Flickering Myth’s Oli Davis sits down with directors Anthony and Joe Russo to talk about their movie Captain America: Civil War…
In one respect, Captain America: Civil War marks the passing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe torch. Or should that be hammer? Or shield? Of Infinity Stone?
Whatever metaphor for responsibility it is, director brothers Anthony and Joe Russo are at the forefront of Marvel’s Phase III. With Joss Whedon leaving the Universe after the culmination of Phase II in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War marks the beginning of the ‘Russo Era’. They will soon be starting production on the studio’s most ambitious project: the two part Avengers movie Infinity War.
But how will their Phase III differ from Whedon’s work? With political subtexts running through both their Captain America movies – The Winter Soldier and Civil War – is this indicative of the Universe’s tone moving forwards?
“I think it’s more specific to the work we do on these movies,” Joe explained. “We find it’s compelling working with a character called Captain America to inject some sort of political consciousness. You have to. The character was created in the 40s as a propaganda tool to help push the American people into the conflict of World War II. You can’t escape that.”
Rather fittingly, then, Civil War is the recipient of some very real world socio-political issues. In the film’s Russian theatrical version, the Siberian soldiers have had their Russian badges removed from their uniforms.
“That was a specific request from Disney Russia,” explained Anthony. “It was a complicated issue for us, but they felt it was important to remove the references from Russia to Hydra. We said OK because it didn’t affect the international release and it was always going to be available in the intended form.
“There was a sensitivity to the association between Hydra and Russia, even though if you look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just in our own work, Hydra was very much embedded in the United States in Winter Soldier. Hydra’s been embedded in Sokovia. At the end of the War in The First Avenger, Hydra went underground and showed up in weird parts of the world. Our story was that they worked as a secret organisation, a sleeper cell for decades and decades growing in strength, and part of that ended up in Russia as well. But Russian Disney was sensitive to the fact.”
“As filmmakers we’re sensitive to the fact that Russians are often portrayed in Western cinema as villains,” Joe continued. “And if I were a Russian citizen, I don’t need to go to the movies every week and be told I’m a villain, so we were sensitive to that when the request came in.
Whereas Whedon was just one man, the Russos have the numbers advantage. “We basically just have a non-stop dialogue about what we want to do,” Anthony described how their collaborative process differs from single directors. “We just externalise this process of debate that I think a lot of artists go through internally.”
In an earlier interview, Paul Bettany had joked about playing the Russos off one another. ‘Oh, that’s not what Joe said,’ he claimed to have often remarked on set in an attempt to manipulate the brothers.
“He’s being cheeky,” Anthony laughed. “Paul’s a consummate professional…We’re very open to the actors interpreting the characters, because they know the characters better than we ever will. Some of them have been playing the characters for seven or eight years. When you have a scene and you feel it’s good, by the time you sit down with Robert [Downey Jr.], it’s twice as good because of what he’s brought to the table in terms of dialogue for the character, what he likes to play, what he likes to explore.
“We really did push Robert to take risks in the movie,” Joe remembered of Downey Jr. specifically, “because the character can be potentially unlikeable because he’s playing the antagonist to the title character. Robert’s incredible. He has a system where he prepares really well, and then he throws the plan out. He will write multiple lines for himself based on what the writers have written, and then he will try a different line every take.”
Improvisation is in the pair’s background in comedy, but not all actors are the same. “Any time you say to Paul [Rudd], ‘give us a great line’, he gives us a great line,” Joe recalled. “Chris [Evans] does a lot of his work beforehand with the writers, where he’ll read the script and circle lines that he feels are slightly off tone for the character. And then he gets to the set and he’s got everything already memorised.”
Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man – getting to play with these toys is a dream-come-true for the two self-professed “pop culture junkies”. And then, one day, Spider-Man just fell into their laps.
“I started collecting comics when I was 10,” Joe remembered, “so Spider-Man was my favourite character. This interpretation of the character is based on how I felt about the character as a child. There was an incredible relatability to the fact he was a 16-year-old dealing with girls and acne and high-school problems while he was also this incredibly powerful Marvel superhero. And so our intent was to cast an actor much closer in age.”
“Another favourite character of mine growing up was Wolverine, which obviously is a character we don’t have the rights to. But if we were to have an opportunity to interpret that character it would be equally as inspiring to me as Spider-Man.”
Captain America: Civil War has a lot of characters already. Adding Wolverine might be too much for one movie. Or maybe not, with the talents of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
“I think they’re the best writers in Hollywood right now,” Joe praised, “in respect to tone, character voice – I mean look at all the character voices that are in this film, look at all the tones. Drama, comedy, action. So we sit in a room with them for months and discuss the characters, how we want to see the characters executed in the film, how they can end the film in a different place to where they started, even if it’s just incremental. Everybody has to have some kind of movement in the movie.
