The Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse is on the verge of tear­ing it­self apart in Cap­tain America: Civil War. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and di­rec­tors Joe and An­thony Russo warn things will never be the same again…


Mr. USA and Me­tal­liguy get all up in each other’s pri­mary-coloured grills. Em­pire watches and shouts, “Fight, fight, fight!”

THIS IS LIKE A DRUNKEN FIGHT AT a wed­ding,” says di­rec­tor An­thony Russo. “They dredge up all those hor­ri­ble things that have ex­isted for years, and sud­denly some­body throws a punch.” The dif­fer­ence be­tween what Aun­tie Doreen said about Our Sharon and the almighty feud that erupts in the third Cap­tain America movie, Civil War, how­ever, is that most nup­tial knock­downs don’t in­volve enough fire­power to re­duce en­tire cities to rub­ble.

With some fans dub­bing it ‘Avengers 2.5’, Civil War fea­tures al­most all the main, ter­res­trial Marvel char­ac­ters, with new­com­ers like Black Pan­ther, Ant-man and the freshly re­booted Spi­der-man more than mak­ing up for the size­able holes left by Hulk and Thor. Not merely a se­quel to one of the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse’s finest films, 2014’s Cap­tain America: The Win­ter Soldier, this will also pre­pare the ground for the twopart mon­ster mash of Avengers: In­fin­ity War (2018/’19).

No pres­sure, then, for the re­turn­ing Win­ter Soldier di­rec­tors, Joe and An­thony Russo, and third-time Cap­tain America screen­writ­ers Christo­pher Markus and Stephen Mcfeely. “The scale is enor­mous,” says Joe Russo. “From a char­ac­ter and sto­ry­telling stand­point, it’s by far the largest movie we’ve done.”

This won’t be a faith­ful adap­ta­tion of the 2006-’07 comic cross­over with which it shares a name — any more than Age Of Ul­tron was — but it asks the same ques­tion: who watches the watch­men? Or, more pre­cisely, who or­ders these su­per­heroes into ac­tion af­ter the col­lapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the dis­as­trous self-polic­ing at­tempted by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Ul­tron? Marvel Comics’ Civil War re­volved around a dis­as­ter caused by heroic ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity as well as vil­lainy. There, Iron Man led the sub­se­quent drive to reg­is­ter su­per­heroes with the govern­ment, while Cap­tain America leapt off a S.H.I.E.L.D. he­li­car­rier to re­sist this as­sault on per­sonal lib­erty. Here, Iron Man re­mains on the side of the au­thor­i­ties, but it’s the in­ter­na­tional Soko­vian Ac­cords, fol­low­ing the Ul­tron in­ci­dent, that will gov­ern the su­per­heroes’ de­ploy­ment.

“Civil War, to me, was one of the coolest strings of the comic books,” says Downey Jr. of his de­ci­sion to join the film as nei­ther the lead char­ac­ter, nor Avengers team-player but, ar­guably, its an­tag­o­nist. “They were do­ing a third Cap film, and this was a way to su­per-charge it. At first I was like, ‘Hey, I have plenty to do — I’m not try­ing to see how many other peo­ple’s movies I can be in­volved in.’ But hon­estly I have a cre­ative fond­ness for Chris Evans — I was one of the voices in his ear when he was mak­ing the de­ci­sion to join [the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse] — and it af­forded an op­por­tu­nity to get a glimpse at some of the fu­ture star play­ers on the Marvel team, like Chad­wick (Bose­man) as Black

Pan­ther. So I got re­ally ex­cited.”

The Russo broth­ers’ last film, Win­ter Soldier, “changed el­e­ments of the Marvel Uni­verse,” as Joe puts it, re­fer­ring to the de­struc­tion of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the rev­e­la­tion of Nazi splin­ter-group HY­DRA’S con­tin­ued ex­is­tence. “But the con­se­quences of Civil War will have an even more sig­nif­i­cant im­pact,” he says. “In Civil War, we’re go­ing to change the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse’s psy­chol­ogy, and it’s an ex­treme shift. Win­ter Soldier was a po­lit­i­cal thriller; this is a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller.”

THERE IS DEF­I­NITELY a weight to the drama Em­pire sees un­fold­ing when we ar­rive on the Cap­tain America: Civil War set in Ber­lin, dur­ing the sum­mer of 2015. To­day’s scenes are shot be­neath the city’s Olympic Sta­dium, a stark neo­clas­si­cal struc­ture where, in 1936, Jesse Owens out­ran the Nazis’ racist ide­ol­ogy. It might seem like an odd place to find a char­ac­ter who knocked out Adolf Hitler more than 200 times, but re­turn­ing Cap to Ger­many was a de­lib­er­ate choice by the Rus­sos, to “bring the char­ac­ter full-cir­cle”, as Joe puts it.

