2016's summer movie season opens up with Captain America: Civil War, a film that includes more characters than any other Marvel Cinematic Universe feature to date, a film that will be the studio's longest to date, and a film that promises to drastically change the franchise's status quo. Knowing that and knowing Captain America: Civil War is the first chapter in Phase 3 of the MCU, is it really a Captain America story or is actually another Avengers installment?
Star Sebastian Stan, a key supporting character in both prior Captain America movies, promises that Civil War is Captain America 3 and not Avengers 2.5 and when we visited the set last summer, Robert Downey Jr. said the same. So what makes a movie that features not one, but two teams of Avengers battling each other a Captain America story?
In Marvel Comics a decade ago, the Civil War crossover event was just that - an event launched from a new and unique situation (a super-powered incident in Stamford, Connecticut where hundreds of civilians were killed) written specifically to kick things off. And over 100 comics tied into Civil War, exploring both sides of the conflict and everything else happening as a result or in the background. In the movies, the Civil War embraces the same core tenets but has some key differences. It's not a multi-movie event for one thing, although the implications of what happens in Captain America: Civil War will be felt throughout the rest of Phase 3.
Instead, Marvel Studios' take is that of a natural progression built on what's come before - what we've seen from a dozen movies since 2008's Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Since then, S.H.I.E.L.D. helped form The Avengers to protect the planet from the beginnings of an alien invasion. S.H.I.E.L.D. then fell part and the Avengers took it upon themselves to continue protecting the planet from what they deemed as threats and they did so without government supervision or permissions, without consequences or regulation. So, what happens when thousands of lives are lost and billions of dollars in damage are left in the wake of a battle instigated by, or at least, involving the Avengers?
We spoke with Captain America: Civil War producer Nate Moore about the Civil War story from the comics and why now was the right time to explore it in the MCU, and why it's being explored from the perspective of Captain America instead of Iron Man or other Avengers.
Nate Moore: It was sort of a happy accident in starting to develop the script with Markus and McFeely and the Russo Brothers. We pitched out a million different ideas. Obviously there’s a deep bench of great Cap stories that we could pull from. But we also looked at the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Where have we been? What stories have we told? It felt like it was kind of the right time for Civil War to start to happen, because when you look at the events of Avengers, and Avengers 2, and Thor 2, and Cap 2, there are all these sort of almost world ending experiences. We felt like we had to tell the next step in that story, which is what happened? What is the world’s reaction?
And we always think it’s interesting to push Captain America up against the wall. Something we found in Cap 2, frankly, is we felt Cap was more interesting when he had something to push up against. In that case it was S.H.I.E.L.D. that turned out to be corrupt. In this case, it’s the world saying, “This is how The Avengers can be run.” Who better to push up against that kind of pressure than the guy essentially wearing an American flag?
So in trying to tell the best Captain America story, it turned out Civil War actually gave us sort of the impetus for putting him, once again, at odds with the world, which is where I think he’s most effective.
Of course, while the story of Captain America 3 may have always dealt with the repercussions of Avengers: Age of Ultron and other similar disaster scenarios Moore refers to, we know it only exists as an adaptation of Civil War because Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige and the directors (Anthony and Joe Russo) managed to convince Robert Downey Jr. to join the project.
As for why it's the story of Steve Rogers or Captain America (because they may not always be one and the same), while we were on set the crew was shooting the Splash Page or "Splash Panel" IMAX sequence which has been highlighted in the trailers when #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan charge each other on the runway of a German airport. Why the characters are all in Germany remains to be seen but it no doubt ties into Captain America lore, perhaps even Hydra. That's in an effort to bring Captain America's story full circle since this may just be the last Captain America movie starring Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (his contract currently ends with Avengers: Infinity War). Here's what Anthony Russo has to say about telling the story from Rogers' perspective instead of Tony Stark's:
Anthony Russo: Bringing it full circle is really important. We’re taking Cap to a place, there’s a level of detail that we have to be careful with, but we’re taking Cap to a place in this movie that he’s never gone before. That for us is taking Cap full circle. How do you take this guy that began where he began and had that great arc that he’s had and still take him to a place he’s never gone before? We always talk about him, he’s such a tough character in a lot of ways because he’s so strong and so centered, he has such strong ethics and morals, how do you upend a character like that? It’s easier to upend a character like Tony Stark in some ways because he’s a little all over the place and balanced and blah blah blah. You can spin him out easier so to speak. So how do you spin Cap out? We found a way to really get at the heart of who Cap is to shake his foundation, push him somewhere I think that’s going to surprise a lot of people.
Joe Russo: That’s what I was trying to say earlier about Downey, to clarify it, was I think you’re going to see a side of Tony Stark you haven’t seen in any of the films and he’s just crushing it. He’s fantastic in the very, very complex and dark arc he has in this film.
Again, Evans, like many of the original Avengers, sees his contractual obligations with Marvel Studios end with the next Avengers movies which the Russo are returning to direct. So far though, the entry point and stories for the Russos have been from the perspective of Captain America so how does that affect their plans for bookending Phase 3 with Infinity War?
