When it came to questions about who was fighting on whose side, no one was talking: not the actors, the directors, the writers, the producers, nor the cooks at craft services. But as soon as we left the air-conditioned comforts of Atlanta’s Pinewood Studios offices for an open-air lot baking in the Georgia sun, the dueling factions were there for us to behold firsthand.
In front of massive green screen stretching half the length of a football field and standing in for Frankfurt Airport, Captain America (Chris Evans), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) charge from one end to the other. This is Team Cap. That leaves, on the other side of the battle lines, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and possibly even Spider-Man (Tom Holland). This is Team Iron Man.
That’s how the Avengers will splinter in Marvel’s hotly anticipated Captain America: Civil War, which was about halfway through its domestic leg of production when we visited the set last June before the operation moved to Germany. Fraternal filmmaking duo Joe and Anthony Russo were tapped to direct Civil War after they won praise for reenergizing the superhero genre with 2014’s tense and hard-hitting Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and they’ve already been enlisted to helm both entries in the upcoming two-part Avengers: Infinity War. But first, they’ve got lofty ambitions for Captain America: Civil War. “They said, ‘This is going to be The Godfather of superhero movies,’” Robert Downey Jr. recalled. “And I said, ‘You just said that. And now you’re going to be held to it.’”
While the cast wasn’t talking about the warring heroes or the role filled by Spidey, there was still plenty the actors did share from the film’s humid set. Read on for the full scoop, though you should be warned there are some minor spoilers along the way.
Here’s why the whole Civil War erupts.
There was mass destruction in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which can be expected when, you know, Hulk and Iron Man’s Hulkbuster go at it in a heavily populated Johannesburg, or when Ultron rips the entire city of Sokovia off the map. It wasn’t the first time the Avengers mucked up a metropolis, and there’s a similar inciting event at the onset of Civil War. “There will be a Stamford Incident, but it’s not Stamford,” co-writer Stephen McFeely dished about the killing of 600 people in the classic Marvel Comics storyline, which led to the Superhuman Registration Act, which led to the Civil War. “We’ll have an incident that will force the governments of the world to go, ‘Wait a second. Let’s talk about the laundry list of things that we’re not happy about. … We think you guys need some oversight.’”
As Evans explained, “There’s a world around them that expects a little more responsibility for their actions. The Avengers have been operating independent of any government restriction, so there’s plenty of people that makes nervous.” Governments around the world essentially attempt to regulate — if not outright control — the superhero team. Those series of demands (known to comic-book fans as the Sokovia Accords) create a rift between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, who have had frenemy moments through the Avengers movies but appeared to bury the hatchet toward the Ultron. Tony supports the Accords, and Steve opposes them.
“I think Cap’s struggling because every time he has fallen in line and has been a soldier, and has taken orders and leaned on the structure of society, it’s kind of turned on him,” Evans said. “And I think ultimately, he feels the safest hands are his own, because at least he can trust them.”
The film is influenced by Seven, Fargo, The Godfather saga … and more.
In recent years, we’ve seen Marvel movies — especially the stand-alone installments — branch out and push the boundaries of the comic-book genre. It all started with the Russo brothers’ The Winter Soldier, which played very much like a ’70s political thriller. Then came the space opera Guardians of the Galaxy and the heist film Ant-Man. So what new territory does Civil War invade? “This movie we think of more as a psychological thriller,” said Anthony Russo. “It’s connected to what we’re doing in Winter Soldier, but it evolves into a more sensitive, complicated character thriller.”
As for its influences, “The [movie] we’ve been referencing a lot on this one [is] Seven, weirdly,” explained Joe Russo. [Editor’s note: Please don’t let that mean we’ll Tony will be finding Pepper Potts’s head in a box.] “We like smashing genres into each other, so if you can find something that’s really idiosyncratic in respect to superhero genre and you can smoosh it in, you usually wind up with something fresh and different.” They also listed Fargo and the aforementioned The Godfather (“because that’s a sprawling film with a lot of characters that tells very intricate stories”), the work of Carrie and Scarface director Brian De Palma (“De Palma is the one carry-over between both movies, because he’s so good at tension and empty space”), and said they refer to the airport clash as their Rumble Fish sequence, in reference to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 gang drama. And if that’s not enough: “We’ve been also referencing Westerns a lot as we start to think about these character showdowns,” Anthony said.
