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Interview: Civil War screenwriters talk Spider-Man, Infinity War, and more!

05.06.2016

anthony russo christopher markus stephen mcfeely chris evans captain america civil war marvel robert downey jr scarlett johansson jeremy renner elizabeth olsen anthony mackie chadwick boseman tom holland daniel bruhl don cheadle 2016 paul rudd joe russo

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS

Ever since I was first introduced to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, the character has become a favorite of mine. Much of that can be credited the film’s star Chris Evans, but you also have to give huge props to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The two have made huge contributions to the Marvel franchise including writing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, THOR 2: THE DARK WORLD, episodes of Agent Carter and this weeks release CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

Not only have these two fine gentleman been a huge part of the success of the Marvel franchise, they also happen to be incredibly nice guys that are very willing to talk about all things MCU. I recently had a terrific conversation with the pair where they discussed bringing SPIDER-MAN to CIVIL WAR and how they approached Mark Millar’s original material. They also talked openly about Marvel villains, and even a little bit of Thanos and INFINITY WAR. Their latest, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is currently playing at a theatre near you!

I’ve had the opportunity to see CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR twice and I really loved it, so congratulations.

anthony russo christopher markus stephen mcfeely chris evans captain america civil war marvel robert downey jr scarlett johansson jeremy renner elizabeth olsen anthony mackie chadwick boseman tom holland daniel bruhl don cheadle 2016 paul rudd joe russo

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely: Thank you.

SM: We are very pleased with it. I’m glad you saw it twice. You get more out of it the second time.

I think you do, and I felt the same with WINTER SOLDIER.

SM: We’re hoping to carve out a little corner of the Marvel Universe.

How did you approach adapting this material from Mark Millar’s Civil War?

SM: Good question. We knew that if you did a straight adaptation you’d fall short for a lot of reasons. We don’t have secret identities in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and we don’t have two-hundred people to fill the frame. But we did have a number of third acts that implied a lot of collateral damage that we didn’t really deal with. And because of the accrued work of the cinematic universe you had characters like Tony and Steve sort of passing each other on the spectrum. One becoming perhaps more of an individualist and one becoming more of a company guy. 

anthony russo christopher markus stephen mcfeely chris evans captain america civil war marvel robert downey jr scarlett johansson jeremy renner elizabeth olsen anthony mackie chadwick boseman tom holland daniel bruhl don cheadle 2016 paul rudd joe russo

SPOILERS BELOW

SM: (Cont.) When we wanted to pick up the thread of Bucky Barnes and the Winter Soldier and what it means to be an assassin for seventy years, we had already hinted very strongly that Hydra certainly killed somebody very important in the Marvel Universe. And there would be one character that would have a really big reaction to that. 

CM: So that gave us a much more personal spine to the CIVIL WAR story, so it wasn’t just two sides having a political argument. It was as personal as it could possibly get for Cap, for Iron Man and for Bucky. And that really told us where to go.

SM: And that led us sort of down the SEVEN model with a villain who sort of works in the background and wins in the end.

Speaking of the villain, Zemo is a bit different here than in the comics. What was the process of creating him on screen and do you plan to continue building that character?

SM: Well I like the fact that he’s alive.

CM: We wanted to have our cake, in that sense. We wanted the guy to win and to break up The Avengers and thereby be sort of a rarity in the Marvel Universe. Not only does he survive, but he also succeeds. We certainly reserve the right to use a great actor like Daniel Brühl again [Laughing]. 

SM: It came from, we wanted on a technical level to deploy that information of what Bucky [had done in the past] but we didn’t want to do it too early because it would consume the entire film. And we didn’t want it to be an accident that just happens to be discovered at the end of act two. It began to seem that it would require an intelligence that deployed this information so it would require “a villain,” and who would that be and what does that mean. It could have been just anybody. It could have been a Chekhovian guy X, but it was fun to call him Zemo and to play with the themes of loss. Helmut in the comics hates Cap because he killed Heimrich. So in a way it’s not collateral damage - he did it very deliberately. It is a familial pain and the loss of a father. In this movie where we are killing character’s fathers, and probably way more fathers than I actually remember, it just seemed right to bring in this guy and to blend it into this world.

anthony russo christopher markus stephen mcfeely chris evans captain america civil war marvel robert downey jr scarlett johansson jeremy renner elizabeth olsen anthony mackie chadwick boseman tom holland daniel bruhl don cheadle 2016 paul rudd joe russo

I liked that aspect and felt that Daniel Brühl was the perfect choice.

