“If you give someone the flavor of ice cream they love every day they’re eventually going to learn to hate that ice cream.”
I’m known for being hard on some of the Marvel films ‐ on summer blockbusters in general actually ‐ but I’ll be the first to admit that I am (so far) in the bag when it comes to the Captain America movies. I was never much of a comic book reader, but even so the good Captain has been a favorite of mine thanks to his simple, grounded character (relative to most superheroes I mean), and that appreciation has transferred over to his Marvel Universe appearances on the big screen.
There’s a physicality to his actions that’s lacking from gods like Thor, CG creations like the Hulk, and mechanized heroes like Iron Man, and it translates into beautifully-crafted fights and action sequences. Add in the fact that he’s the only hero with a compelling emotional arc and it surprises no one that the three Captain America films are three of my five favorite Marvel movies. The latest, Captain America: Civil War, hits Blu-ray next week, and in addition to the movie itself it’s worth a pick-up for a fantastic commentary track featuring both writers and both directors.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Captain America: Civil War.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Commentators: Anthony & Joe Russo (directors), Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (writers)
1. They “danced around” the idea of a MacGuffin in regard to the red notebook before it actually became a simple red notebook. “There were many drafts where they were chasing something called the mind crown.” Everyone laughs, understandably.
2. Anthony asks the writers about the word sequence used to trigger the Winter Soldier/Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and they reply with a massive spoiler. “Everything he says is a title of a forthcoming Marvel movie.” They say the words were chosen deliberately for their sound and connotations.
3. They acknowledge that “one of the more subversive things we did in the movie” was to ruin a beautiful, vintage Cadillac. To clarify, the misdirect in making viewers think the blue gel packs in the car’s trunk were more important than the occupants of the car itself.
4. Kevin Feige approached the four and asked if they wanted to do another one without having any idea where they would take the story. They agreed immediately, obviously, and then spent months going through possible story ideas.
5. They were working on the script while Avengers: Age of Ultron was finishing up post-production, and an early screening of the film helped the direction of their story here. “We realized Tony [Stark] could have incredible guilt coming out of that movie,” they say, adding that the culpability for the Avengers became clear. They make no mention of Man of Steel.
6. They admit that Civil War is perhaps the Marvel film most dependent on viewers having seen previous Marvel films in order to appreciate the threads. “It is richer for that experience.”
7. The Atlantic Civic Center building used here as the Infectious Disease Center in Lagos has recently been torn down. The interior is also used as the auditorium where Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gives his speech about projects being funded.
8. They give big credit to their stunt team who’ve been “carried over from Winter Soldier” including Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) stunt double, Heidi Moneymaker. “This isn’t sped up, there are no effects, Heidi just does these things. She can swing around a person’s head and smack somebody else.”
9. Young Tony Stark is played by Downey Jr’s brother, Jerry Downey. I know, I too am surprised. (Surprised that filmmakers lie on commentary tracks!) The sequence was the last shot added to the finished film, both because Downey had to shave his beard before filming it and because the visual effect of de-aging him took a long time.
10. Alfre Woodard’s character was inspired by the scene in Jaws where the mother of a dead boy confronts Sheriff Brody. Downey Jr. suggested her for the role.
11. They view both Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Iron Man/Stark as the patriarchs of the Avengers. So yes, Civil War is directly influenced by the classic Paul Reiser/Greg Evigan sitcom, My Two Dads.
12. They mention as an aside that the tone of Avengers: Infinity War will be similarly grounded and realistic along the lines of Winter Soldier and Civil War.
13. They wanted to explore the idea and repercussions of mass destruction both as an act of logical responsibility but also as a way to mix up the formula. Shifting the structure from third acts featuring huge damage/death to one more intimate became their goal.
14. They originally shot a scene with Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) acquiring the red notebook by attending a black market auction and gassing everyone in attendance, “but we just didn’t get enough story out of him” so they did a re-shoot to allow him the opportunity for exposition.