Still, Evans sees the film’s tone very much in sync with the real-life, real-stakes setting of The Winter Soldier. “That’s the Russos,” he said. “Instead of making superhero movies with grounded elements, they make grounded movies with superhero elements.”
The scale is sprawling.
Civil War has often been referred to as Avengers 2.5 or Almost Avengers for its massive cast, and the Russos said the movie also dwarfs their previous work on The Winter Soldier in terms of scale. “It’s a sprawling film, no question,” said Joe Russo. “There’s a lot of characters, and characters are incredibly important to us, so we’re making sure as much as we can that everybody has a fleshed-out arc in the movie. … Once you start trying to trigger arcs for everybody, it becomes a very, very big, sprawling, epic film. This is much, much bigger than Winter Soldier.”
Evans doesn’t mind the sheer number of bold-faced names crashing his threequel. “I’ll take all the help I can get,” he said. Lined up opposite Evans on the top of the call sheet is Downey. “[They] have the bulk of the lines and screen time,” said co-writer Stephen McFeely. “You’ll get a lot of Sam Wilson. You’ll get a lot of Natasha Romanoff. It sort of trickles from there.”
It’s still a Captain America movie.
“It is 100 percent Steve’s story,” said co-writer Christopher Markus when asked why, with so many heroes involved, it’s called Captain America: Civil War versus Avengers: Civil War. Markus points not only to the film’s tone, but also to the groundwork laid in the politics of The Winter Soldier and the notion that these crimefighters will ultimately have to answer for their actions. “I still think Cap is the anchor,” Evans said humbly of the film’s storyline and how all the other characters affect it.
The movie will take Cap full circle: We met him on the battlefields of World War II in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and Civil War returns him to Germany, where a large portion of the film was shot and takes place. The challenge for the filmmakers was “upending” a character with such strong morals and ethics, but they think they’ve nailed it. “We found a way to really get at the heart of who Cap is to shake his foundation,” Anthony Russo said, “and push him somewhere I think that’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
That’s especially important given the discrepancy in tone between a Captain America movie and a lighter, funnier Iron Man movie. “This movie is just pulling that center of gravity more toward that Winter Soldier intensity,” Joe Russo said.
You’ll see a new Tony Stark, too.
“I think you’re going to see a side of Tony Stark you haven’t seen in any of the films,” Joe Russo said before praising the work of Downey. “And he’s just crushing it. He’s fantastic in the very, very complex and dark arc he has in this film.”
Asked if Stark is in good place or bad place at the opening of Civil War, RDJ gives a classic Downey response: “Well, it’s never fun when he’s in a good place, is it?” Because of of Stark’s complexities, Downey had to, for one, amp up the antagonism. “It’s difficult for me to think of Tony in those terms,” he said. “But when you read the comic, it’s like, ‘Man, Tony, you’re blowing it, dude!’”
The writers admitted Stark is blatantly wrong in the comic books — i.e., that whole interdimensional prison he builds to contain fellow superheroes not aligned with him. “Part of the challenge in not making Tony clearly wrong, as he seems to me in the comic book … is to give him his own personal reason,” Markus said. “So that he’s coming from a place where you understand why he would make this decision.”
There will be plenty more of Winter Soldier.
The dilemma over what to do about Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier will weigh heavily into the film’s conflict as well. He played the rogue for most of The Winter Soldier, brainwashed by HYDRA to make life hard on S.H.I.E.L.D. Despite the fact that he rescued an ailing Cap at the film’s end, his previous actions haven’t exactly endeared him to the other Avengers (there’s also the fact that Bucky may have played a role in the untimely death of Tony’s father, Howard), and Steve also feels a tinge of “survivor’s guilt,” as Evans put it.
“I think it’s fair to say that there’s A, B, and C plots to the movie,“ said McFeely. “If Civil War is the ‘A’ plot, then the Bucky story is the ‘B’ plot. At some point, it’s for Steve to choose.” (The writers wouldn’t say exactly what the “C” plot is: “The ‘C’ plot is a musical,“ Markus joked.)