CM: That’s the thing. I read things about “oh, another quiet villain from Marvel” but Steve and Tony are each others antagonists. We knew we weren’t going to have them shake hands and go fight the bad guy at the end. It required a different sort of villain story.

END SPOILERS

This is a huge ensemble cast, how do you balance the characters within the story and their screen time?

SM: On a certain level, it is obvious Cap and Tony are going to get the most because they spearhead the two points of the argument. And the rest of it is dictated by the story you’re telling. You can’t have a room full of people taking sides without a reason for it. It’s only when the actual gears of the plot demand that character to enter do you bring them in.

CM: That’s partly the confidence of the studio saying that we’re going to cast all these great actors, and we’re going to ask them to come back and do two to six weeks or whatever on this movie, even though their part will be smaller. So that’s just Marvel having already earned that. But it’s also the same thing, it’s earned because of the movies themselves. So I know when War Machine walks in, I know who he is because I’ve already invested in three IRON MAN movies. Or Jeremy Renner doesn’t come in until two-thirds of the movie, but I already know who he is from two AVENGERS and a THOR. It’s a very competent studio who has earned the right to bring in famous people late in the movie [Laughing].

anthony russo christopher markus stephen mcfeely chris evans captain america civil war marvel robert downey jr scarlett johansson jeremy renner elizabeth olsen anthony mackie chadwick boseman tom holland daniel bruhl don cheadle 2016 paul rudd joe russo

I also appreciate you as the writers poking fun at certain things in the movie that audiences may respond to in the same way. Marisa Tomei as Aunt May for example, which you reference her in the script as being unusually attractive for the character we are used to. Is that part of your process?

CM: [Laughing] It is. Although I think Robert brought in a couple of the remarks to that. But that is realism.

SM: It only makes sense. It never quite made sense why Aunt May was so damn old compared to Peter Parker. It was like she was more like his Grandmother’s sister than his mother. So it was either reclassifying who that old woman is, or make her a younger woman. And I think that gives you a lot more places to go in storytelling for a SPIDER MAN movie because you have an Aunt May with a life as opposed to a woman who is only concerned with, you know, is Peter going to get the eggs.

SM: That was the goal for Spider-Man as well, to make him much more realistic and grounded. He literally should look and be fifteen, he should live in a big apartment building in Queens. You know, try and take the set design out of his portrayal and try and be as real as you can. Strangely that is Marisa Tomei [Laughing].

This is probably my favorite big screen take on Spider Man. What were some of the other approaches taken to bring him into the MCU?

SM: That really was it. Really the guiding light was we want him to be a kid. If Marvel is going to get something that has been done so many times already, what is the variation on this. What is Marvel’s version?

CM: And it was back to the original.

SM: Do him like he really was in the comics. We obviously benefit from everyone having… we assume everyone in the audience has seen at least one of the [SPIDER MAN movies], if not all of them. We certainly had the benefit of that. So when we don’t say, “With great power comes great responsibility” but he says something like it, it treats the audience respectfully so that everybody goes, “I know what he’s saying.” It feels like you are in on a secret or a joke. And I think that is another reason why a lot of people walk out of that scene saying it was a great intro because I wasn’t talked down to. 

anthony russo christopher markus stephen mcfeely chris evans captain america civil war marvel robert downey jr scarlett johansson jeremy renner elizabeth olsen anthony mackie chadwick boseman tom holland daniel bruhl don cheadle 2016 paul rudd joe russo

I like the way you guys have built the CAPTAIN AMERICA series in sometimes unexpected ways. What is your plan to build onto it with INFINITY WAR? Will you be sticking with the Infinity War comic or Infinity Gauntlet?

CM: I figure we can safely say we are willing to pull from anything Thanos is in.

SM: As you said, we tend to take the ingredients and make a different meal out of it. WINTER SOLDIER owes a great deal to the Brubaker run but it’s not the Brubaker run. CIVIL WAR owes a great deal to Miller, but it’s not close to the Civil War run. So we’ll do the same thing with Thanos and his gauntlet.

Thanos has such a fascinating and elaborate origin. Is it possible we are we going to see a lot of that?

CM: We can reveal nothing, but we are equally fascinated. Legitimately we are fascinated by Thanos. 

SM: There are a lot of reasons we took the job but one of them was wow, we get to take the biggest villain Marvel has ever had and try and do him justice.

Marvel has sometimes had issues with the way the villains were handled, that they were just brooding and not very fleshed out. Do you feel that they plan on taking those villains to another level in phase four?

CM: You mean the villains we’ve already seen? Or new villains?

The villains we’ve already seen, as well as the future treatment of new villains.

CM: Phase four is a twinkle in my mother’s eye, you know [Laughing] so I don’t know what is happening in there.

SM: If you think about it, I get the criticism, but the early phases were all origin stories. It tends to create a similar villain. When it’s no longer an origin story, I think you might have a little bit more freedom to create different villains. I’m sensitive to the problem. I get it. But it wasn’t the Robert Redford story, it was CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. It wasn’t the Red Skull’s journey, it was the journey of one guy going from ninety pound weakling to American hero and then going into the ice. So in a 120-minute movie it is difficult, and Thanos will possibly change that, but you want time spent. Excuse me for going on a tangent but I love the Marvel Netflix shows because you have so much more time to spend with your villains. It’s literally minutes and hours spent. We have 120-minutes, and Jessica Jones had how ever many it had.

How awesome was Vincent D’Onofrio by the way in Daredevil?

SM: He was great!! He was the hero of his own story. We try to make the villain the heroes of their own story but we have a scant amount of time to do it.

One of the things I appreciate about your work with CAPTAIN AMERICA is in each film you take it to a slightly different genre than just a superhero movie. How does that play into when you are writing each film?

CM: It helps unify discussion and we are all sitting around in a room trying to think of what kind of movie this might be if at a certain point somebody can say, “this is beginning to kind of look like a 1970’s political thriller.” How do those movies work? And then you can kind of overlay that template onto the pile you are talking about. “You know if we moved that right there, that really would be what we are talking about.” 

SM: We try not to write comic book movies. We try to write movies about characters that we love. And we love Steve Rogers and Tony Stark and yes, they happen to be comic book heroes. But we don’t walk in saying let’s make a comic book movie. We try and do right by the characters. 

When looking back at the comics, are there things you’ve wanted to bring in but couldn’t because of the way the universe is structured already?

SM: Oh well, sometimes tone indicates that you can’t do all of the more comic booky things. Like, I’m looking at Chris Markus here and he would love an entire movie about Modok. But it’s going to be a tough sell in the grounded MCU.

CM: But the universe is expanding. When GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY came out, it opened up a huge tonal pie piece that wasn’t available before. And I think the same thing will happen with DOCTOR STRANGE and what happened with ANT-MAN. You never know who will become available because this universe is kind of growing at its own pace.

anthony russo christopher markus stephen mcfeely chris evans captain america civil war marvel robert downey jr scarlett johansson jeremy renner elizabeth olsen anthony mackie chadwick boseman tom holland daniel bruhl don cheadle 2016 paul rudd joe russo

Absolutely. It’s also nice to see these heroes done as well as they can be. The superhero flicks I grew up with were like Dolph Lundgren in THE PUNISHER.

CM: I grew up when Captain America wore a motorcycle helmet and had a transparent shield. And that was what was in my mind when this job came up [Laughing].  Are we allowed to do better than that?? [Laughing]

Is there something that you’d like to explore with INFINITY WAR and continuing on into phase four?

SM: Yes, and we are doing it [Laughing]

CM: We’ve been as grounded as you can be when you are doing a this kind of thing, semi-political, gritty movies. I’d like to keep some of that stuff available to us.

You both have been so immersed in the MCU for the past few years, how do you separate yourselves from all that? It seems that all you do, everyday, is talk CAPTAIN AMERICA.

SM: It is problematic for being a well rounded human [Laughing] so I do look forward to the day when I have something else to talk about with my loved ones.

 

Source: JoBlo.com

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