Di­rectly be­neath what was once the dic­ta­tor’s box, a re­fur­bished car park that serves as a pri­vate en­trance for dig­ni­taries has been re­pur­posed to play a govern­ment of­fice where Steve Rogers, Fal­con (An­thony Mackie) and one of Downey Jr.’s “fu­ture star play­ers”, Black Pan­ther, ar­rive to face Emily Vancamp’s re­turn­ing Agent Sharon Carter and Martin Free­man’s Everett Ross.

In the comics, Ross is the US govern­ment’s li­ai­son to Wakanda and a fre­quent ally of Pan­ther. Here, he’s work­ing for a ‘Joint Counter Ter­ror­ism Cen­tre’, but it’s a solid bet that he’ll also ap­pear in Pan­ther’s stand­alone film. The scene is in­tense: Se­bas­tian Stan’s Bucky is be­ing rolled away in shack­les for “psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion”. Cap­tain America and Fal­con also seem to be in the au­thor­i­ties’ bad books, and are led away to face per­son or per­sons un­known (our money’s on Wil­liam Hurt’s Thad­deus Ross — no re­la­tion to Everett).

Af­ter wrap­ping the scene, Evans is the last one off set. He stands back to let oth­ers through the door first, a cour­tesy that echoes Steve Rogers him­self. “It’s beau­ti­ful play­ing a guy who just wants to be a good man,” he says. “You can’t help but take some of that home with you.”

But some­where along the way, the Cap­tain and Iron Man have passed each another en route to the op­po­site ends of the spec­trum of re­spect for au­thor­ity. “We’re counter-cul­ture guys,” says Joe Russo. “To take a char­ac­ter who’s that sym­bolic and turn him counter-cul­tural was, to us, a de­vi­ous and in­ter­est­ing way to ap­proach a movie called Cap­tain America.”

Tony Stark, mean­while, is haunted by guilt fol­low­ing that whole ac­ci­den­tal­ly­cre­ated-a-mon­ster-called-ul­tron episode, and in­creas­ingly aware of the need to reg­u­late ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers. It’s a huge shift for the char­ac­ter who, in his sec­ond film, re­fused to share his tech­nol­ogy with the govern­ment. Now, he’s the one urg­ing re­straint and re­spon­si­bil­ity — and un­like the Civil War comics’ Tony, the writ­ers have worked very hard to make him at least as sym­pa­thetic as Steve.

“This film is an ex­treme shift. It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller.”

Joe Russo

“Hope­fully you’ll leave won­der­ing if Steve and Tony are both act­ing in self­ish in­ter­ests,” says Downey Jr., and re­ports from early test screen­ings sug­gest au­di­ence loy­al­ties are split. An­thony Russo de­scribes Stark’s jour­ney in the movie as “fas­ci­nat­ing… Robert and Chris are in­cred­i­ble. The con­flict be­tween the two of them is in­cred­i­bly emo­tional and it’s beau­ti­fully played out.”

Part of their an­i­mos­ity is down to a clash be­tween the high ideals of Steve’s “great­est gen­er­a­tion” men­tal­ity and the self­ish Baby Boomer out­look of the nar­cis­sis­tic Tony. But more than that, there’s an el­e­ment of near-sib­ling ri­valry. “[Tony’s fa­ther] Howard Stark feels that Steve is one of the best things he ever did,” Mcfeely ex­plains. “So there must be a great deal of pres­sure when you grow up as Tony, hear­ing about Steve Rogers as the per­son you ought to be and you’re not.”

Evans agrees. “There’s a his­tory, no doubt, from Tony’s point of view,” he says. “I think that may be some­thing Steve for­gets at times, be­cause to carry bag­gage from a self-serv­ing point of view is kind of a for­eign con­cept to him. But it is this sib­ling fric­tion — and with fam­i­lies that’s where you have the most love but it’s where you have the most strug­gle, too.”

ROGERS IS DRIVEN, at least in part, by his friend­ship with Bucky Barnes, who resur­faced in the last Cap­tain America movie as Rus­sian as­sas­sin The Win­ter Soldier. “There’s a con­flict be­tween Tony and Steve, but the dy­namic of Bucky pours gaso­line on the open flame,” says Evans. “I love putting Steve in sit­u­a­tions where he doesn’t know what to do. When you have a guy who re­fuses to bleed on peo­ple and puts him­self last con­sis­tently, it can be a lit­tle dry. What makes these movies good is that they al­ways try to give him a lit­tle bit of con­fu­sion — and in this movie there’s a lot of un­cer­tainty, and that’s how the stakes have been raised.”

