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When Joe and Anthony Russo walk into a room, a boisterous clap is the least we can offer. The Russo brothers’ vision have helped bring to the big screen Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now, Captain America: Civil War – likely the best Marvel film thus far. They’re also officially signed on for the two Avengers: Infinity War films so thankfully, they’re not going away anytime soon.
Last month, we had the prodigious honor of sitting down with them to discuss Captain America: Civil War, the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and why we all love newcomer Tom Holland.
Joe Russo and Anthony Russo greet us, immediately gauging to see who is #TeamCap and who stands with #TeamIronMan. Our room of 25 bloggers is pretty evenly divided, which is a good indication of the likely reaction that’s to come when the film opens on Friday, May 6.
“That was the intent with the film,” Joe says, “to hopefully, when you’re done watching the movie, you leave the theater and you argue with your family and friends. We didn’t want to make a declarative statement one way or the other. We just want to represent both points of view as accurately and emotionally as we could.”
Capturing the great divide between the greatest collection of superheroes ever is sure to create arguments among friends and family regarding morality and justice, for sure. “We get out of the theater and, you know, it’s more fun that way,” Joe told us. “It’s not the kind of story that the directors need to be too firm with their point of view because I think it would close off the opportunity to have a conversation after the movie.”
The Russo brothers didn’t share with us how they’re divided between the Cap and Iron Man, but keeping in mind that they are first brothers, then directors, we wondered how much rivalry exists between the two when they work together.
“I don’t think there was rivalry just because we both love both characters,” Anthony said. “Our process has always been very layered storytelling, so we often times – when we’re breaking the story or prepping a movie – we’ll sort of step through the story from different characters points of view. We’ll take a pass where it’ll just be all about this character. And then we’ll take a pass where it’ll be all about that character. We work with ensembles a lot in our work. And so it’s become part of our process to really have moments where the whole movie belongs to somebody else, just one particular character for a moment as we’re thinking about the film from beginning to end.”
“So, I think that’s the process we went through on this movie,” Anthony continues, “with the writers, Markus and McFeely, and the producer, Nate Moore from Marvel, and Kevin Feige. They’re both very near and dear to our hearts. We love them both. Joe and I love characters who are exciting and fun and cool and all that, but also are very human and vulnerable. We always look for that side of the character. So for us it was very important to find where isSteve Rogers vulnerable? Where is Tony Stark vulnerable? And sort of play to those in this movie in a way that would put them in conflict with one another.”
Captain America: Civil War has been the first film in which I was actually excited to see Spider-Man. Just as the rivalry between Team Cap and Team Iron Man exists, so, too, does the argument about who has been the better Spider-Man in a string of recent films. Actor Tom Holland is sure to take the lead on this one, as he is a very pleasant surprise in the film and provided a spot-on portrayal of the character.
“Oh my God! We’re doing everything we can to hang onto him,” Joe said, mirroring our enthusiasm about Holland who is relatively new to the Hollywood scene.
“Yeah, we’re more in love with him than anybody,” Anthony said, laughing.
“There was a really exhaustive audition process for that role,” Joe told us. “We saw him for the first time in our office in Atlanta, it was Anthony and I. We were doing work sessions with all the actors, and he came in and – you know, Spiderman was a very important character to me as a kid. I was a big comic book collector. I still have my collection in my closet, to my wife’s dismay. That character was my favorite character growing up. So to be able to interpret him on screen was like a dream come true.
“The things that I loved about him as a character when I was a kid,” said Joe, “were his vulnerability, his insecurity, his sense of humor. But I loved that his sense of humor in the books was very self-aware, you know. He was a smart ass kid, but he was a kid. And we felt that, for our interpretation of the character, we wanted to have an actor very close in age to Peter Parker and Tom’s a young actor. We also wanted to make sure that the actor had both the vulnerability and a confidence at the same time. It made him accessible, but also would allow him to stand in contrast to all these other really experienced superheroes who are running around dealing with a very adult problem. Then you insert into that a kid who’s trying to improvise his way through the situation but doesn’t really understand the stakes and couldn’t understand the stakes because he’s a kid; Tom Holland just embodied all of that. He brought a real authenticity. That was the other thing too is that we really wanted him to feel like he was of New York today, right now and not about comic book New York,” said Joe.
