(Note: This post contains spoilers for “Avengers: Infinity War.”)
It was probably no surprise to audiences that, by far, the biggest crowd cheers in “Infinity War” came during scenes set in Wakanda. The fictional, super-advanced African nation was, after all, the setting for “Black Panther,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe film released just before “Infinity War” that became a serious cultural phenomenon on its way to earning $1.3 billion.
But it was a (happy) surprise to “Infinity War” directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Chris Markus and Steve McFeely, who shot the scenes and even tested their film long before they knew what a big deal “Black Panther” would become.
Or as McFeely put it in the commentary on the “Infinity War” home video release: “Listen, a year ahead of time, we had no idea ‘Wakanda Forever’ was going to be amazing.”
“We tested this movie a few times, and when we got to this scene,” McFeely said during the moment in “Infinity War” that Wakanda first appears, “most of the audiences, say in January and early February, went, ‘Oh this is an interesting place, I’ve never been here before.'”
But, he continued, “after mid-February, once ‘Black Panther’ had come out, this scene gets a huge cheer. It just rewards you investing in these characters. I shouldn’t have been surprised but boy, I was really pleased.”
Deciding where “Infinity War” and the battle against Thanos (Josh Brolin) should wind up was a big part of the discussion around the movie, the filmmakers said during the commentary. The trouble was, “Infinity War” and “Black Panther” were in production at the same time in Atlanta, Georgia. That meant using Wakanda as a setting was something of a gamble, because director Ryan Coogler and his team were still creating it.
“It was a big conversation early on, I said, we’re going to set a lot of the third act in Wakanda, because if you’re going to go anywhere in the world to protect a McGuffin from an evil alien, it’s going to be Wakanda,” Joe Russo said.
“And that’s not an easy decision, we certainly talked about it a lot,” McFeely continued. “Marvel knew it would be two months from having a third act in Wakanda, is that the smartest thing? But if you’re going to take a stone out, you need the best scientists, and if you’re going to protect yourself, you need the most secure country in the world.
“It ended up we looked pretty smart, because people loved that movie and it was delightful to go back, but it wasn’t a slam dunk that that would be the case,” McFeely said.
That obvious-in-hindsight slam dunk came in part thanks to the “Black Panther” actors, who knew more about their characters and Wakanda than anyone — and who brought that knowledge with them to “Infinity War.”
“We did not know — because we hadn’t seen ‘Black Panther,’ because they were still making ‘Black Panther’ — about their war chants,” Markus said in the commentary. “When the actors came from across Atlanta from the set of ‘Black Panther’ over to ours to do (the Wakanda scenes), they just started doing it, and it was incredible.”
“After watching M’Baku do it, after Winston (Duke) did it in the opening sequence, it led to the corresponding war cry when T’Challa leads,” Anthony Russo added.
Even as an ad-lib, the war chant wasn’t immediately part of the movie, though. It started as a way to psyche up the actors making up the Wakandan army for their big fight scene.
“I think Winston was just trying to get, we were just trying heat all the actors up, and how they were doing that was with the war chant,” Markus said. “It was like, ‘Don’t do that off-camera, let’s save it!'”
And the end results? They speak for themselves.