By Gill Pringle

“We like to hire filmmakers who have not done big films like this before, but who we feel have potential, and who can bring something new to the party,” Marvel Studios main man, Kevin Feige told FilmInk in 2014. The power producer has certainly held true to his word, again and again and again. With Captain America: The First Avenger’s director, Joe Johnston, departing the franchise to concentrate on other projects, Marvel turned to the unlikely sibling duo of Joe and Anthony Russo for the sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Though they had co-directed the 2006 Owen Wilson-starring comedy, You, Me And Dupree, and the well-received 2002 indie, Welcome To Collinwood, the duo’s greatest success came with the cult TV shows, Arrested Development and Community. “They took a sitcom that didn’t have to be good, and they made it incredibly clever,” Feige says of Community. “It doesn’t have anything to do with a superhero movie, but they took material that could be standard, and they elevated it. We got them in a room, because I was a fan, and we started pitching them the storyline for this. They got it, and really started building on it. They will have a great career after this.”

To the surprise of just about everybody, Joe and Anthony Russo then turned around and delivered probably the most acclaimed entry in The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed with lean muscularity and a dazzling sense of pace, Captain America: The Winter Soldier boasted the most grounded action of the Marvel films, eschewing exploding cities and crumbling buildings (for the most part) in favour of hand-to-hand combat and tire-screeching car chases, resulting in a film where the stakes feel high, and where the central superhero actually feels vulnerable and relatable, which is no mean feat for a character called Captain America.

On the back of the critical and box office success of the film, Joe and Anthony Russo were first handed the reins for the follow-up, Captain America: Civil War, and were then gifted the directing gig on Marvel’s epic double shot of Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 and Part II, which are set for release in 2018 and 2019, respectively, after Avengers director, Joss Whedon, bowed out of Marvel Studios work altogether, citing creative exhaustion. “Marvel is a fantastic place to work; they’re very, very smart, and I love the movies that they make,” Joe Russo said on the set of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. “They had a clear idea of the direction that they wanted to go in. We get to play around in the sandbox with them, and form the movie.”

But before they wade into the mammoth Avengers double, there’s the almost equally epic, just-as-superhero-packed Captain America: Civil War, which finds Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leading his newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to protect the world at large from threats both interior and exterior. But after another disastrous incident involving the Avengers (who are already out of governmental favour thanks to the city-smashing events of Avengers: Age Of Ultron) results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps – one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Iron Man/Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and superhero accountability.

FilmInk spoke with Joe and Anthony Russo on the set of Captain America: Civil War, right in the middle of the shooting of a major action sequence, and way before the beloved character of Spider-Man (now being “shared” by Marvel Studios and current rights holder, Sony) was officially announced as an on-screen participant in the epic superhero battle to end all battles…

What’s new in Captain America: Civil War?

Joe: “A lot. It’s massive in scale, and we do have surprises in store. It’s the most interaction that The Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever had in one film, and it’s the most characters that we’ve had in any one film. I grew up on comic books, and one of the first books that I ever read was Secret Wars, which is basically a massive superhero battle against all the villains. But as a kid, I always dreamed of superheroes fighting each other. Marvel would have attributes to them, like who’s stronger than who, and who has this power, so I always imagined what it would be like if they fought each other. Now the fans are going to get their wish. The sequence that we’re shooting today on the IMAX cameras might be one of the biggest sequences ever put on film.”

Anthony: “What’s unique about it in The Marvel Cinematic Universe is that up until this point, we’ve seen characters come into conflict with one another, and we’ve even seen them fight one another a little bit, but this movie is the first time where they become fully fledged adversaries. That’s the heart of the film. It gets ratcheted up to a level that you’ve never seen before in terms of storytelling in The Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

Captain America and Iron Man
Captain America and Iron Man

How balanced do you need to be?

Joe: “We want to be really balanced. We worked intensely on this script for a year-and-a-half. We worked on it literally every day and every weekend. We haven’t had a weekend off in months. It’s very important to us to balance out the sides. So that when you watch the movie, you believe both sides, and you have a difficult time picking who is right and wrong. It’s an irreconcilable differences movie. You want each side to have a strong motivation that you can get behind. So when you see the film, you’re conflicted. And they do. What’s interesting is that this is a Captain America movie. We follow the film from his point of view from start to finish. You read online that people are panicking because there’s too many characters, but everything is told through his filter and his point of view. Of course, you’re going to be inclined to side with him because he’s the protagonist of the film. It’s very important that with Tony Stark, who you could argue is the antagonist because he opposes the protagonist, has a very emotional reason for doing what he’s doing. It’s probably the most poignant reason in the movie, and Cap has a very philosophical reason.”

Anthony: “Our taste has always led to this kind of storytelling. We like complex stories; we like stories that are textured and hard to figure out on an emotional level. We like stories that pull you in a little deeper.”

You’ve talked at length about Captain America: The Winter Soldier being your homage to 1970s conspiracy thrillers like 3 Days Of The Condor. What are you referencing in Captain America: Civil War?

Joe: “We’re calling this the Godfather of superhero movies. It’s a very large scale film. It’s got a lot of emotion in it, and there’s a lot of intensity and conflict. You want to service every character. Everybody has their moments, but they’re very real and humane moments. It’s two characters talking in a room, and they’re both there for very specific emotional reasons. So for us, we felt like it’s a big, sweeping epic in that regard.”