As McFeely pointed out, Bucky killed a lot of people. “When Bucky wakes up, or gets some semblance of his humanity back … how does he feel about the long list of kills on his record?” said the soft-spoken actor Stan. “He’s not gonna go back and be the guy he used to be. There’s just no way that would happen. He’s definitely affected for life. … It’s learning how to tame that wild beast that is part of you at this point.”
The conflict is super-sized. And there could be kills.
There are malevolent forces at work in Civil War, of course, but the central conflict — as the title implies — involves the schism that divides S.H.I.E.L.D.’s superheroes. And let’s just say the drama cuts a lot deeper than fights over who can wield Thor’s hammer. “While these characters have had conflicts before, this movie takes it to an entirely different level,” said Anthony Russo. “So you’re taking your protagonists and you’re turning them into antagonists for one another, and that’s a very complicated sort of process for these beloved characters.”
Evans points out that in the first two Captain America movies, there were obvious forces of evil (the Nazis and HYDRA, respectively), lending Civil War some topicality. “But in this one, there’s no clear bad guy. And I think that’s far more parallel to the struggles we go through in our current political state. There’s logic to both sides. Where do we bend?”
It’s a massive challenge to pit iconic superheroes against one another (one we’ll see play out in the DC Universe with this month’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). The Russos are intent on making it real. “You make them want to kill each other,” Joe said, before Anthony added, in of the set visit’s biggest teases, “Some of them actually do.”
They’re not going to spoil it any further — nor would we like them to, but Joe will say this: “Like any fight, people take sides, and some people have stronger motivations than others. And as the fight gets worse, people drop out because they don’t have the stomach for it. We have a couple characters that go to the end, and they go to the end pretty hard and pretty ugly.” Bets on who that will be?
It will be hard to choose sides. And that’s by design.
Don’t necessarily count on Teams Cap and Iron Man staying static from beginning to end. “The movie kind of evolves,” Anthony Russo said. And it’s all part of their master plan to divide audiences.
“Obviously it will be easier for the audience to get behind Cap because it’s his movie, it’s his point of view, and he has the most screen time,” said Joe Russo. “However, Tony has the emotional motivation in the film. The most human motivation. … Hopefully, by the time you walk out of the film, [you’re] having a fight with your buddy or your boyfriend or girlfriend about who was right in the film.”
McFeely echoed those sentiments: “We want [half of the] people walking out of this movie going, ‘Tony’s right.’ And half the other people going, ‘Steve’s right.’ That would be a dream if we got a 49-51 split.”
As for just how bad it will get between sides …
“Just as a fan of these movies, I wouldn’t want to see anything irreparable happen,” said Downey. “But I also like it when seemingly irreparable things occur, and men and women find a way to move past it.”
Something crazy happens with Black Widow.
“We made some strong choices with Natasha in this movie, and it’s a tricky arc that she has to play,” said Joe Russo of Black Widow, who we last saw about to commence training a new quartet of Avengers alongside Cap at the end of Ultron. “You always want to surprise people; you don’t want to make choices that are easy.”
The filmmakers aren’t saying much about what those strong choices were, but they do point out that she’s in a more precarious position than her fellow Avengers, who have to choose sides, and it extends beyond the fact that she has close ties to both Steve and Tony. “She’s not trained to take sides,” Markus said. “She’s trained to be a duplicitous double-agent and have loyalties for sale. … So in a way, it’s almost [tougher] for her than anybody to go, ‘This is my side and I’m sticking to it.’”
Black Panther brings a new international flavor.
The Russos were effusive in their praise of Boseman, who they said did thorough research on the cultural aspects of his character, despite the fact that his African prince, T’Challa, hails from the fictional country of Wakanda. “He found a regional accent based on where Wakanda would be,” Joe Russo said. “Just an incredible, intense amount of detail.” Said Anthony: “Chadwick brings real gravitas to the role. … He’s got a movement style that he brought because he has a background in martial arts and it’s fascinating. He moves like none of the other characters in the universe.”
