Captain America: Civil War Directors Talk the Future of the Marvel Universe

The Russo Brothers on introducing a new Spider-Man, the challenges of Captain America: Civil War, and preparing for Avengers: Infinity War.

Fraternal directors Joe and Anthony Russo had been focusing a lot of their time on comedies over the years, both in film and on television, before they were attached to direct Marvel Studios’ action-sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That movie hadn’t even been released yet when they were hired by Marvel for its sequel, which eventually turned into Captain America: Civil War.

Civil War continues the story from The Winter Soldier with Captain America’s childhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who became the Winter Soldier, now in hiding. Another disastrous incident puts the Avengers under the watch of the United Nations who want the heroes to sign accords that will force them to answer to the UN when it comes to their activities. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), agrees with this idea, but Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) does not. As the two friends’ argument escalates, it forces all of the MCU heroes to literally choose a side for an impending battle.

Den of Geek had a chance to sit down with the Russos, who talked about introducing Spider-Man and Black Panther to the Marvel Universe and told us that the events of Civil War would continue into the first installment of Avengers: Infinity War, which starts filming in November. (In a separate interview with the Russos, Uproxx discovered that the two parts of Infinity War would be retitled, rather than being “Part 1” and “Part 2.”)

No matter what, it’s safe to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in good hands for the next few years.

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Den of Geek: I was reading an interview with Steve [McFeely] and Chris [Markus], so I know some about the transition of making Civil War after Winter Soldier. But this is a little different for you, because when you came onto Winter Soldier, I assume they had some sort of script already in place. On this one you were able to be involved from the beginning.

Joe Russo: Yes, absolutely. We could conceive it from the beginning. The process we did on Winter Soldier was really specific as well. Even though there was a script, there were a lot of changes after that. We sat in a room with the writers, M&M [Markus and McFeely], and we very meticulously went through the script for two or three months, and then we did the same process.

For us as directors, everything has got to be in the script. Everything that we’re thinking about the movie, we’ve gotta put in the script, from dialogue to action set-pieces, even stage directions for the actors, because it’s less that we have to talk about when we get to set. The more complete the script is, the better the jumping off point for everybody collaborating on the project.

Anthony Russo: Also, the crews are so enormous on these movies. The more the script is very, very specific to how we want to structure and stage it, the easier our lives get. It helps to organize.

For Civil War, were you jumping in during different points of the writing process while finishing up Winter Soldier? I’m not sure when they started working on that during the process for the previous Cap film.

Anthony: Basically, what happened was that once we got an edit [for Winter Soldier], and it was in really good shape, and everybody knew that they wanted to invite us back to do the next movie, and we knew that we wanted to come back and do the next movie, we started sitting in a room with Markus and McFeeley for a couple months and just talking about the possibilities of where we could go with the next Cap movie.

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There was no directive from Marvel whatsoever about where we should take it. There was no assumption on anybody’s part—the only assumption was that Captain America would be in the movie. That was about it. We just took that as a jumping off point and through a lot of discussions, for various reasons, we were led to Civil War.

Were either of you involved with the Serpent Society joke that Kevin [Feige] pulled when announcing the title of the third Cap movie? When I spoke to Chris and Steve for Winter Soldier, I specifically said, “I really want to see the Serpent Society in a Marvel movie” so when they announced Captain America: Serpent Society, I got really excited.

Joe: Oh, really?

Anthony: We knew it was coming but we didn’t pitch that joke.

Joe: I think it was Kevin’s idea.

Maybe he read that interview or one of the guys told him. I was really excited for a few minutes, because a colleague of mine texted me saying, “Ed, They’re doing Serpent Society!” But Civil War worked out okay.

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Joe: It did.

Anthony: You were disappointed?

I was kind of disappointed, but it’s okay. We get Spider-Man instead. I read a bit about how you decided on Spider-Man while also knowing you were going to introduce Black Panther while putting this together. Were you involved with casting Tom and Marisa as Aunt May, too?

Joe: Oh, absolutely. It was very important to us that this be our interpretation of the character. He was my favorite character growing up, and I was really adamant about wanting a younger actor to play the part.

We fought very hard for Tom Holland. We auditioned all of the actors, Anthony and I. Spent a lot of time working with them while everybody was in competition for the part. We fell in love with Tom when he walked in the room, his interpretation.

Anthony: We did screen tests with several of the actors, including Tom with both Chris Evans and Robert Downey.

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Did you have to have Disney, Marvel, and Sony all involved, making it a bigger process than it might normally be?

