite cameos throughout Marvel's cinematic representations.

When Stan the Man passed away in late 2018, fans quickly began theorizing about when his last cameo would surface. A year earlier, it had been revealed that the then-94-year-old Lee had filmed five different cameos for upcoming films. The fact that he was apparently batching his cameos naturally left the possibility that he could be popping into films for an indefinite amount of time into the future. So fans were hardly surprised when Avengers: Endgame delivered a shot of a younger-looking hippie version of Lee driving by the 1970's S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters shouting, "Make love, not war!"

The scene was special, with a look approximating Lee's actual appearance during that era and a bumper sticker bearing his catchphrase "'Nuff said" on the back of the vehicle. It was also special, though, because it turned out to be Lee's last ever cameo. The Russos confirmed after the fact that "It's the last Stan Lee cameo that made it to film." To appear one last time in Endgame was a very fitting way to wrap up Lee's involvement in the Infinity Saga that launched the MCU to prominence.

No resurrections this time

In one of the scenes that few people saw coming in Endgame, Natasha Romanoff ended up being the one who "won her argument" with Clint Barton and sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone. It was a beautifully redemptive way to end her own heroic story, which had been going on in the background for nearly the entire MCU.

But, of course, this is Marvel, and there's always the question of whether they'll bring her back or not. With Gamora's re-entrance into the future from the past, for example, anything seems fair game. Except, not with Romanoff — her story seems closed for good this time.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely explained, "Her journey, in our minds, had come to an end if she could get the Avengers back... she has a chance to get the family back, that's a thing she would trade for." During her memorial scene on the dock, the surviving heroes' conversation drove home the point that the cost of the Soul Stone is a permanent one, an everlasting exchange. To quote McFeely, "You bring her back, you lose the stone." While there's no doubt that Black Widow will be remembered by fans for years to come (particularly when her upcoming prequel film hits screens), for all intents and purposes, she is indeed gone for good.

Juggling deaths

While Black Widow may have ultimately been given a powerful closing to her own story, Romanoff's death wasn't always a sure thing. After all, movies aren't finite until the release date. The shawarma end credit scene from Avengers wasn't even added until the week that the film was released. So it should come as no surprise that there was a lot of shifting and changing as they went along. One of those changes? The events on Vormir.

Writers Markus and McFeely explained that there was a version of the script that had Clint Barton sacrificing himself for the stone instead of Romanoff. But when they gave the scene to the visual effects producer Jen Underdahl, she shot back, "Don't you take this away from her." The response clearly impacted the writers, who ultimately acknowledged that Barton wasn't the right person to make the sacrifice play. It had to be Romanoff.

What if?

It turns out that Markus and McFeely have had a working "master document" since Captain America: Civil War, where they kept track of different things they wanted to do with their heroes' character arcs. It turns out that Endgame was the movie where that document got to run the show. In particular, McFeely said that they wanted to explore Marvel's tradition of "What If" comics — which are also getting their own animated series on Disney+ as well.

Rather than waiting for the serialized cinematic version, though, the writers dove in and incorporated a bunch of "what if" scenarios right into the Endgame plot. To quote the writers' combined summary of the storm of story arc quirks that they unleashed, "Well, this is our what if. If you lost, Thor becomes fat. Natasha becomes a shut-in. Steve becomes depressed. Tony gets on with his life. Hulk is a superhero... Clint becomes a murdering maniac." While there were solid reasons for every character's shift in tone, there's no doubt that the writers were happily working behind the scenes to push the heroes out of their comfort zones for the entertainment of all. Entertaining it certainly was.

Storyline, assemble!

Infinity War and Endgame may be two distinctly different movies, but the subject matter that they handle is clearly interwoven. This left the writers and directors constantly scrambling to figure out how to puzzle a gazillion different pieces of storyline together in a coherent way that left them with two distinct yet connected movies.

At one point, the plan was to have Hulk and Banner resolve their differences in Infinity War. It felt like too much of a positive in the middle of a pretty deflated ending, so the filmmakers bumped it to Endgame. They also left out the actual transformation, banking on Scott Lang in the diner scene to provide the right amount of "I'm so confused" to help bridge the gap. In the same vein, Hawkeye's opening scene in Endgame where he loses his family was nearly tacked onto the end of Infinity War, but it once again felt out of place.

The biggest decision of all was where to place the Snap. They debated putting it earlier in Infinity War, but it would have left little to no climactic elements for the ending. On the other hand, if they pushed it to Endgame, it would have left the first movie with no good ending at all. Knowing when to reverse the Snap was nearly as challenging. Thankfully, the creative minds behind the scenes managed to eventually pull it all together into two coherent stories.

Time travel options

Scott Lang was right — Endgame is a time heist movie. It wasn't the writers who came up with that one, though, but Marvel boss Kevin Feige himself. Feige's original suggestion was to use time travel to resolve the Infinity War plot, with the centerpiece being the Time Stone. It wasn't until the filmmakers began fleshing things out that the Quantum Realm became the key plot device to move the time travel element forward.

Once time travel was in the mix, there was one obvious point that had to make it into the film: the Battle of New York. But the writers initially felt it was too "pander-y" to head to Avengers, so they tried a ton of alternatives first.

At one point, they had Tony Stark on Asgard in a stealth suit fighting Heimdall. Morag was originally underwater. At another point, the Avengers stopped by Triskelion and even hopped in a car to visit Dr. Strange. When the rubber hit the road, though, writers and directors alike finally decided that heading back to the Chitauri-infested streets of New York was the best option of the bunch.

Very particular

The sequence in Endgame when our heroes put their heist plan to the test shows that time travel within the MCU is distinctly different than the way it's been represented in movies like Back to the Future, Hot Tub Time Machine, or... Die Hard. It also establishes that Pym particles are in extremely limited supply. When Scott Lang accidentally shrinks, it leaves them with a single extra vial for a test run — which, thankfully, succeeds. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers head back on a potentially one-way trip to the '70s in the hope of scrounging up more particles just to keep everything from falling apart.

The point is, Pym particles are rare, and they get used up fast. Which left fans scratching their heads when Nebula casually brought Thanos' entire planet-sized ship and its massive army into the present. Where on Earth did they get the impossibly huge number of particles to pull off a stunt like that?

Joe Russo cleared up the disconnect in an interview, offering an elegantly simple solution. When 2014 Nebula surrenders the Pym particles to her father, they aren't for him to use to time travel, they're for scientific research. Russo explained that the "brilliant genius" Thanos, with the help of the "great wizard" Ebony Maw, studied the Pym particles and then mass-produced them in order to defeat the Avengers once and for all.