 Do you see characters changing sides?

Joe: “Like any conflict or any cause, characters come to it for different reasons. Some characters are extremely motivated, and others are a little less motivated. So of course there’s always the opportunity or potential that those who are less motivated may at some point change their mind.”

Was it difficult to decide who was going to be on which side?

Joe: “It took a lot of thought. There were variations of scripts that had different characters on different sides. You just read through it and sometimes you don’t believe the motivation, or it’s not surprising enough. Because if somebody can sit at home on their computer and pretty much guess what each sides is, then I don’t think you’ve done your job as a storyteller very well.”

With all this A-list talent, how hard has it been to arrange the shoot?

Anthony: “It’s been very difficult. But at the end of the day, everybody involved in these movies loves these movies. The reason why you can pull something like this off is because everybody is dedicated to it, and they want to make them work. We have to stay away from the tipping point of too-hard-to-pull-it-off because everyone wants to pull it off.”

Joe: “After Joss Whedon did The Avengers, people understood what a Herculean effort it was for him and for Marvel to get that film made with that many movie stars. And now we know first-hand, it’s very complex, but as Anthony said, everyone is very, very invested. And it takes an incredible amount of kudos to Marvel and to the actors and the crew for all the work that they put in to pull this off.”

Anthony: “When the times comes, everyone does what they need to do to get it made.”

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016
Team Cap!

There are 8,000 or so characters in The Marvel Universe, and now we’re seeing Ant-Man, Black Panther, and others swooping in for Captain America: Civil War. How do you decide which ones logically come into this and which ones don’t?

Joe: “A lot of it is a function of what has come before. How the actor portrays the character, what the character’s motivation has been in The Marvel Cinematic Universe for our trigger point in this movie, how accessible has what they’ve done up to this point been to the audience, and where is it going to go. It’s a function of looking at the whole universe and going, ‘Well, here’s what happened to them in this movie…they might react really significantly to the trigger point in this movie.’ So suddenly they become a primary character. It’s a function of assessing in a very organic way everything that has come before us in The Marvel Cinematic Universe. And just going, ‘This happened, so how are they going to feel about it?’”

Anthony: “Because there are so many options, we go through a deeply involved development process where we think about all the possibilities, and figure out what excites us most in the storytelling. That part of the process is huge.”

Daniel Bruhl is in the film [as the villainous Baron Zemo]?

Joe: “He plays a fascinating character, and he’s integral to the plot; you can say that the plot turns on his character.”

The internet is going crazy for this movie. What’s your relationship with the public before the movie?

Joe: “It’s very valuable. These are fan based movies. We go online and read comments, and people are very emotional and passionate about the way that they feel about these characters. There’s a mythology to these things, and it’s a new mythology, and people see themselves or see representations of modern society in the characters, and you want to be very sensitive to what they see and what they feel. We receive that information, and sometimes we use it, and sometimes we don’t. It depends on whether we feel that it’s valuable to the storytelling, or if it just feels like more of a niche concept that is out there. But it is important to hear them, because nobody has ever done anything like this, where you tell a story over 15 years. We did this on [the TV series] Community and Arrested Development – you go into the chat rooms and you read the message boards, and you just see how people are responding: who they are responding to, why are they responding that way, what they like, what they don’t like. And it’s not like you’re doing it as a test sample, but sometimes we get really good ideas.”

Anthony: “We do it because we approach the movies as fans ourselves. We identify with that point of view on the movie. And that is part of the experience. We get excited by the stuff in the same way that they do. That gives us a kinship with the fan base, and it keeps us connected and paying attention.”

Can you give us an example of one idea that was influenced by the public?

Joe: “Sure. When we did Community, there’s the lead character played by Joel McHale, and there’s another character played by Alison Brie named Annie. Originally, the show was supposed to be a quasi-love story between Britta [Gillian Jacobs] and the character played by Joel named Jeff Winger. And then around episode seven or eight, I was online and people started to do shipper videos between Annie and Jeff. And I went, ‘Wow!’ We hadn’t done anything; she was an 18 or 19-year-old character on the show. And then on Episode 9, we just started leading into it and went in a different direction, and that was as a response to what we got from the audience; they were picking up on something interesting. With Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther’s introduction, we went online and saw how passionate people are about him as a character. It reminded us that we had to give him an incredible introduction in the movie, because you want to service all of that energy that people are feeling about that character. So when we get to that scene where he arrives in the film, it’s got to be good!”


The same must be said of Spider-Man?

Joe: “Spider-Man? If we had him in this film, there would be an incredible amount of pressure on us. Because what would be the justification for rebooting the character when there have been two versions of it in the last 10 years. What would be special about it if he were in this film? This would be the first time that he’s in The Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he’s interacting with these characters. Who would he respond to, why would he respond to them, who would respond to him? He’s a new player, so how do we know what he does, and how do we know who he is? What’s the backstory of the character? Those would be the questions that we would ask.”

What’s been the coolest action sequence that you’re putting together? Is there something that’s raising the bar a little bit?

Anthony: “We had a lot of fun with the action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and we were very ambitious with it. We feel that that movie came together well. So the bar for ourselves, just personally, is raised on this movie to the max. We have several action sequences, and we’re swinging for the fences in all of them.”

Captain America: Civil War is released in cinemas on April 28.


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