It’s the Bucky el­e­ment that makes this, defini­tively, a Cap­tain America rather than an Avengers movie. As The Win­ter Soldier, he may have mur­dered hun­dreds (in­clud­ing, the last film hinted, Howard Stark), but he did so while brain­washed.

“He’ll never just be Bucky Barnes again,” says Se­bas­tian Stan, who plays the tor­tured vet­eran. “This movie, for him, is very much the good wolf and the bad wolf com­ing to­gether — or maybe not com­ing to­gether. So when is he trig­gered? When is he re­mem­ber­ing things? He’s try­ing to find out about him­self, his past, and what sort of world he’s in.”

Joe Russo de­scribes him as an “in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated char­ac­ter. He and Steve have the emo­tional con­nec­tion of broth­ers — even more so be­cause Bucky was all Steve had grow­ing up. Bucky was his pro­tec­tor, and that dy­namic shifted [when Steve be­came Cap­tain America], and now it has shifted again. The Cap-bucky story is a love story; he can’t let go of his brother. He can rec­on­cile Bucky’s crimes, but other peo­ple have no emo­tional con­text for Bucky, and they need to point the fin­ger. We have no idea if he’s a hero or a vil­lain. Peo­ple are go­ing to walk out ar­gu­ing about that, too.”

AS DOWNEY JR. PUTS it, the con­flict be­tween char­ac­ters means “the call sheet is split down the mid­dle.” The first big chal­lenge for the Rus­sos was han­dling what An­thony de­scribes as “ba­si­cally the cast of a Soder­bergh movie” play­ing wildly pop­u­lar char­ac­ters.

“There’s a very tough, com­pli­cated se­quence that in­volves a great num­ber of char­ac­ters,” says Joe. This was “the Splash­down”, the almighty air­port clash we glimpsed in the trailer. “There was a lot of char­ac­ter in­ter­ac­tion, a lot of char­ac­ter mo­ments, and you need to dig them all out.” He and An­thony in­sist that fig­ur­ing out ev­ery­one’s mo­ti­va­tions was more im­por­tant to this on-screen con­flict than the nitty-gritty of the ac­tion. As An­thony says, “Spec­ta­cle can only carry you so far. If you don’t have char­ac­ter then it’s empty spec­ta­cle and the movie starts to run out of gas pretty quickly. You can only watch so many ex­plo­sions and un­mo­ti­vated car crashes.”

The sec­ond chal­lenge, shared by writ­ers Markus and Mcfeely, was that they needed to be care­ful, and in­ven­tive, about how they drew the bat­tle lines be­tween Team Iron Man and Team Cap.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, An­thony Mackie’s Fal­con quickly sides with his fel­low

soldier. “Sam and Steve have be­come close con­fi­dants and good friends,” says Mackie. “Steve is the leader but he def­i­nitely comes to Sam and bounces ideas off him.” But Fal­con and Bucky, nick­named “Cap’s two girl­friends” on set, are not his only al­lies. Vancamp’s Sharon Carter — who is ac­tu­ally Cap’s girl­friend in the comics, and per­haps in the fu­ture here — is, she says, “will­ing to go the dis­tance to pro­tect him”.

If we can trust the posters and the air­port con­fla­gra­tion we glimpsed in the trailer, Paul Rudd’s Ant-man and Jeremy Ren­ner’s Hawkeye also side with the rebels, as does El­iz­a­beth Olsen’s Scar­let Witch, re­turn­ing from Age Of Ul­tron. “She’s a com­plex per­son, and ex­tremely pow­er­ful,” says Joe Russo. “She doesn’t re­ally un­der­stand the depth of her power. I don’t think any­one does. That can make her a fright­en­ing char­ac­ter, es­pe­cially to the govern­ment. In this movie, we find her at the be­gin­ning un­der Cap’s tute­lage. He’s show­ing her the ropes as an Avenger.”

Sid­ing with Stark, we find War Ma­chine (Don Chea­dle) and Ul­tron’s ‘new­born’ an­droid, the Vi­sion (Paul Bet­tany). He mar­ries Scar­let Witch in the comics, but the pair are at odds here — vic­tims of the Rus­sos’ delight in rend­ing apart tra­di­tional pair­ings. Though, as, An­thony em­pha­sises, “We worked hard to fig­ure out very spe­cific rea­sons why these char­ac­ters would get pushed to one side or the other.”