Anthony: Here’s the thing. From our point of view—and all credit to Marvel and Kevin Feige—for structuring things like this. They keep it very contained for us. We get to do our work. We get to make the movie we want to make. They’re of course our approval.

Like once we decided we wanted Tom for the role, Kevin had to approve it, as well as Sony. And they did approve our choice, so there was no issue there. You get a lot of freedom to make the choices you want to make, not only in terms of what the story is but who you want to cast, etc.

Were you able to do a lot of the Spider-Man stuff even before you had Tom? You can theoretically do some of the stuff when he’s in costume without having him in the costume.

Anthony: We did a little bit but here’s the thing. The actor brings such a—

Joe: Personality.

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Anthony: Yeah, so the way he moves, the way he behaves, it’s all based on Tom’s performance and what he brings to the character. There was some stuff we did, but we didn’t want to get too much into it, because we wanted the whole performance to be informed by Tom.

He has a dance background, too, so I know he has the ability to do some of what we see.

Joe: Yes, he’s a gymnast, a dancer, and that’s an important component to playing these characters. They’re very physical characters, they express themselves through action. We couldn’t do any of the fight sequences in Winter Soldier if Chris Evans weren’t so athletic, because we really wanted to make sure that you could see him on camera, executing a lot of his fighting moves.

Same thing applies for a character like Spider-Man. There are a lot of digital elements to him, but they’re mapped based on Tom’s movements, so when you have an actor that can move the way that he can move, it’s going to inform the way that Spider-Man moves.

Also Chadwick Boseman was a great choice. When I saw Get on Up, in which he plays James Brown, I really thought that guy could pull off any gig, and he also had some good dance moves, so he’s agile enough for the role.

Anthony: He’s amazing and a very talented actor. And he’s a method actor. He immersed himself in this role very specifically. He has a history in martial arts that he was able to bring to his performance. He worked very hard on a very specific accent that was drawn upon from the regional influences from where the fictional Wakanda is. He was very instrumental in helping to build that character.

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Were there any other parameters you had to follow? For instance, you don’t have the Hulk or Thor in this movie and we learn why at the end of Age of Ultron, but was there any desire to have them or would it just make it an unbalanced fight with them on either side?

Joe: No, well also what’s interesting about the Marvel Universe is that we can play with the storytelling in any way we want, but you also want to honor what’s happening around the story, because this is a long-form serialized narrative, and I think sometimes it’s good to have characters taken off the table. We had enough on our plate as it was, and it allowed us the opportunity to introduce Spider-Man and Black Panther in this movie, because we had that space, and bring Ant-Man in as well.

Anthony: But it also does honor the fact, like Joe was saying, that there are specific narratives involving those two characters that kind of kept them out of Civil War.

I was a little nervous about this movie being one big fight sequence, like an hour of them fighting, and I was a little skeptical but when I saw them fight, I became like a kid again. When you watch that scene at the airport, it’s hard not to think, “Holy crap! I never thought I’d see this in a movie ever.”

Joe: Well, that was invaluable to us. Again, I grew up collecting comic books. I started collecting when I was 10, and anytime a crossover issue would come out, you’d open to that splash page or double panel. I was a kid in the story who would be in the corner studying that panel for 10 minutes, imagining how the events were unfolding that were depicted in this freeze frame, until the guy who owned the shop was like, “Hey, you either got to buy that or get out of here!”

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It’s that love of that mythology that gets interpreted in that sequence. When you’re a kid, that stuff is so impressionable to you. It has such an emotional impact to you, and that’s really what that sequence is about.

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Obviously, Batman v Superman brought those characters together and now we’re bringing Spider-Man in with the Avengers, and people really want these other Marvel characters like the Fantastic Four or X-Men to be brought over into the MCU. Are you going to have them written into Infinity War to try to wrangle some way to get them in there or do you just know they’re off the table?

Anthony: Look, the amazing thing about Marvel Studios that Joe and I really appreciate is that anything is possible, but that doesn’t mean that everything is possible, so we can’t answer the question too specifically because we don’t want to get into spoilers like that, but there are a lot of characters that are already in the MCU that we really want to pay-off their narratives that we’re following now through several films. The focus is always there, but we’re always thinking about possibilities as well.

You also have to deal with contracts and actors and all that stuff, which Marvel never has to deal with in the comics like Wolverine saying “Nah, I don’t want to be in that comic.”

Joe: Sure. Right, exactly, you can put anybody in the comics that you want to. That’s true.

Anthony: Yeah, definitely.