15. They agree that Vision’s (Paul Bettany) sweater is created by him as opposed to something he picked up while shopping. “The fact of the matter is Vision is always naked. Everything is made from his skin.”
16. Downey Jr. wasn’t contracted for Civil War so they had to pitch it to him and get him “creatively interested.” Their approach ‐ an off-balanced, emotionally vulnerable Stark ‐ won him over.
17. The Russos are asked why they shot the church conversation between Rogers and Romanoff from a low angle suggesting it was simply an aesthetic choice in order to include the stained glass windows. They admit that’s part of it but also point out that it adds to the intimacy of the pair’s conversation.
18. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was always a part of the story, but they weren’t sure if his heroic alter ego, Black Panther, would make an appearance.
19. Putting Winter Soldier at the center of the conflict between Rogers and Stark was the key to them getting a handle on the film. The result is the “hardest script we ever worked on.”
20. Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) were included in part because they lack an emotional connection to the story’s darker themes and as such are able to bring real levity to the film. “It was important to have one on each side and you wanted the tone to be able to open up on each side.”
21. The look of Bucky’s apartment was inspired in part by the music video for DJ Snake & Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What.” The action is obviously different, but the look and lighting were influenced by it.
22. The stairwell fight scene was crafted (and shot at least in part) by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, the directors of John Wick, in their roles as second unit directors here.
23. Black Panther’s suit, as seen onscreen, is accomplished via a lot of work from ILM. The performer had a costume onset, but ILM “painted over” the outfit with a “completely CG” rendering.
24. 2nd unit director Spiro Razatos shot the car chase sequence here. He also shot the epic Nick Fury chase in Winter Soldier.
25. Apparently some early test audiences didn’t like seeing Vision cook, but they wonder if it was the sight of Bettany w/o completed visual effects. He’s wearing make-up, two and a half hours worth, but it still isn’t the completed image we see now.
26. The relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch/Wanda Miximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) will be “a key relationship moving forward.”
27. The large-size text onscreen announcing the different locations was chosen to work more as chapter markers then strictly geographic identifiers. The Russos felt the traditional small text often goes unnoticed. An unplanned benefit is that when “QUEENS” appears onscreen audiences go nuts knowing who’s about to appear.
28. Regarding the often antagonistic relationship between Rogers and Stark, the writers add that Howard Stark’s role is something they’ve always enjoying injecting into the mix. “We wanted to make sure in the final episode of season one of Agent Carter that Howard said something to the effect of ‘Steve Rogers is the greatest thing I ever did,” just so that it would pay off this idea that he would pursue super soldier serum all the way into the ’90s. It also works as Howard identifying something/someone he’s prouder of than his own son.
29. “If characters aren’t right and clicking early then they become chess pieces,” says McFeely in regard to how his and Markus’ preference towards starting a script with plot benefits from the Russo brothers’ attention to character. “And that is the danger of starting with structure first.”
30. The flashback to the other Winter Soldier wannabes features many of the film’s stunt doubles portraying the aggressive soldiers. The scene is also a tremendous misdirect as audiences are programmed to expect them to be the challenge faced by our heroes in the third act.
31. “Nice to have an Aunt May who’s age-appropriate to an aunt and not a grandmother.” This is a quality dig at Sony (and at the comics for that matter).
32. The scene with Stark and Parker in the teen’s bedroom was used as the audition scene for various actors playing against Downey Jr. The finished scene benefits from those multiple run-throughs.
33. Holland “forgot about the blocking” and left his leg on the bed where Downey Jr. was supposed to sit, and the elder stayed in character with his request for the boy to move it.
34. They clarify what’s happening in the scene where Scarlet Witch takes down Vision. “She’s not forcing him through the floor. She has made him unbelievably heavy.”
35. Ninety percent of the airport fight was shot on green screens.
36. They experimented with more radical Spider-Man outfits but went with the basic, more traditional one instead.
37. They spend the airport battle royale discussing the importance of character and motivation as ways to make large casts work, and their insights would have benefited Joss Whedon before making Age of Ulton.
