Over the course of 10 years, Marvel has built a reputation for delivering two inevitabilities: meaty post-credits scenes and spoiler-free press runs.
Case in point: At the hush-hush “Avengers: Endgame” press conference in downtown Los Angeles, Paul Rudd and Jeremy Renner (who play Ant-Man and Hawkeye, respectively) managed to talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe while revealing absolutely nothing about the upcoming superhero team-up.
"You don't want to ruin it because people spoil stuff, man,” said Renner, who skillfully dodged every question that even alluded to the top-secret film. “It's terrible."
He was right to be cautious. Just over a week before “Endgame” is slated to hit theaters worldwide, five minutes of credible footage from the film was leaked online.
According to descriptions, the footage includes scenes from throughout the movie that reveal key details about the plot. Disney has not confirmed whether the footage is indeed from the upcoming film.
On Tuesday, the Russo brothers, who have directed four MCU titles including "Infinity War" and "Endgame," issued a statement via Twitter urging “the greatest fans in the world” not to ruin the movie for other fans.
“Please know that the two of us, along with everyone involved in ‘Endgame,’ have worked tirelessly for the last three years with the sole intention of delivering a surprising and emotional powerful conclusion to the Infinity saga,” read the statement. “When you see ‘Endgame’ in the coming weeks, please don’t spoil it for others, the same way you wouldn’t want it spoiled for you.”
"It's a bummer that we are in this place where there are people that really want to find things out and then advertise that to get clicks and sell advertising dollars or whatever it is," said Rudd, prior to the leak. "I always think it's fun to see a movie and not know anything about it."
"It's a better moviegoing experience not to know anything," Renner agreed.
Keeping fans (and journalists) in the dark is so emblematic of Marvel that it was surprising to find even the slightest hint about the upcoming film hidden in the form of Hawkeye’s updated “Endgame” costume, which was displayed among a decade’s worth of movie posters from 22 MCU films and mannequins sporting the Avengers’ uniforms.
Not far from Ant-Man's familiar red, white and black suit was Renner’s costume, which looked more befitting of a ninja, complete with a katana and a hood rather than the usual archer’s bow and arrow.
The refreshed look, plus the few glimpses of the character offered in the movie's trailer, hint that Hawkeye will assume the mantle of Ronin, a persona multiple characters have adopted over the years in the comics. (The word Ronin means "lone samurai" in Japanese.)
"I'm not cleared to say anything," said Renner when asked about Ronin, again proving how seriously everyone involved wants to preserve even the most expected “Endgame” twists.
The finished product is so top secret that Disney even took the unusual step of not screening the film in advance of their press day, instead showing only a meager amount of footage — something that was also done for "Infinity War" and a handful of "Star Wars" titles, but is typically unthinkable in the world of studio press junkets.
That left the stars free to riff on things like the costume display.
"My favorite one was Bruce Banner's," said Rudd of the character's dark blazer and jean-clad mannequin, which was positioned between Captain America's rogue soldier uniform and Okoye's Dora Milaje armor. "Because it was a dude standing like a mannequin at Macy's among all these super suits."
"So was [Tony] Stark's," said Renner with a laugh. "It was like fancy sweats and a shirt."
"Like at Barneys," said Rudd. The two burst into laughter.
Both Hawkeye and Ant-Man were notably missing — briefly referenced as being under house arrest — from the action of "Infinity War," which saw Thanos decimate half the population of the universe with a single snap of his fingers.
Among the victims were Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch and “Guardians of the Galaxy” members Star-Lord, Drax, Mantis and Groot. Only a few heroes — including original Avengers Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk and Iron Man — survived to “avenge the fallen.”
A post-credits scene in “Infinity War” teased the introduction of Captain Marvel, whose solo feature arrived in theaters a month before “Endgame” and quickly grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Her addition to the MCU marks an epic conclusion for the current phase of Marvel films, which collectively have minted over $18.5 billion since “Iron Man” opened in 2008.
When the Russo brothers told Renner that his character, also one of the original Avengers, would be sidelined, "I was like, ‘Great, I don't have to do press," he said with a laugh.
