‘Captain America: Civil War’ Directors Talk Spider-Man, Post Credits Scenes and ‘Infinity War’
Jon Favreau directed two Marvel movies and then left to work on other projects. Joss Whedon directed two Marvel movies and left after some “really, really unpleasant” disagreements with the studio. James Gunn has said he can’t even think about returning for a third Marvel movie at this point. Yet, Joe and Anthony Russo have just finished their second Marvel movie and are so excited to return for two more movies, they’re not even taking a break. Captain America: Civil War is in theaters today and on Monday they start work on the two-part Avengers: Infinity War; a massive project that will be filming for over 10 months later this year. They seem almost invincible to the exhaustion and struggles other directors have had to endure.
I spoke to the Russos at a swanky New York City bar just two days before their movie was set to open in theaters. They moved with almost complete anonymity, despite holding some of the biggest secrets in Hollywood. There they told me that they expect the Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming to be different than the one in their movie, that Avengers: Infinity War will be “telling a very different story” than the one in the classic comic series and talk about why they still haven’t seen Batman v Superman.
The following interview contains spoilers for Captain America: Civil War.
The movie has gotten really great reviews so far. Have you had a chance to celebrate?
AR: No. We started publicity for this about two and a half weeks ago and it’s been non-stop ever since.
When did you lock picture?
AR: We locked picture three days before we started publicity. Actually, technically, we locked it the Monday after we started.
JR: So, there was no rest. We went right into publicity. And now the movie opens on Friday and on Monday, we go right into the next one [Avengers: Infinity War].
Are you serious?
JR: (laughs) That’s how it works, yeah.
Did you think about how taxing this would be when you signed on?
JR: Well, we always joke that features are country club hours because everything is spaced out. You’ve got a year to prep something, a few months to shoot it, you got a year to post it… Television, which we did for 10 years, you’re in prep, you’re shooting and you’re in post, every day for eight months. And then when you’re done with that, you go right into a pilot, staffing up and into another eight months. So for 10 years, we felt like we ground ourselves to the bone working in TV. This feels like a vacation for us.
Does some of that also have to do with the fact that you work together and there’s a division of labor, if need be?
AR: I think that helps for sure. Everyone gets to the point where they’re fried. At least we have the opportunity when one of us is fried, the other one is still thinking.
JR: I was sick the last four days. I stayed home and slept for four days and he continued the press tour and now I’m here to join him. And he may fall apart by tomorrow and I’ll have to pick up the slack.
Before our interview, I was looking at some old articles and a headline actually said, “Captain America 3 Will Likely Avoid Marvel’s Civil War, According To Russo Brothers.” This was about a month before you announced Civil War. How much misdirection and, to some extent, lying are you forced to do as you talk publicly about your movies to preserve their secrets?
JR: It’s like working for the CIA.
AR: Often times though, in the case of the one you’re referencing, it’s not necessarily misdirection in the sense that it’s more uncertainty. It’s more like we haven’t fully committed to one idea.
JR: But if we say that we’re doing it and we haven’t closed Robert Downey, Jr.’s deal yet, or we haven’t gotten Spider-Man from Sony, it could blow the whole thing up. The deals were so complicated that we were working with Spider-Man as a character for months before the deal closed.
AR: It was a scary phase for us to be in because he was in the movie because we needed him in the movie. You’re in a position where you’re crafting a movie where he’s an important component of it, and you could find out in a couple months that it’s not happening. They kept telling us, “Guys, guys, you gotta have a Plan B.” We kept saying, “Yeah, yeah...” but we had no idea what we would do if we lost him. So, you try not to rock the boat and sometimes you have to keep things quiet.
Were you working with Spider-Man when the Sony hack happened and leaked the details of the potential deal?
AR: Oh, yeah.
JR: Without question.
AR: We are very close with Kevin [Feige] and we are very close with [then Sony co-chair] Amy Pascal. And Kevin and Amy were very close. It’s really very unique that everyone was friendly at competing studios. The deal is unprecedented. We’re talking about a $1 billion [intellectual property] being shared by two separate studios, it should never have happened.
People talked about it for years like it was a pipe dream.
AR: Well, think about it. Why should it? What’s Sony’s motivation?
JR: Amy responded really well to a screening of The Winter Soldier. She saw an early screening of it. We had closed a deal with her to be producers at the studio. So there was a trust level that existed between all of us. It was a sheer force of will issue. We just had to will it into existence. You can’t let anyone know that you can make the movie without the character, because it’s so complicated, any excuse for it to fall apart, it will fall apart. We need it. Every time someone would come to us and say, “Are you sure?” we’d go, “It’s even MORE important than the last time you asked!”