Joe Russo: It’s interesting because we came into the universe through Cap, this is a really compelling story for him. So we have a strong point of view through that character and he is certainly creating a rift in this film, so there will be ramifications that will carry into Infinity War. So I think as far as a book ending it I think he becomes a very important character moving forward, and it’s sort of interesting that we came into the universe through him. We’ll see where all that leads, we’re still breaking story on all that stuff but we’re excited as hell. It’s a dream come true for a couple of comic book geeks.
It's Still Captain America's Movie
Captain America: Civil War portrays a major conflict in the characters fans have come to know and love, and we discussed why Iron Man isn't actually a "villain" in the movie, so how will the film fairly balance the two sides for audiences while still making it a Captain America story?
Joe Russo: It’s all storytelling metrics, and you have to really think hard about those metrics. I’ll say this, 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; however, Tony has the most emotional motivation in the film. The most human motivation. Cap’s is philosophical, we did that as a metric. It’s natural instinct for an audience member to want to get behind the person that has more screen time and somebody as likable and rootable as Cap so you have to work really hard to make sure that this is not a protagonist/antagonist movie. Hopefully by the time we’re done it’s a very complex film where you walk out of the film having a fight with your buddy or your boyfriend/girlfriend about who was right in the film.
But it's not just screen time of characters that define the sub-franchises within the Marvel Cinematic Universe; It's the tone and aesthetic as well. Writer and director James Gunn did something wholly different on that front with Guardians of the Galaxy compared to the rest of the MCU. The Captain America movies are similarly different than the Thor movies but even within those, Marvel is trying to find the right formula for each story and character, and much of that comes down to the filmmaker. Thor: Ragnarok for instance, the third movie in the Thor series, has another different director (Kenneth Branagh did the first and Alan Taylor helmed The Dark World).
Jeremy Renner, who always said if his character of Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye returned outside of The Avengers it would likely be in the world of Captain America (Hawkeye was originally planned to have a role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and on set he spoke to the tonal and stylistic differences between Joss Whedon's take on The Avengers and now the Russos' who are directing more Avengers than ever in Captain America: Civil War.
Jeremy Renner: ...It’s not so ethereal this time, it’s a bit more rooted I feel like. Not that Joss ‘s wasn’t, it was just a broader stroke that Joss was doing with all the Avengers. The Russo brothers are taking this Avengers 2.5, if you will, in keeping it still a Captain America movie. It’s very sort of boots on the ground kinda thing, except for the flyers…
The Mantle of Captain America
When we spoke with Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan, Evans explained that Captain America is still the anchor and through-line of the movie. Civil War - and we know comic book fans have been thinking about this for a while - may be a Captain America story but that doesn't mean it's all about Steve Rogers.
In the comics, the Civil War event concluded "The Death of Captain America" miniseries by Ed Brubaker where Steve Rogers, having given himself up at the end of the conflict was shot at by Crossbones using a sniper rifle and finished off by a brainwashed Sharon Carter. Of course, both Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and Sharon Carter a.k.a. Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp) are in Captain America: Civil War so rumors are already running rampant about a potential conclusion to the movie (read about that here). Let's just say it wouldn't be right for Steve Rogers and Tony Stark to both walk away from this conflict unscathed and fully operational.
That doesn't mean Steve Rogers "dies" and we all know what that's meant so far in the franchise. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) have both "died" and are still active. But we wouldn't be surprised if Rogers and his allies make it look that way, setting up his future return in Avengers: Infinity War. And that means someone else may have to step up as Captain America. In the Brubaker comics mentioned above, Tony Stark helps setup Bucky Barnes as the next Captain America, allowing him to continue operating independently.
We know Sebastian Stan has a 9-picture contract with Marvel so it seems almost a given that at some point his Bucky should suit up in the star-spangled Avengers outfit and rock the vibranium shield as he's done in every Marvel movie he's been in at least once. But it's not the only option. In the modern Marvel Comics, it's Sam Wilson a.k.a. The Falcon who's now serving as Captain America although from our chats with Anthony Mackie, that's not necessarily something he wants to do. Stan on the other hand, is "game" to step up when the time comes.
Civil War is a Captain America story due to how its origins are tied into the events and character arcs of what's come before in the MCU, because of what Captain America has experienced and what he currently represents. For this story it's Cap's world and his perspective that fits for the audience, and as reinforced by the cast, writers, and directors we spoke with on set, the conflict only works because it's personal and emotional, not political and idealogical. The audience wouldn't connect with that.
And because of that, the Captain America story naturally blends into what Civil War represents. And it will work on another level, potentially seeing Steve Rogers journey come full circle while setting up another character (or two) to become the next Captain America. At the core of this movie is a love story between Bucky and Steve and we may find out what it really means to be Captain America in the modern era of the MCU.
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.
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd and Frank Grillo, with William Hurt and Daniel Brühl.
Anthony & Joe Russo are directing with Kevin Feige producing. Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Patricia Whitcher, Nate Moore and Stan Lee are the executive producers. The screenplay is by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Get ready to pick a side and join the nonstop action playing out on two fronts when Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War opens in U.S. theaters on May 6, 2016.
Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018;Ant-Man and the Wasp– July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans– July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.