"That is the silver lining, isn't it?" said Rudd.
"Infinity War" was thus the first "Avengers" title without Hawkeye. He had even shared the screen with Ant-Man in the pseudo-"Avengers" installment "Captain America: Civil War." The Russo brothers insisted that both characters were intentionally left out of "Infinity War" for plot purposes.
"Everything's always about storytelling," said Joe Russo, who added that it wasn't a matter of struggling to fit the characters into the already bloated cast.
"I mean, look at how many we were dealing with in that movie," he said. "It would be easy to squeeze two more in. But we don't want everyone to have the exact same story or same relationship to the events."
Rudd was first informed about the details of "Infinity War" while shooting "Ant-Man and the Wasp," which was released just a little over two months later and featured a post-credits scene that revealed Ant-Man's whereabouts during the snap.
In the scene, his character, Scott Lang, becomes trapped in the quantum realm as companions Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) disintegrate into ash.
Rudd says he was "excited" about the post-credits scene's "Infinity War" tie-in, but wasn't especially upset about being left out of the superhero blockbuster either.
"I don't think in terms of 'Oh, I want to be in this,' " he said. "I'm more interested in making an interesting, unique story and seeing how it weaves in with the others. I was happy that we got to address it in the way that we did."
A popular fan theory circulating the web posits that one way for the Avengers to win the war against Thanos would be for Ant-Man to shrink really small, crawl into his anus and then grow back to full size, causing the mad Titan to explode.
It's a theory that Rudd has been asked about in countless interviews, and one he'd like to put to rest.
"He's been sore," said Renner with a knowing smile.
"I've been asked about it a bunch," said Rudd. "I am amused a bit at how widespread it seems to have gotten."
The Russos confirmed that no, the 'Thanus' theory does not hold weight.
" 'Thanus' is truly the most ridiculous fan theory we've ever heard," said Anthony Russo.
"But it's a highly inventive one," said Joe. "I want to know who came up with it."
In the past, Hawkeye has been criticized for not being strong enough to compete with the rest of the Avengers team. After all, there's only so much a skilled archer can do to assist a Norse god or an enhanced super soldier.
"To each their own, I suppose," said Renner of the criticism. "Tenacity is a superpower."
Besides Black Widow, Hawkeye is obviously the least physically strong Avenger. Despite this, Marvel revealed plans for Widow to receive her own solo movie after serving in a supporting role in six films.
Hawkeye reportedly will headline a limited series for the upcoming Disney+ streaming service, but like much of the MCU plans following "Endgame," that has not officially been confirmed by Marvel. And Renner, who has two Oscar nominations under his belt, said he'd be open to the idea of headlining his own film.
"I'd always do something like that," he said. "I love the character. If that was explored, I'd be game for it."
In the meantime, post-"Endgame" Renner is focusing on making music "because that keeps me home with my daughter," he said.
And though it seems inevitable there will be more Ant-Man adventures in his future, Rudd can only confirm he's set to star in a limited Netflix series called "Living With Yourself" that streams in the fall. But even with that, he'd rather play it safe. "I don't know if they have the Marvel policy; I don't know what I'm allowed to say."
Top secret policy notwithstanding, Renner says the filming process is a lot more fluid now after 10 years.
"I was talking to Joe Russo last night about [making these films] because it's such a massive undertaking," said Rudd. "And he said, 'We're working with people who know their characters already.' Everyone kind of knows who they are, so a lot of time is saved. So I think it's able to move a little quicker as a result."
As for the future of Marvel, what comes next is anyone's guess.
"I don't look back at the past, and I certainly don't have a crystal ball to look into the future," said Renner. "I always try to be present. I'm really stoked about where we're at with 'Endgame' and really, really excited to see it. It's going to be a big, big event for us personally and for the fans. What happens after that is up to the Marvel gods."
But both actors are open to another 10 years in the MCU, "if they'll have me," said Renner.
"It's been incredible so far, and I certainly have no qualms with keeping them going," said Rudd. "I don't know if I'd fit in the suit in 10 years."
Renner laughed. "That's what I said when I signed on 10 years ago."