Black Pan­ther also ap­pears in­clined to con­trol the su­per­hero threat (see page 74), and, de­spite her close al­le­giance to Steve in The Win­ter Soldier, so is Black Widow. “Our new chal­lenge is that this uni­verse is big­ger than the Avengers,” ex­plains Scar­lett Jo­hans­son. “There’s a school of thought that it needs over­sight and man­age­ment, some kind of ground rules. That seems log­i­cal — though Cap and I have had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence with ‘The Man’, so to speak.” The stick­ing point for Natasha is Bucky. “Barnes is a to­tal wild­card. He can’t re­ally be trusted be­cause he’s been psy­cho­log­i­cally

com­pro­mised. He still poses a threat. I think that’s how Natasha would see it.”

The fi­nal key com­bat­ant here is Tom Hol­land’s Spi­der-man, re­turn­ing to the Marvel Stu­dios fold af­ter a deal was struck with rights hold­ers Sony. He comes in af­ter the bat­tle lines have been drawn, and forms a re­la­tion­ship with one char­ac­ter who, for now, the Rus­sos won’t iden­tify. “Tom’s un­be­liev­able,” says Joe. “We’re very ex­cited to present our vi­sion of Spi­der-man to the world. He was my favourite char­ac­ter grow­ing up, so for a comic geek like me this is a real mo­ment.”

IF IT SEEMS LIKE THE RUS­SOS, and Marvel, are tak­ing a huge risk putting all these beloved char­ac­ters at one another’s throats, it is a cal­cu­lated one. “The only thing I ever have trep­i­da­tion about is it get­ting stale,” says Downey Jr., who’s now been in the Marvel game for over eight years. “When I hear words like ‘rad­i­cal’ and ‘risky’, that’s what gets me up in the morn­ing. Past a cer­tain point you just gotta say, ‘These are the ba­sic tenets of what we’re do­ing,’ and then it’s a huge ex­per­i­ment.” Evans, por­tray­ing Rogers for the fifth time, agrees that the sto­ry­telling drives him for­ward. “It’s Marvel, they give good scripts,” he says. “I’d do this for free. Wait, don’t print that!”

When Em­pire caught up with the Rus­sos re­cently, they’d al­ready had ri­otously suc­cess­ful test screen­ings and were be­gin­ning five days of pick-ups to fin­ish off Civil War, with Evans, Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Pal­trow’s Pep­per among those re­turn­ing. Then, at some point in the next month, they’ll start fo­cus­ing on In­fin­ity War in earnest. Markus and Mcfeely have al­ready pro­duced a first draft of that script af­ter spend­ing months break­ing the story.

“It’s an ex­cit­ing time in the Marvel build­ing,” says Mcfeely. “Pey­ton Reed is in one cor­ner (work­ing on Ant-man And The Wasp); Thor 3 is over in that cor­ner. We’re tak­ing up the mid­dle of the floor, Pan­ther will be in another cor­ner. Spi­der-man, they’re around. Guardians 2 has al­ready moved to At­lanta. It’s ridicu­lous!”

Markus says he’s es­pe­cially look­ing for­ward to the broader scope of an Avengers film. “We’ve writ­ten three movies about a pretty stoic guy,” he says, “and now we get to write for all the gang. But Civil War was a walk in the park com­pared to these other two. We’re writ­ing scenes for char­ac­ters that haven’t been cast yet…”

Joe Russo as­sures us there are sub­stan­tial threads con­nect­ing the wars Civil and In­fin­ity. “We wanted Win­ter Soldier, Civil War and the In­fin­ity War films to have a strong through-line,” he says. “We look at this movie as set­ting the stage for In­fin­ity War, how it starts and what con­di­tion ev­ery­body’s in.”

That hints at sig­nif­i­cant fall-out from this bat­tle, and An­thony Russo prom­ises a “very dra­matic end­ing that will be very con­tro­ver­sial for a lot of peo­ple” — which hints at at least one char­ac­ter’s death, po­ten­tially, and cer­tainly a sud­den in­ter­est in solo projects for the artists for­merly known as The Avengers. What could ever get them back to­gether? Our money is on ei­ther a re­ally lu­cra­tive re­union tour, or a mega­lo­ma­niac from outer space with purple skin. Let’s see which turns up first…


Above: Team Iron Man line up for ac­tion. Above right: Se­bas­tian Stan and Chris Evans on set with Joe and An­thony Russo. Right: These boots were made for walk­ing, reck­ons Scar­lett Jo­hans­son’s Natasha Ro­manoff.

Scratch me if you can: Frank Grillo re­turns

as Cross­bones.

Clock­wise from above: Cap goes un­der­ground; Sharon Carter (Emily Vancamp) and Everett Ross (Martin Free­man); Bucky Barnes (Se­bas­tian Stan); Scar­let Witch (El­iz­a­beth Olsen).

From top: Jo­hans­son punch­ing low on set; Sam Wil­son (An­thony Mackie), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)

and T’challa (Chad­wick Bose­man); Iron Man (Downey

Jr.), bruised but un­beaten.

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