As for his place in the Civil War, Anthony Russo said that he enters the story “as an outsider” who is “in many ways an interloper.” And though it marks his first Marvel appearance, Boseman cautioned that the film in no way also serves as an origin story. “I’m just kind of thrown into the middle,” he said. “You meet me as the prince of Wakanda. You meet me as a politican/monarch, not as a superhero.” He later added, “I wouldn’t even call him a superhero. In the mythology of the country, he’s not a superhero. He’s a warrior, and it’s part of their tradition.”
After his acclaimed portrayals of real-life icons Jackie Robinson (42) and James Brown (Get On Up), Boseman admitted he was especially excited about playing a fictional character. “I loved interacting with the family members, the Brown family members, the Robinson family members,” he said. “But in this case, I don’t have to go talk to the queen of Wakanda.”
That Panther costume was hot as hell, though.
It’s hot enough in Atlanta in June, but Boseman had it worse than anybody. “It’s blazing hot,” he said of Panther’s vibranium-coated black bodysuit. “I’ve never been that hot before in my life, seriously.” His costars felt for him. “That poor guy — it’s the worst of any Marvel character,” Renner said, to which Olsen added: “Yeah, I thought Ant-Man was bad — then I saw him.”
Still, Boseman’s suffering paid dividends, immediately. One of the days we were on set was the first day Panther worked in costume, “and when he came out, there were some comic-book fans who were just tearing up,” said Joe Russo. “It [will be] a real moment for people to see this character for the first time on screen.” Producer Nate Moore called Black Panther’s involvement, “the thing we are most excited to introduce.”
There are costume upgrades all around.
“We’ve all been Tony Stark-erized,” Mackie said about Marvel’s longstanding tradition of slightly tweaking their heroes’ suits and gear from film to film. “We’ve all had major upgrades to our costumes and stuff like that. Jeremy still has those indispensable arrows that come out of nowhere and rejuvenate out of his back. And Elizabeth still has her angry rave thing going on.”
Expect to see Vision in casual wear.
The fact that the Russos are influenced more by Marvel’s postmodern comics than the Silver Age editions of the ’50s and ’60s means that we’ll get a look at Vision’s sense of style. “Vision doesn’t walk around the Avengers compound in his cape [like he did in earlier comics]; he walks around in clothes,” Joe Russo said. “He’s trying to assimilate.” As for what those threads will look like? “That was a fun conversation, because he sort of projects his own clothing, so it’s an interpretation of his personality,” Joe explained. “He’s rather dashing. It looks really good.”
Beyond fashion, Vision (who evolved from the A.I. form of J.A.R.V.I.S. into a purple manifestation played by Paul Bettany in Age of Ultron) also has to assimilate to the real world around him. “We wanted him to have problems with the modern world,” McFeely said. It’s clear he’ll always be the smartest guy in the room, though. “He’s superior, but he doesn’t have complete knowledge,” Markus said. Still, “In a way, his opinion can sink other peoples’ opinion completely, because you}re not gonna go, ‘Oh, he’s probably wrong.” As McFeely put it: “He can cut through the bull****.”
Falcon speaks for the audience.
Mackie — who admitted he didn’t know he was an Avenger until he was sitting in the theater watching the Hollywood premiere of Ultron — said Falcon graduates from “Cap’s buddy” to “Official team member” in Civil War. “You get to see my relationship with everyone else has grown as opposed to being the new guy on the team,” he said.
That gives him license to rag on not only Bettany’s newbie (“Vision is by far the easiest person to make fun of. He’s always a good target,” Mackie said), but also longtime leader Tony. “I don’t know why everybody thinks Tony’s cool, and Tony thinks he’s real cool, but Falcon just thinks he’s a nerd,” he said. “And not like a cool millennium nerd … I’m talking about a 1985 nerd.”
Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch grow tighter.
Ultron director Joss Whedon admitted he attempted to fool us all into thinking Hawkeye was going to bite it by the movie’s end. Of course, it wound up being Scarlet Witch’s twin brother, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson), who perished, leaving both her and Hawkeye (who had a contentious relationship with Quicksilver) in a fragile state. “I think in this film we try to tie together that their relationship has gotten stronger,” Olsen said. “That their friendship has gotten stronger from the last film.”
