Photo: Ray Tamarra (Getty Images)

Avengers: Infinity War, the culmination of roughly three dozen films and lots of loud noises, arrives this Friday. Like every Marvel film that came before it, there’s bound to be lots of frantic, breakneck battles that climax with a final half-hour that’s bound to leave you slack-eyed and drooling into your 32-ounce soda. That particular Marvel trend, if you can remember back that far, more or less began with 2012's The Avengers, the first movie to truly test the potential of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, Avengers’ director Joss Whedon and a slew of the flick’s tech wizards have gathered with Thrillist for an oral history of that first climactic battle.

There’s plenty for fans and film buffs to devour here—including some background for the infamous, “last-minute” shawarma scene—but what’s always most striking are the “what-ifs.” Here, Whedon breaks down a few wild iterations of the film that could’ve been, whether that be due to Scarlett Johansson’s unpredictable schedule or Whedon’s own distrust in Tom Hiddleston’s potential as a top-tier villain. Can you imagine The Wasp filling Johansson’s boots? Would you have dug deep-cut Marvel character Zeke Stane as Loki’s partner-in-crime? Because it almost happened.

Joss Whedon (writer-director): We went through a lot of insane iterations of what might be. At the very beginning, I wrote entire drafts that had no bearing on what I would eventually film. There was a moment where we thought we weren’t gonna have Scarlett [Johansson], and so I wrote a huge bunch of pages starring The Wasp. That was not useful. I also worried that one British character actor was not enough to take on Earth’s mightiest heroes, and that we’d feel like we were rooting for the overdog. So I wrote a huge draft with Ezekiel Stane, Obadiah Stane’s son, in it. Kevin looked at it and said, “Yeah, no.” [Marvel Studios co-president] Louis D’Esposito actually at that point said, “Yeah, Kevin, it’s all wrong, but look how good it is. Like this is really good wrong.” That was a nice boost.

Whedon is a particularly fascinating voice in the oral history, delving deep into his fights for gags, the ways he relates with The Hulk, and his distaste for the “bible” that writer Zak Penn had been keeping for Marvel in the years leading up to The Avengers.

Joss Whedon (writer-director): I read it one time, and I’ve never seen it since. I was like, “Nope. There’s nothing here.” There was no character connection. There was a line in the stage directions that said, apropos of nothing, “And then they all walk towards the camera in slow motion because you have to have that.” Yeah, well, no: You have to earn that.

Whether Whedon likes it or not, there’s no way Marvel’s not having the breadth of their entire universe walk towards the camera in slow motion in Infinity War. By now, at least, it’s safe to say they’ve earned it.

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Check out Thrillist’s whole oral history here.