The strength of the Marvel Universe is the depth and complexity of the characters.
From Marvel Studios comes the highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War, the third film in the Captain America franchise and the first film in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Based on the beloved Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is directed by Emmy Award-winning directors Anthony and Joe Russo from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely.
Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers 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 Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.
With the box office and critical success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, producer Kevin Feige and his team were excited to bring Anthony and Joe Russo back to direct the third movie of the franchise.
“In this day and age with some much content and competition out there, it is not easy to continuously be in alignment with what film audiences respond to and want to see,” says Feige.
“I have been saying this for years, but it still holds up, the strength of the Marvel Universe is the depth and complexity of the characters, all of which are imperfect in some way. That’s what makes our characters so interesting and why they have passed the test of time. We have also been very fortunate over the years to be able to attract supremely talented actors who have all put their unique stamp on the characters they play, which has also elevated all of our films. Since ‘Iron Man,’ it’s always been about the characters, story and being able to relate and connect to these amazing but flawed individuals.”
“Having completed phase two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we are deep into some of the cornerstone franchises so it is critical that we keep them evolving and feeling fresh and new, but at the same time paying off some of the things that we have already established in previous films so that every moment has future consequences,” adds executive producer Louis D’ Esposito.
“We also have been able to successfully introduce new characters and franchises into the mix, which has been very gratifying and is a testament to the depth of characters in the Marvel Universe. For this third installment of the ‘Captain America’ franchise, it will be fun for audiences to see all of the new faces establishing themselves and mixing it up with all of the marquee franchise characters.”
With each of the first two films in the franchise having different styles and tones, the Russo brothers explain how they approached “Civil War.” “The concept of Civil War is very important,” says Joe Russo. “We felt like we needed to go in a radical direction if we were going to direct another Captain America installment. We immediately sat down and started carefully discussing the arcs of each character, which helped us figure out what we wanted the movie to be.”
“I think maybe the most important thing when we were having these preliminary discussions was that we didn’t want to fall into a structure where the Avengers move into a conflict mode with one another then sort of repair that and then go out and fight another bad guy together,” adds Anthony Russo. “It was very important to us that the structure of the film be such that the Act III climax was between the actual Avengers themselves. We wanted all of the characters to be both protagonists and antagonists in the film at the same time. It was very challenging on a storytelling level to put them in a head-to-head conflict for the climax of the film, while at the same time finding a way for everybody to be a little bit right and a little bit wrong.”
The director continues, “Our goal was to tell the story in such a way that both sides have really compelling cases. Both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers individually as characters have very compelling points of view. We wanted people to be conflicted and torn, which creates a sense of tension about what’s going to happen going forward after this film.”
While the Russo brothers wanted to continue the visceral tone established in “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” they also wanted that dynamic to permeate throughout the entire cast of characters. “Every character in this film has a distinct voice,” says Anthony Russo. “After working together on ‘Winter Soldier,’ they deeply understand the tone that we like to bring to these films. It’s more grounded; it’s based in realism. There are also political undertones that reflect real world issues in the story, which gives it an immediacy for the audience.”
For Kevin Feige, another challenging aspect of the story was that, as a Captain America film, it also had major implications on storylines that would play out in upcoming Marvel films. “‘Captain America: Civil War’ is a storyline that we couldn’t have done years ago because it really focuses on all of the heroes that audiences have already met up to this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s the third film in the ‘Captain America’ trilogy but because we have waited to tell this story, it also is a film that will have a very important place amongst all of the other films that we’ve made and a big impact in particular future ‘Avengers’ films. Where ‘Winter Soldier’ was a political thriller, this film is a psychological thriller. So it’s a different type of film but we still wanted to bring some of that frenetic energy of ‘Winter Soldier’ and inject it into this film.”
The challenge in creating a story and script that adhered to the all story points and structure the filmmakers desired was given to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who had previously written the first two installments of the “Captain America” franchise as well as “Thor: The Dark World.”
“I think one of the reasons that ‘Winter Soldier’ was so well received was because people walked out of the theater and said, ‘Holy crap, they just broke S.H.I.E.L.D.,’” explains screenwriter Christopher Markus. “So there were actual ramifications, and I think to avoid any kind of superhero fatigue, you have to make stuff mean something in these films and you’ve got to move things forwards. ‘Civil War,’ more than any movie Marvel’s done before, is going move things forward in a big way.”