Scarlet Witch also shares a bond with Vision, who swooped her up at one point during Ultron’s finale. And while the two couple up in the comics, and Markus admitted that they’ll “play with” romantic tension in the film, it doesn’t sound like they’ll be having their own twins anytime soon.
Expect Hawkeye, meanwhile, to become a more of the wiseacre that he was in the comics. Renner said we’ll more of “that self-deprecating irreverence. All that sort of Han Solo, old-school Indiana Jones kind of thing.”
Mum is the word on Spider-Man.
Rumors about Spider-Man’s involvement in Civil War were swirling at the time of the set visit, yet despite a few clues we picked up on at the time, the filmmakers weren’t saying anything about Peter Parker’s place in the picture. “Not prominently at all,” Joe Russo said (facetiously, we think) when asked how prominently Parker would factor into the story.
Watch Tom Holland test out Spidey moves:
Pepper Potts is back, and Sharon Carter gets expanded role.
Paltrow’s Pepper has been mostly MIA since 2013’s Iron Man 3, but the Russos promise that Tony’s main squeeze gets some screen time in Civil War. “Pepper has a presence in the film,” said Joe. “She’s definitely on Tony’s mind, and it’s definitely an important part of what’s going on with him as a character.” Said Downey, “All I do is fight for Pepper.”
Speaking of super-love, Emily Van Camp reprises her role of Sharon Carter/Agent 13 introduced in The Winter Soldier. The Russos were coy about exactly how she plays into the fold, saying only that she has a “bigger role” and that “if you’re a fan of the books, you can guess where it’s going.” That likely means we’ll see a romance blossom between Cap and the tough S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, who in the comics was originally believed to be the younger sister of Cap’s wartime love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell in First Avenger), but later clarified as her niece. The writers refer to her as Peggy’s grandniece, presumably to make it less creepy when Cap links up with a relative of a former flame.
“They kissed once on a moving car, with Tommy Lee Jones in the car. Not the sexiest situation you can have,” McFeely said about Steve and Peggy’s relationship in First Avenger. “But when you think about it, she’s her grandniece. This isn’t incest. This is, ‘You’re vaguely related to a woman I once kissed.’”
Those missing Avengers aren’t fully missed.
McFeely and Markus sounded relieved that “certain elements in Ultron took Thor and Hulk off the table.” That was the departure of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Asgard to check in on his home world, and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) rocketing off to Fiji. “It’s great because it’s really hard to have a fair fight with anybody who has either of them,” Markus said.
They’re taking it to the Imax.
The Russos were shooting the airport sequence on a hot-off-the-presses Imax 65-mm camera, similar to one Michael Bay guinea pigged on Transformers: Age of Extinction and Christopher Nolan is reportedly utilizing for his upcoming WWII drama, Dunkirk. The directors said the entire battle sequence, which is about 15 minutes long, will be shot an Imax … and they’re planning to shoot all of Avengers: Infinity War on the new cameras.
Infinity is beyond.
Yes, all the Marvel movies act as puzzle pieces in crafting one giant, intergalactic work of art. But don’t expect Civil War to directly set up the events of Avengers: Infinity War – Part I (May 2018), especially with stand-alone flicks like Doctor Strange (November), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 2017), an untitled Spider-Man (July 2017), Thor: Ragnarok (November 2017), and Black Panther (February 2018) still to come in between.
“Because we’ve got so much cosmic-ness waiting, we are more than happy to keep it waiting,” said Markus when asked if Civil War has to leave its Earth-bound setting for the sake of spacey foreshadowing. “We all know there’s a spaceman coming [Marvel’s second favorite cameo-maker after Stan Lee: Thanos], but it’s going to blow this argument out of the water if you bring it up.”
Like all Marvel fans, the Russo bros are psyched. “We’ll see where all that leads; we’re still breaking story on all that stuff, but we’re excited as hell,” said Joe. “It’s a dream come true for a couple of comic book geeks.”
Captain America: Civil War opens May 6. Watch the trailer: