The biggest superhero bust-up for, ooh, at least a few weeks has finally made it to cinemas. Captain America: Civil War pits Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) against Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in an epic battle of broken loyalties, collateral damage, and – in the case of the Vision – a very stylish shirt/sweater combo. To delve deeper into Marvel’s latest assemblage, we spoke to the film’s directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe's chief, Kevin Feige.
Warning: there are multiple spoilers for Captain America: Civil War throughout this article. Do not continue reading if you have not seen the film.
1. The Russos realised superhero movies were getting repetitive
A common complaint levelled at the recent slew of comic book movies is that they’re essentially all the same. The Russos recognised this, and looked to shake things up a bit. “We were saying to ourselves, the genre - and perhaps the MCU - has gotten to a point where the audience are sensing the patterns in the genre,” says Anthony. “Joe and I have always been about: how do we subvert genre?”
Hence, we don’t have that now-standard Marvel third act, which sees a city under siege from an abundance of faceless CGI baddies. Civil War’s third act is deliberately low-key, with a more ambiguous villain. Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) is “an everyman”, says Anthony. “His approach was: I’ve seen these guys fight enough to know I can’t win. But what I can do is figure out ways to undermine them. He’s emotionally driven and he finds a weak spot.”
2. Captain America was never going to die - unlike the comics
Dropping the shield is a rejection of the Captain America identity.
In the original Civil War comic run, on which the film is (very loosely) based, Captain America concedes the fight with Iron Man. In the aftermath of the war, Cap is assassinated by Crossbones. But the Russos never planned to end the film that way. “Frankly, it just seemed like an easy ending,” Joe Russo explains. “We thought a more complicated ending would be more interesting – to see the ramifications of that moving forward. Killing Cap ends that conceptually. There would be guilt on Tony’s part.”
Anthony Russo agrees, describing the movie as a “family fight.” If that’s the case, the movie ends with the family more fractured than an EastEnders Christmas special. “The more difficult and more interesting place to leave a family fight is: can these important relationships ever be repaired? Is this family broken permanently?”
3. Gwyneth Paltrow was never due to appear in the film
Pepper Potts – girlfriend of Tony Stark and CEO of Stark Industries – plays an important role in the movie, even though she’s never seen. Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays the character, was rumoured to have filmed scenes for the movie, but “that wasn’t true”, clarifies Joe. “The intent was always to put Tony in a very vulnerable place. We needed him off-balance for the way he behaved in the third act. He’s lost Pepper. He’s feeling an incredible amount of guilt. The movie tries to dig at the emotional trigger points so that by the time we reach that third act, his emotions will supercede his logic.”
Anthony also acknowledges that the sheer size of the ensemble made it more efficient to leave her out. “In a crowded movie, we decided early on that we could make Pepper’s break-up have an emotional impact without actually having a scene with her,” he explains. Paltrow’s Marvel contract was reportedly up after Iron Man 3, but as a key character, she could conceivably be tempted back.
4. Captain America is no longer Captain America
At the end of the movie, in the final fight, Cap effectively beats Iron Man. But it’s a bitter victory, and after some words exchanged, Cap drops his shield. The Russos say this is Steve Rogers saying goodbye to Captain America – at least, as we know him. “Dropping the shield is a rejection of the Captain America identity and a choice to embrace the Steve Rogers identity,” says Anthony.
He’s a “full-blown insurgent”, says Joe Russo, pointing out the arc that the character has taken, with Steve starting to question power structures in The Winter Soldier, taken to its natural conclusion in Civil War. “The most interesting thing you can do,” Joe observes, “is to take him from a patriot in the first film to an insurgent in the third movie.”
5. The Avengers are very much disassembled
At the end of the film, Steve informs Tony that “the Avengers are yours”. That really only leaves him a severely disabled Rhodey (Don Cheadle), a severely disaffected Vision (Paul Bettany), and a severely under-aged Peter Parker (Tom Holland). Not much of a team, given two enormous Avengers sequels are gearing up.
Kevin Feige admitted that there were some at Disney who “advocated...that everyone put aside their differences and team up in the third act to fight the bad guy”. But the filmmakers were determined otherwise. “We were all in sync on the notion of ending it...not perfectly,” as Feige puts it. “Things don’t get resolved easily. We believe very strongly that that would destroy the entire movie. Thankfully, Joe and Anthony were very vocal.” Feige implies that it will take a villain like Thanos to bring them back together, come Infinity War.
6. Chadwick Boseman went method
Chadwick Boseman makes his debut in Civil War as T'Challa, aka Black Panther, and immediately earned himself a #TeamPanther hashtag from a legion of fans hungry for more. Boseman – “the only choice we ever had”, according to Feige – went full Daniel Day-Lewis for the role, inventing an accent for the fictional African nation of Wakanda and sticking to it, according to Joe Russo. “For the entire run of the production, he spoke in that accent, whether he was on camera or not. He’s that kind of actor, he has a very specific process. It’s very intense performance.”
7. The big fight took two years to conceive
For us as storytellers, it’s very important that no character be too powerful.
The signature sequence is the extraordinary battle in a German airport between the two factions of the Avengers, led by Cap and Iron Man. Joe Russo, sounding understandably tired, says it took “about two years working on that sequence”, from phase, to filming, to reshoots, to VFX and editing.
Anthony accepts that having the multiple characters, with their differing powers and motivations, was “massively complicated”. But the heart of the action is “driven by narrative and character. We structure all our action around it. Every single character in that fight has a personal motivation, that is sometimes loosely correlated to the team objective and sometimes not. Everybody has a different agenda.”
8. Vision had to be kept on a leash
Vision, the mythical godlike sort-of-robot, was only introduced in last year’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and many people have been unclear on what he is, or what his powers are. The Russos point out that he differs slightly from the comics, in order not to make him too omnipotent. “For us as storytellers, it’s very important that no character be too powerful – that they have some internal flaw or insecurity that they’re struggling with. It just makes the characters more interesting,” says Joe.
“He floats by altering his molecular matter,” Joe continues. “His movement is a little more limited in our interpretation of the character. You’ll notice he does a lot of floating, rather than flying.” Many fans were pleased to see that Vision’s rather snazzy collection of shirt-and-sweater combos have made it into the adaptation.
9. Empire Strikes Back is a touchstone – in more ways than one
During the Big Fight, Spidey borrows a tactic used by Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back (a film the 15-year-old superhero describes as a “really old movie”) and brings down Giant Ant-Man by tripping him up with his web. But it was an important influence on the Russos in more ways than one.
“I sat in the theatre when I was 10 years old and watched Empire Strikes Back six times in a row,” says Joe. “It’s a seminal moment in our cinematic upbringing.” Further to that, though, Anthony says they their Civil War pitch was “always an Empire Strikes Back beat within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For us, it was that downbeat deconstructionist film, one which tears things down before you build them back up.”
So, if Civil War is Empire Strikes Back, does that mean Infinity War is Return Of The Jedi? “Ewoks!” says Joe. “Lots of Ewoks.” Here’s hoping Wicket makes a cameo alongside Thanos.
10. Spider-Man and Iron Man’s first scene was written for Tom Holland’s audition
Spider-Man’s introduction in the film comes with a sparkling scene between Peter Parker and Tony Stark in Peter’s New York apartment. It was a scene written by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely specifically for the new Spider-Man acting shortlist to audition with. “Chris and Steve did the first version of that scene specifically for the screen tests that Robert [Downey Jr.] had so graciously agreed to read alongside five candidates,” reveals Kevin Feige. “And obviously it was that scene that really solidified Tom Holland as the choice.”
11. The death of Tony’s parents is Kevin Feige’s favourite MCU moment
Or, more accurately, the shocking revelation that it was Bucky (Sebastian Stan) who killed them. “I think it’s my favourite moment in 13 MCU films,” says the Marvel Studios boss. “The whole movie was building to that, and it’s amazingly executed by the Russos. It goes back to conversations we had years ago about how to make it different and how to have as many characters as any Avengers movie and yet have it end in a very different and personal manner.”
12. Bucky could appear in the Black Panther solo movie
In a post-credits scene, Bucky offers himself up to be put on ice in Wakanda, where he is no longer a danger to himself or others. When asked if Bucky could appear in Black Panther’s solo movie, due in 2017, Kevin Feige pauses for a long time. “It... remains to be seen. He’s certainly in stasis there.” But the well-worn Feige Poker Face is in full effect here. “Where and when he comes out? I’m not sure...”
Captain America: Civil War is in cinemas now. Listen to the full interviews with Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers on the Empire Podcast Spoiler Special.