“And then once they have a script,” Joe continued, “we will sit for a couple of days at a time and read the script from each character’s perspective. And then we pool through and go, ‘we’re missing a moment here. We’re not tracking Scarlett Witch, let’s add a scene with her with Vision that explains that.’ And that’s how we slowly weave a tapestry with 12 characters in it.”
“It’s important to remember, though, it’s not the amount of screen time they have,” Anthony added. “It’s what they do in that screen time. And that’s one of the pleasures of Civil War for us, discovering that some of the characters with the least amount of screen time can have the most fun.”
“Ant-Man came out while we were working on the film,” Joe carried on, “and we thought, ‘that’s a whole new tone we can bring to the Universe’. So if we bring Paul Rudd into this, how is it going to affect the storytelling? It’s as much as the heavy lifting we were doing, as the Universe does for us. Because you are predisposed to understand that tone, so when that character interacts with someone who has a different tone – like Black Panther – you get both tones merged together.”
It’s a process that’s going to increase exponentially with their next movie Avengers: Infinity War.
“What will make the movie unique is it’s scale,” Anthony teased, “and we think it’s invaluable we work hard to keep surprising audiences – which is why we want to deconstruct the traditional three act structure in [Civil War]. What will be unique about [Infinity War] is that it will be a multi-perspective film. It’s telling the story of a lot of characters, with a lot of different tones, but I think that’s what will make it fun. It’s like we’re in a laboratory and we’ve got loads of vials and beakers and we’re just pouring things together, and hoping things don’t explode.”
“Or do explode,” Joe helpfully pointed out.
Infinity War will be the crowning achievement in Kevin Feige’s MCU project, a movie franchise model that many are now hoping to replicate in its success.
“You’ve seen a lot of studios now [using the Expanded Universe model] because Marvel’s been so successful with this form,” Anthony pointed out in response to DC’s own attempt. “It’s an unprecedented way to present films and interconnected narrative. We have not seen Batman v Superman yet – we will see it, we’ve just been delivering the movie, then right into the press tour.
“I don’t know. There’s a big difference between making a big, interconnected Universe work and not, so it remains to be seen whether the model can be used by other studios.”
“I think there is a reason why you’re seeing Cinematic Universes,” Joe theorised, “and that’s because branded content moving forward is what’s going to get people out of their houses. At the end of the day, when you have Netflix and Amazon, and you can pay $14 a month and I can sit at home and watch a whole season of House of Cards – and that can fill up my whole weekend, I’ve got Friday to Sunday covered. I can do three episodes a day – or I can drop £100 going to the theatre, having dinner and buying popcorn…what is going to get you out of the house now?
“When television was released from the shackles of the Nielsen ratings, with these very cash-rich corporations – like Netflix and Amazon – who have zero metric for their content other than whether it incites a cultural conversation or not, now they’re going to be doing incredible risky, adventurous and interesting storytelling. And the problems, I think, that studios are facing is: what are we offering that will get you out of the house in an environment where so much media in your home is competing for your attention?”
“I think that’s why you see everyone attempting to create Universes, because they’re trying to brand their content so they can buy a piece of the calendar moving forward. Look at Deadpool in February. I think it made $800 million, and now Deadpool owns February. And they’re going to branch that off, I’m sure, into X-Force and other Deadpool characters. And Star Wars owns Christmas for the next 20 years. Marvel owns May and November, so it’s really that’s what it’s about now.”
“Is that too much?” Anthony worried. “I don’t know. I think it’s evolving. We all know movies to be two-hour, closed-end experiences. And I think our children have a much different understanding of narrative that’s informed by YouTube and Vine, and the traditional content they watch is an average of about 4 minutes. So are they going to be interested in two hours stories moving forward, or do they want interconnected Universes where they spend 20 years of their lives investing in one character?”
“Who knows where it’s going? And when VR shows up, it could change everything. But it’s an interesting and exciting time.”
Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” finds 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.
Captain America: Civil War releases in cinemas Friday April 29 in the UK and May 6th 2016 in the States, with Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) directing a cast that includes Marvel Cinematic Universe veterans Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (The Vision), Don Cheadle (James Rhondes/War Machine), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-Man), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow/Crossbones) and William Hurt (General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross) alongside new additions Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up) as T’Challa/Black Panther, Daniel Bruhl (Rush) as Baron Zemo, Tom Holland (The Impossible) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Martin Freeman (Sherlock) as Everett Ross.