One of the things you said while you were doing press earlier in the year was that you said that you’d have 67 or 68 characters in Infinity War. Is that an actual count of how many characters to expect or is that the number of characters you have to choose from?

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Joe: I was being facetious when I upped the number to “68,” but look, the point of those films is that they’re a culmination of everything that has come before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there are characters in those movies that haven’t even appeared on screen yet, so it’s a lot of characters. It’s very complex and that’s what’s fun about them, is the ambition and scale of those movies.

Do any of the other filmmakers in between have to worry about what you’re going to do? Obviously, you’ve set up for a Spider-Man movie.

Joe: There is some interconnectedness, but I think mostly those are standalone. Doctor Strange is very specific to Strange and Guardians is a self-contained story that James is telling. Some small handoffs here and there but nothing that impacts their stories.

One of the interesting things about Civil War is that it’s a follow-up to Winter Soldier but also continues on from Age of Ultron. Some people are even calling it Avengers 2.5. Was it difficult to incorporate that stuff, knowing that you also had to resolve Winter Soldier?

Joe: At the end of the day, it’s focusing on Cap, right? So you’re talking about how to tell a story with one lead character even when you have 12 other characters in a movie like Civil War. At the end of the day, our job was to focus on Cap. The movie begins with him and ends with him and it’s told from his point of view of his world.

But it was important to us to have all the other characters in the film, because one of his jobs is as a patriarch, and the film is about what happens when that patriarch is presented with an issue where he’s forced to choose amongst his family. So we had to have the family in the movie, so really, you can call it Avengers 2.5 I guess if you want to be lazy about…

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Well, that was Jeremy Renner calling it Avengers 2.5 on the morning shows today, and I guess he can call it whatever he wants.

Joe: Yes, but no, other people referred to it as that, but ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s a Captain America film.

I do like that you put Sharon Carter in this and gave her a bigger role because that was another part where I turned into a geeky fanboy again, seeing her in action with Black Widow. You guys must be tapping into your young fanboy selves when developing these movies.

Anthony: 100%.

Joe: Absolutely, and this is a mythology that I knew collecting books when I was growing up and you want to honor the mythology to a certain extent, as long as it’s helping you advance the storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I do want to ask about another specific character and I know you can’t say much, but Wonder Man was a classic Avengers character for years, and James Gun was nice enough to put a Simon Williams Easter egg in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Is that someone you might be consideration or are there issues because of the name?

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Joe: I think there are some issues with the name, but also, the amount of characters we already have on our plate is astronomical, so for us to start thinking about how….  I mean, there will be no time in Infinity War to do origin stories for characters. Really, the job of that movie is to bring everything together that’s come before.

When are you actually starting to shoot Infinity War?

Anthony: November.

Joe: Yeah, it’s coming up.

I’m so glad Marvel have found directors that can keep things flowing between the movies.

Joe: Well, and we’re comic book fanatics. We love the world, we love the universe. I’m the first guy who will show up at a midnight screening for a movie that I want to see, so we take that passion and put it into the storytelling.

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Have either of you seen Batman v Superman yet?

Joe: We haven’t seen it yet, but we’re gonna see it.

Anthony: We will.

Joe: And we’ve been non-stop. The hardest part of these movies is the last six weeks and we just delivered the movie two weeks ago.

Do you think DC would ever be able to find their own Kevin Feige? I feel like Kevin is such a pivotal part of the MCU working, so do you think there’s anyone out there like him?

Joe: I don’t know, to be honest. I think Kevin is incredibly unique, both who he is on a personality level, how he was formed, the kind of fan he is of the material, and also as an executive, he’s one of the most unique executives in the business, one of the most collaborative, nurturing executives you can hope for. It’s not an easy task.

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SPOILER WARNING for the next question/answer if you haven’t watched Civil War yet!

You left the Avengers in a bit of a mess at the end of Civil War, which is interesting since the next few movies: Doctor StrangeGuardians 2 are very…

Joe: Specific.

Exactly. And they won’t be dealing with where Civil War left off, so are you going to have to spend part of Infinity War trying to resolve that?

Joe: Civil War is not over and…

Anthony: That was our intention.

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Joe: Our intent with Civil War was to put the characters at a very fractured place as they had to deal with the greatest threat they’ve ever known in Thanos, so can they repair the relationship? Should they? Those are all questions that they’re going to ask in those movies.

So some of Infinity War will be dedicated to resolving those issues?

Joe: Yeah, Civil War is not done. It’s going to crossover into Infinity War.

Captain America: Civil War opens on Friday nationwide with previews on Thursday night.