The Russo Brothers talk what it took to pull off Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is poised to be, potentially, the biggest turning-point for Marvel’s cinematic universe since the first Avengers film. It’s the final chapter in Steve Roger’s (Chris Evans) journey as Captain America, an adaptation of Mark Millar‘s hugely-popular Civil War comic and the first time Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will assemble since the departure of Joss Whedon handed the reigns to Anthony and Joe Russo.

Not that fans should be worried. The Russo Brothers’s last superpowered effort, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was hailed as the highlight of Phase 2 and has since then settled nicely onto its perch as one of the superhero genres’ greatest hits, alongside films like Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight.

Civil War sees the directors reunite with Winter Soldier-scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. However, where Captain America’s second adventure was conceived as a political thriller, Civil War was pitched as a more psychological kind of thriller – a film with a different, but the same energy.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

It was very important to us and our director of photography, Trent Opaloch, that there would be a visual consistency and that we’d start to introduce a language that would be new and fresh”, says Anthony.

Though the political grayness and subtext of their last effort persist through the ideas of government oversight and revolutionary ideology, Civil War saw the Russo’s take this ambiguity to new places. The pair set out to tell an Avengers story where there are no easy villains.

According to Anthony, “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. That’s challenging because we wanted everybody to be both protagonist/antagonist in the movie at the same time.”

It’s a daring move to acknowledge and play up the flaws of each of the Avengers – and one the Russo’s expect to pay off.

“It was very challenging on a storytelling level to put them in 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”, he adds.

Early on, Civil War was touted as “Avengers 2.5” and that ambition played into the film’s style and tone. The Russo Brothers aimed to build on their work in The Winter Soldier whilst also moving towards the more-grandiose approach they intend to bring to the Infinity War movies – with this metamorphosis occurring over the course of the film. Of course, with this moniker comes the weight of added expectations and skepticism that the Russo’s could wrangle a cast even bigger than last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

From the way the Russo’s describe it, it wasn’t an easy process. Deliberating on the composition of the two teams – those with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and those with Steve Rogers – alone cost the Russo’s months of time. As Anthony tells it:

“We sat in a room for months and months with Markus and McFeely and Nate Moore, and we would come up with scenarios about who we could put together. Who are two people who are good to put in conflict with each other? Who are two people that have to make an easy alliance with one another? It was really just playing with all the fun and the combinations of those in the movie and then figuring out how it fell out. There wasn’t any formula that we used other than we wanted to surprise ourselves and figure out what was fresh and new in the storytelling.”

Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) aside, every character’s allegiance was a target for scrutiny. 

“It was really important to us that every single character had a personal, emotional reason for making the choice that they made. And that it was tracked in their arc from the beginning to the end of the movie”, he added.

For Paul Rudd‘s Ant-Man, a connection with Falcon might be what brings him into the mix but, according to Joe, it’s the character’s broader ideology that lands him on Rogers’ side of the fight.

“[Ant-Man] would naturally also fall into that camp of being anti-Stark and anti-authority as you can also see from his past as a criminal who committed an anti-establishment crime that tried to right some wrongs.”

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..© Marvel 2016

Meanwhile, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch’s (Elizabeth Olsen) place in Civil War is one set out by the climax of Age of Ultron. Anthony says their support for Steve comes from a place of loyalty borne out of the death of Quicksilver.

“Scarlet Witch has an interesting place in the Avengers since she’s a new Avenger. She’s younger. She needs somebody with more experience and knowledge of the world to look out for her and Cap becomes a bit of a protector for her in the film.”

Just as much thought has gone into the lineup of heroes supporting Iron Man. While War Machine(Don Cheadle)’s allegiance to Tony was an obvious one, the Russo’s were determined to surprise audiences with Black Widow’s (Scarlet Johannsen) choice to turn against Captain America. According to the pair, it’s an ideological choice that turns her against her comrades. She believes that a future where the Avengers don’t support government oversight is one that will ultimately see the team torn apart.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

Another element of the film that builds on the events of Age of Ultron, the Vision’s (Paul Bettany) choice to side against Captain America is a logical one but it’s not one without doubt. Joe explains:

“Vision, in this movie, expresses a theory that he has computed in his brain that has to do with the cost of heroism in the world. It’s an equation. He sees the logic in oversight as well. He functions more as a peaceful cop than a full-fledged, card-carrying member of Tony’s team. He’s trying to get both sides to behave in a manner that’s acceptable and move forward in a very logical way to accept oversight.”

In his mind, the benefits of oversight outweigh the risks but his choice is one complicated by his personal connection with Scarlet Witch.

As the movie progresses, it’s complicated by the fact that Vision is starting to experience affection for Scarlet Witch”

There are further surprises adorning Tony’s team in the form of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Regarding the former, the Joe describes his place in the conflict as a particularly interesting one.

“Black Panther’s not interested in oversight and has nothing to do with it. He is on Tony’s side purely for personal reasons.”

They characterize Boseman’s take on the character is one with edge, emotion and energy that’s set to leave fans excited for his full feature.

Anthony says “there’s something really exciting about introducing Black Panther in a Captain America movie because Cap is known for his vibranium shield and Black Panther comes from Wakanda where the vibranium came from that made Cap’s shield.  Black Panther wears a vibranium suit, so there’s a natural symmetry between the two characters and their iconography. That was really fun and exciting. The suit is beautiful and it gives him very unique strengths.”

It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a big battle and from what we’ve heard the glimpses of the airport showdown in the trailer for Civil War is just the tip of the iceberg. Returning to Europe is a big thematic point for the movie and one that works to hammer in how much has changed since Steve’s tour of duty in The First Avenger, according to Joe.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War..Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..© Marvel 2016

“The crews have been fantastic. The settings are wonderful, really adding a European flavor to the movie and an international flavor to the film. It’s interesting to bring Cap back to the European theater where he began as a tool of American propaganda then turned himself into a hero. He’s coming full circle in a way. But also Europe has changed dramatically and Berlin in particular has changed dramatically.”

Shot on location in Germany, the Russo’s were excited to make the most of the distinctive architecture that afforded them. This meant shooting a lot of the film’s action scenes with practical effects. Anthony explains:

“We tried to tailor the style of the film to something that was human size and more relatable to what we knew people are capable of as opposed to what gods are capable of. That led us to shooting more practical locations than we normally would and executing action in a way that’s more grounded than fantastical.”

This added some much needed tangibility to the conflict and really helped augment their efforts to get the audience to invest emotionally in the final showdown in a very different way to previous Marvel films.

It’s amazing to see how much impact this mythology has on people who grew up with it because they ascribe very specific feelings and emotions to these characters. They represent something very important to people”.

Captain America: Civil War opens in Australian cinemas on April 28th.