The Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe) have yet again knocked a superhero film out of the park. Following the success of their critical and box office blockbuster, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), the directing pair have struck gold with CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR. This film, with its battle royale storyline and enormously talented cast, had all of the elements to become a hit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and thankfully it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. In fact, it is somehow even better than I expected.
Come on, how is it possible that a movie with so many competing characters could be this good? You would think that with the superhero saturation we have seen at the box office over the past few years, Marvel is due for a hiccup. You can only have creative stories for so long, right? Wrong. Somehow these kickass directors found a way to take their already critically acclaimed franchise to the next level, while adding many more existing Avengers and new characters (Spider-Man and Black Panther) to boot!
CIVIL WAR also marks the second time I have interviewed the Russos here in DC; the first time being for THE WINTER SOLDIER. It’s easy to tell the brothers are fans of the characters and are also especially insightful about the filmmaking process. But while they unfortunately wouldn’t give me any information on the future of my favorite Marvel character, Captain Marvel, I couldn’t wait to ask them the question I have been wondering since I stepped out of the theater – with such an ensemble film, how do they manage to ensure every character gets his/her moment in the spotlight? As shown throughout their career, ensemble storytelling is especially near and dear to the Russos’ hearts. After all they have significant experience with multi-character stories after directing ensemble television comedies ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, HAPPY ENDINGS and COMMUNITY.
Although these shows are in a much more condensed format, the Russos found a way to to unpack dense storylines full of Easter eggs and inside jokes and ensure every character had an arc… all in a 21 minute run time. This same attention to character development and story was portrayed on a much larger scale in CIVIL WAR. Joe put it perfectly when he said, “Because [CIVIL WAR] is a story about a family divided, it was important that we understood each member of the family. As directors, we had a passion and love for each of the characters so they were equally represented.”
The directors placed such a focus on character development, they told me they even took a moment to walk through the entire movie from each character’s perspective, as if it were his/her movie. They realize there are fans who come to the theater just to see their favorite character, so they want to ensure every hero, even those with lesser screen time, will still have important moments that will make fans happy. The duo want audiences to be surprised, emotionally satisfied, and excited regardless of screen time. Anthony even went on to say, “One of the things I am happiest with in the movie is that we were able to give some of the most memorable and fun moments to characters with the least screen time. It’s a lesson that it isn’t a function of screen time with how much fun you can have with a character.”
But don’t expect to see too many deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray. When asked if there were any scenes on the cutting room floor that they wish had made it into the movie, the Russos revealed how closely they stuck to the shooting script. Especially with a movie this large, they spent months with the writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, to make the script as solid as possible before going into filming. Anthony said, “Both on WINTER SOLDIER and CIVIL WAR, the final edit of the movie is remarkably similar to the shooting draft we went into production with.”
As the movie introduces two new heroes, Black Panther and Spider-Man, I was interested to know whether those characters were preordained from the studio or if the directors had a say in which characters would appear in the film. As there is such a trust and collaborative working environment between the Russos, the writers, and Marvel, the brothers were able to decide which characters worked best for the story and should appear in the film. “We lit on characters that would be helpful to us from a story-telling angle and then pursued them. Then it becomes, do we have a contract for this person? No we don’t. Okay, then what does it take to get them in the movie? What it takes is you guys driving out to Robert Downey’s house, pitch him the film and get him invested creatively. Then we’ll see if we can make the deal work. Piece by piece we put the film together. It was a sheer force of will movie.”
Where fitting new characters into the story was concerned, Black Panther and Spider-Man were brought to the film for two different purposes. Black Panther was a “free radical, who was emotionally motivated to be in the storytelling but not for the same reason as the others.” Spider-Man came into the picture as the directors’ efforts for tonal variance, to make sure the film didn’t get too dark. After all, the whole premise of the film is our favorite superheroes battling it out. It was up to Peter Parker (played by newcomer Tom Holland) to bring some light and humor to the story.
While the entire world has seemingly chosen whose team they are on for CIVIL WAR (Team Cap!) as you will see, the Russos ensure the film never really shows which team is right and which team is wrong. They wanted to provide enough ammo on each side of the argument to leave the audience wondering which side would win out.
The brothers are signed on to direct the next two AVENGERS movies, INFINITY WARS PART 1 and PART 2. Although they admitted the next films would be three times more difficult, due to the amount of characters and storyline they will have to cover, CIVIL WAR proves the franchise couldn’t be in any better hands. I just hope they come to DC again to talk about it.