Captain America: Civil War has a more darker overall tone compared to Marvel films before it. We asked Joe and Anthony Russo about their vision going into the film and how it played a role in the tension between the characters.
“You can’t do a movie called Captain America without sort of having political [overtone],” Anthony said about the new film. “It’s at the center of the character; who the character is from inception and obviously in his name. So, while there is still elements of a political thriller that carries us forward, and kind of maybe even launches us into this movie, we always thought about this movie as a psychological thriller. That shift was very important to us because, you know, the heart of this movie for us is the relationship and the conflict between Captain America, Bucky Barnes, and Tony Stark.
It’s what has to play out between those three characters in the climax of the film that we are driving towards as storytellers for the whole movie. We are setting up that sort of awful reveal and that awful tension that plays out between those characters in that moment. That’s why we always thought of it as a psychological thriller in terms of what happens to these characters on a psychological and emotional level when this horrible revelation comes through at the end of the film. What is going to happen to them when they get there? How are they going to react as characters? How are they going to whether it as characters? That was the heart of the film for us this time around.”
For loyal Marvel comic fans, there have been discussions about deviations from the timelines and some of the history that was established by the comics. We asked the brothers about translating the comics into the films and decisions that are made with regards to changes made for the MCU.
“As comic book fans ourselves – and I was you know a huge comic book fan – I don’t have a lot of interest in seeing a straight interpretation of a comic book,” said Joe,” and I’m the first guy to line up to see the midnight showing of a movie I’m excited about. I’ll drag my son out with me and sit there till 2:30 in the morning and watch the film just because I want to have that immediate response to the movie the same way that everybody does, I want to be part of the cultural conversation about that movie.
I already know the story, so why would I go see the movie? You know, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also building its characters in a very specific way that is very different than a comic books. Film is a very different medium then comic books. You know, we have two hours, 2 ½ hours to tell a story in, and we can only put out one of those movies you know once a year, every two years to move these characters forward. So we have to make choices that are servicing the storytelling that is built up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So Civil War in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is very different than Civil War in the comic books. We don’t have the same characters, we don’t have the same storytelling. For us, we borrowed the concept and applied it to our characters. But we also needed what we felt was a very emotional reason that would drive the story on both sides because, again, we were really committed to making sure that when he got to the end he had a very difficult time deciding who was right.”
One aspect of Captain America: Civil War that has fueled hype for the film is the long-awaited kiss between Sharon Carter and Captain America. Since the brothers have already announced their involvement in both of the Infinity War films in years to come, we asked them whether this developing relationship will have an impact in the MCU.
“We’re sitting down and breaking down the Infinity War stories now,” Joe said “and it might be the next time that you see a lot of these characters on screen and, you know, everything’s in the conversation. Where do these characters go? Where do we want them to be? The interesting thing about Civil War for us, and the fact that we knew we were going to be doing the Infinity War films – there’s really a connection between the Winter Soldier, Civil War and the Infinity War movies. It’s an arch, and that arch is of this family. And this movie is, you know, it’s a downbeat in this family’s existence in the Avengers.”
“What we thought would be most interesting heading into Infinity War,” Joe continued, “would be putting these characters in the most complicated position they could possibly be in to face the greatest threat that they’re ever going to face. Can they pull together? Can they forgive each other? Will they forgive each other? Should they forgive each other? Can they ever work together again? And so I think you’ll see some fracturing as we move forward – this Civil War isn’t over, and it’s certainly going to carry forward. In the fracturing you will see camps of characters dealing with each other and moving forward. And certainly, Cap and Agent 13 will be part of that.”