CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – Balancing Characters, Action and Story

“We knew that we wanted to tell a very complicated story between Captain America and Iron Man in this movie.  A story that went to very difficult dark places.”
Co-Director: Anthony Russo

 “There’s never been an ensemble like this in cinematic history.  It’s really astounding.  Everyone is a headliner and getting them in a room together is pretty awe-inspiring.”
Producer: Kevin Feige

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is one of the most anticipated movie releases of 2016 and at a time when major studios like Warner Brothers are presenting superhero films that rely mostly on visual style and special effects, it’s refreshing to see that Marvel Studios still understands the importance of good characters and interesting stories.  Balancing these two elements into the mix will always give any film a much better chance at creating a stronger overall movie-going experience for their audience.  Recently, the creative team behind Marvel Studios’ new film CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR got together in West Hollywood to discuss how they went about balancing all the elements of great storytelling into their newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  In attendance were the films producer Kevin Feige, co-directors Joe & Anthony Russo and cast members Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jeremy Renner.

Captain America: Civil War
With CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, Marvel is using their marketing campaign to ask movie-goers the following question:  Are you on Team Captain America or Team Iron Man?  Why are they asking this?  Well, one of the main struggles in the film revolves around the conflicting character attitudes that arise as it’s realized how dangerous the superhero’s missions can be to the unlucky bystanders who just happen to be around when the inevitable confrontations occur.  Often innocent people are being hurt and some times even killed.  The result is a worldwide outcry that leads to a political decision to have all the superheroes and their actions regulated by a governing body.  This doesn’t go over too well with some and although Iron Man decides to go along with the decree, Captain America refuses and as sides are built, more and more superheroes (a total of 12) come into play as they decide which side to stand on.


L to R: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2016

Whenever a film is filled with such a large cast of characters, the filmmakers are charged with the difficult task of keeping everybody well balanced while also remaining focused on the story.  After all, with so many elements to keep track of, something could very easily get lost.  Chris Evans (Captain America) was the first to speak during the Team Captain America portion of the junket and he immediately gave credit for the successful balancing act done in the storytelling to the people he deemed responsible, “Movies live and die based on the directors and the producers…  We’ve all seen phenomenal actors and great scripts that still didn’t come to fruition in a good way and it really goes to show that a good movie lives and dies based on the directors…  you can have all the other pieces in place but unless you have quality storytellers you may fall on your face…”  Actor Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) added, “Our Writers, Christopher (Markus) and Stephen (McFeely)…  it’s just phenomenal how they were able to write a script that gave every character a moment, an arc…”

Captain America Press 1

Producer Kevin Feige also commented, “I think so much of the credit and success with balancing those characters goes to Chris Marcus and Steve Mcfeely who really know that with screen-time… it’s quality not quantity.  If people have moments that land, if people have a laugh, if people have a cheer, that’s sometimes all you need to say this characters been serviced, lets move on to the bigger story.  And Joe and Anthony (Russo) are so adamant, rightfully so, that the overall story is being serviced as apposed to every single character in the film.  So, I think that’s how you take this many characters and balance a singular relatively simple story… have them there in each of their moments where they earn a laugh or earn a tear or earn a cheer, yet serve the very specific story at hand.”
Having to weave a fair share of action into the film can be very complicated as well.  After all, there is always a chance that the action can begin to dominate, leaving the characters and story behind.  Co-Director Joe Russo addressed this issue by saying, “Action is very important to us.  These movies are about action.  The characters express themselves through action.  Action has to have storytelling to it for us or its vacuous and superficial…  You’ll get tired of an action sequence if it’s not either defining the character or moving the story forward in some way.  It takes an incredible amount of effort and thank god we have such an incredible team of collaborators, including Kevin (Feige) and Marcus McFeely and Nate Moore… who can work with us and keep us honest in terms of the story telling…  and this cast who are also caretakers of the characters in a way that we never could be.”  Co-Director Anthony Russo later on in the Junket added to this by saying. “My brother and I always say that we love action… but for us action always needs to be driven by a sense of character and a sense of story.  Beat by Beat By Beat throughout the action sequence or else you just lose interest in it.  It has no value.  So we looked for opportunities in the movie to play with these rich complicated relationships.”

Chris Evans went on to compliment the filmmakers again by talking about their successful development of all the individual characters, “They ground them in such an authentic way.  It’s real humans.  Real struggles.  Real conflict.  Good cinematic storytelling with a streak of superhero flavor in it.”  Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) had similar feelings. “That’s where I think Marvel has done it’s smartest moves, making sure that there’s a real emotional impact with what’s going on.”

Captain America Press 2

One aspect of the film that a lot of fans have been waiting for is the inclusion of a new Spider-Man.  This created a challenge to the filmmakers, as they had to figure out how to effectively weave Spider-Man, as well as a cameo by Ant-man, into the big battle scene that happens about halfway into the movie.  It had to feel like the characters’ arrival was organic to the story as opposed to being added only to appease an audience’s want to see these characters.  Anthony Russo commented on this by saying, “We’re big fans of balance in storytelling.  We like really well rounded movies… like movies that make us laugh and cry.  So for us it became very important to find a way to change the dynamics and modulate the tone in the movie by bringing in characters that didn’t have the same emotional investment that all the Avengers had in the events that were unfolding.  So to bring in characters like Spider-Man, like Ant Man, into the movie, who don’t have that baggage, it gave us an opportunity as storytellers to sort of bring new colors into the film at a deep place in the movie.  Lighter colors, more whimsical colors and I think that it just helped balance that big fight out… in a really nice way.  We tried to find very organic ways for those two characters to find their way into the movie…”

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War

Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) © Marvel 2016


Another new character to make his presence known is the Black Panther, a character that Kevin Feige explained had a very different motivation. “We wanted somebody who perhaps was invested, but didn’t have allegiances to any one side – who was essentially in it for very personal reasons himself.”

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a rather interesting film.  It weaves a lot of characters and plot lines together in a very effective manner (See my review which will be available on Friday May 6th). Respect for the filmmakers was very evident at the press junket and my favorite part of the whole event was when Chris Evans made it very clear where all the ideas came from. “Sometimes you think that with these movies, these giant Marvel movies… any big movie where you think there’s a thousand cooks in the kitchen – you assume there’s some sort of formula, there’s an algorithm that kicks in and there’s thirty people in suits going “this is what it needs to be.”  But the truth is it really is just Joe and Anthony and Kevin and Nate in a room mapping out stories for so many characters, so many arcs and their making them real, there making them actual fleshed out arcs and conflicts that are worthy of a film.  All the explosions in the world aren’t going to make you care and it’s nuts to think it really comes from a few people’s brains.”

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR opens across the country on Friday, May 6, 2016.  For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Mark Oguschewitz

Mark Oguschewitz moved to Los Angeles, California after graduating with a film degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Ill. Pursuing a career in the industry, Mark became an award winning freelance editor. He is also known for being the creative consultant for the podcast "Skywalking through Neverland" and co-host of the Podcast "Talking Apes TV." Mark's short film "Gourmet" took the Best Micro-Short honor at the International Horror and Sci-Fi film festival in 2007. His spare time is all about movies. It's not just entertainment, but has become more of a real passion, as he tries to see everything he can. Art house or Blockbuster – It doesn't matter, he loves them all.