38. They were asked to take the giant version of Ant-Man (aka Giant-Man) off the table at one point ‐ they don’t say by who ‐ and explored other possible distractions including exploding fuel trucks. They fought the call and got to include him, thankfully.
39. Holland has never seen The Empire Strikes Back. “Oddly enough he’s seen Kramer vs Kramer.”
40. There were concerns about Falcon/Sam Wilson’s (Anthony Mackie) crack about Mark Fuhrman being too outdated and had different options available (but Mackie preferred this one), but the recent popularity of The People v OJ Simpson brought the ex-cop back into public consciousness.
41. They asked composer Henry Jackman for a rousing musical beat for the sequence leading up to the icy base that sees everyone readying for battle. It was again part of the misdirect meant to make people think the fight against the old super soldiers was imminent.
42. Yes, that is the Bluth family stair-car from Arrested Development during the airport sequence. It’s a replica anyway.
43. Downey Jr. ad-libbed the “Manchurian Candidate” jab at Bucky.
44. Whereas Winter Soldier is a political thriller they view Civil War as something of a psychological thriller.
45. The reveal that Rogers lied ‐ a lie of omission, but still uncharacteristic for Captain America ‐ to Stark regarding the death of Stark’s parents was a controversial beat. “It was a long process and a long fight,” they say in regard to getting it into the film. They defend it though as a complicated character flaw fueled by Rogers’ friendship and “willful blindspot” with Bucky.
46. Part of pre-production involves pulling key pieces of art from the comics, blowing them up, and sticking them to the wall as “archetypal moments or big story moments we want to drive at.” The shot of Iron Man and Captain America facing off with the blast hitting the shield is one of the images on their wall from the very beginning.
47. The voicemail from Zemo’s wife is voiced by Anthony’s wife, and Joe plays the doctor who Nemo killed offscreen earlier. Anthony recalls Bruhl telling him at one point, “So, I’ve killed your brother and married your wife.”
48. They locked the picture after reaching a test screening that saw the audience evenly split between taking Stark’s side and Rogers’ side. I’ve watched the film a few times now, and I still don’t understand anyone agreeing with Stark’s stance.
49. They were careful with their mid-credits peak at Wakanda not to step on Ryan Coogler’s toes as he “was going to be spending a lot of time and energy thinking about Wakanda with his creative team” as the director of the upcoming Black Panther film.
50. The final tag ‐ Parker playing with his new toy from Stark ‐ was one of the most re-worked scenes in the film. They love seeing May (Marisa Tomei) “almost pleased” that Peter was in a fight. Regarding the SPidey signal itself, “I really hope they use this in the Spider-Man movie, we’re going to look pretty stupid.”
51. Films, filmmakers, and TV shows mentioned as influences, references, or just as interests include Jaws, The Boys from Brazil, the Daniels, The Terminator, Breaking Bad, Fargo, Mr. Robot, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, Beverly Hills 90210, Battle of the Network Stars, Law & Order, The Wire, Harry Potter, Empire Strikes Back, the Coen brothers, Blood Simple, and just about every Marvel film.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“We and everyone else began to notice the mass amount of destruction at the end of these movies, and do we just let that fly or do we say something about it?”
“Did you say ‘tone donut?’ Film students, write that down. Tone donut.”
“Every frame of Black Panther is a CG outfit.”
“One of my complaints about team-up comic books is that everyoone becomes worse at their job because they have to share screen time.”
“There seems nothing unnatural with flirting with this red-faced man with a jewel in his head.”
“People don’t walk out of a Marvel movie saying ‘that was so well structured!’”
“I cannot wait to put Chris Evans in the Nomad outfit.”
This is a terrifically entertaining commentary track with fun anecdotes and asides, but the biggest takeaway here is the insight and observations these four filmmakers have into the movie. They repeatedly point out the inevitable flaw in the Marvel formula ‐ even if they don’t phrase it quite that way ‐ and explore the ways it can be remedied through character and risk-taking. This is a commentary worth listening to for fans of the film and the Marvel universe as a whole.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.