“For us, one of the biggest challenges was the sheer number of beloved characters in the film,” adds Stephen McFeely. “In our office right now we have a cork board with every character that is still technically alive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s 65 people. Only a portion of those will be seen in this film, but knowing that this story is the bridge to the “Infinity War” stories, it becomes making the mechanism work where everything is deliberate and pays off in this film as well as down the line.”
Despite all of the story and character options for the screenwriters to choose from, the filmmakers decided to focus on the flaws within the characters and how they affect the relationships within the Avengers. “What’s fun about this film is it’s very much a ‘Captain America’ film and Tony Stark is very much a main player in that film,” informs Kevin Feige. “What is also great throughout the story is that we get to see the two sides of all the characters’ personalities, good and bad, their viewpoint on the world and their opinion on how the Avengers should operate.”
The producer continues, “While this film is very much a culmination of all of the other films before it, it’s also a direct sequel to the ‘Winter Soldier.’ So we get to follow the continuing story of Bucky Barnes who Captain America cares very much about, and he still believes that his best friend is still inside the Winter Soldier somewhere. Bucky is the only person who’s still around from when Steve grew up in the 1940s and he wants to bring him back and shake him loose of this horrid brainwash that he’s been under for so many years operating as the Winter Soldier. So it is a very human story, even with the spectacle of having all the players involved. I think people will be surprised at how grounded the dynamics between the characters are within the story.”
“I think the strength of this story is the friendship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes,” adds executive producer Nate Moore. “So as much as the Civil War dynamic is the trappings of the film, it’s really about Steve making a decision for the first time that is personally motivated rather than doing the right thing on a global scale. So once you hook into the idea of Steve Rogers finally doing something for himself, it becomes a story that is more relatable because it’s that idea of how far will you go to rescue your best friend?”
Moore continues, “Here is Bucky Barnes who has been the Winter Soldier for 80 years and in his own way has been a prisoner of war. He was somebody whose idea of choice and self-determination was taken away from him. Steve still sees that glimmer of Bucky Barnes in the Winter Soldier. It’s something I think audiences will really plug into. This idea of going that extra mile for something you really believe in and being a beacon of hope and morality that other characters around him can rally behind.”
Another challenge for the screenwriters and filmmakers was deciding which characters would follow Captain America and which ones would follow Tony Stark’s lead when the Avengers become fractured after a tense meeting with Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross, who forces them to either sign the Sokovia Accords or no longer be part of the team. “We certainly shuffled lineups,” says executive producer Louis D’ Esposito. “In the comics there are 200 people in the Civil War, but fortunately we have to work only with the characters that are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
For screenwriters Markus and McFeely, carving out the story points was a combination of imagination and practicality in character development. “Some of the team members were very easy to decide, while others were much more difficult,” says McFeely. “For example, you really have to do a back bend to get Rhodey off of Tony’s side while at the same time, it would be very hard to believe that Sam Wilson would not go with Steve Rogers. But some other ones were much more questionable. Where would Hawkeye and Natasha land? So we played with those and selfishly thought about what’s going to get the most out of each character.”
“The key for us was that we had so many main characters in the film, and we didn’t want any of them to feel like they were just small cameos,” adds Markus. “We wanted them all to have character arcs to greater or lesser degrees. So with each Avenger we thought what side and what decision is going to get the most interesting arc for the time allotted for that character? So we moved the chess pieces around until we felt like we had the right combination for each side.”
“Markus and McFeely are amazingly talented writers,” says Joe Russo. “We love collaborating with them and when you look at how much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe they’re responsible for writing, it’s staggering. Nobody knows more about state of the MCU and what’s possible because they’ve spent so much time swimming in it. It’s very exciting for us because throughout the process of developing this script, they were always surprising us with new details, new places to go and new things to call back to.”
“We love very layered storytelling,” interjects Anthony Russo. “Markus and McFeely have such a deep well-rounded knowledge of all the characters that it makes it very easy for us to get the very thick storytelling despite the fact that this story has a structure that is very complex and difficult. It’s hard to balance so many characters in a film. Some writers are great with structure, while some writers are great with dialogue. They are fantastic with both.”