Sometimes the directors of an upcoming movie will direct their character in a Marvel post-credits scene. Did you direct the Spider-Man post-credits scene on this film?
AR: We directed it, yeah.
JR: We directed it because it’s our interpretation of the character. We were very passionate about Spider-Man and getting Spider-Man in the movie, because he was my favorite character growing up. I don’t remember the idea, when it got floated –
AR: He’s a prominent part of the books, so it was in the ether.
JR: This is based on how I felt about the character growing up, what I loved about the character, we wanted a younger actor in the part, which is something we had been insisting on for over a year. Someone who will reflect the high schooler who is endowed with incredible powers, but still dealing with homework issues, girl issues and acne issues. We were very proprietary about our interpretation of the character. Something that’s great about Marvel is that they value interpretation from movie to movie the same way they do with comic books. Our interpretation of Captain America is very different than Joss [Whedon]’s interpretation.
AR: But it works. The two can co-exist.
So you think that the Spider-Man we see in Spider-Man: Homecoming will be different than the Spider-Man we see in Civil War?
JR: Absolutely. It could absolutely be different.
Did you have any discussion about the different types of gadgets and Stark tech that he could be playing with when he returns home?
AR: Those tags are really important. You want to continue the story forward. Like the Wakanda beat. It was very much resolving that relationship between Black Panther hunting Bucky for the entire movie and fighting Cap the whole movie and the fact that he’s laid down his quest for vengeance to make amends with another victim and is willing to both harbor them and protect them their in Wakanda. That was a cool story for us and that’s why it made its way into the tag. Same thing with Spider-Man. You love the idea that there’s a mentor/protege relationship between Tony and the kid. It’s a really fun idea to carry forward. Now, Tony has broken his cherry, how is he going to lead the kid going forward from here.
JR: And it implies that the suit has technology that is yet to be seen and can be explored in future Spider-Man films.
You mentioned you’re going right into Infinity War, where do you start?
JR: We just got a script, we’ll read that this weekend and then we’ll get into a room with the writers on Monday and start going over it.
AR: We wrapped filming on Civil War back in August and starting in September we would spend about half our day in the edit room, and then spend the other half in the writing room with [Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely just breaking the story and thinking about where we could go with the movies. Right before the holidays we finished that cycle with them and we went through a detailed outline with them and they went off writing for the past couple months. Like Joe said, we just got the first draft from them.
Have you thought about how literal your interpretation of Infinity War will be to the Infinity Gauntlet storyline in the comics?
JR: You use the content as your inspiration, but we’re telling a very different story than they were telling in the books. We have different characters, our characters are in different places, our interpretation of the characters is different than their interpretation. So, I think what’s nice is that we can use it as an inspiration and it sparks a cultural conversation because everyone is aware of the title. It’s our job to payoff and to service the story telling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There are characters in the comic story that are very important to that story that don’t exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, like Mephisto. Do you plan to use your existing characters as analogs for very important characters you don’t own the rights to?
JR: Yes. You can take the core mythology and apply it to different characters.
AR: We don’t feel obligated to do that. We would rather see a new version of a story than a literal interpretation of a story that already existed. That’s part of the fun of it for us. So we lean that way with things. But we always want to take what’s fun and creatively exciting from the books. It’s cherry picking for our own narrative needs.
Are you shooting both parts of Infinity War at the same time?
JR: Yeah, so you could be shooting Part 1 in the morning and Part 2 in the afternoon. Simply because, the cast is so large. There are so many movie stars involved and they have so many different schedules, you gotta shoot everything you can with them, when you can.
How long will shooting last?
JR: It will be from November [of 2016] to September [of 2017]. We’ll be back in Atlanta.
How closely do you work with other Marvel directors like James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2) or Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) on their movies as you prep movies with their characters?
JR: It’s a very loose affiliation. We’re all friends. Everyone e-mails and texts one another. But I think everyone is fiercely personal about the work they’re doing and rightfully so. It’s how we can surprise the audience. It’s what keeps the storytelling fresh. I think you’re going to see now, going forward, more individuality in the storytelling.
AR: That’s what is awesome about Marvel. They give everyone their space to do that. That’s been a huge part of their success. Yes, there is an interconnected story, but it’s very much about what has come before, rather than what is coming after.
JR: It required a strong, producerial vision to start this universe, because it’s unique. This is something that’s unprecedented. What I think is invaluable to keep alive going forward is the individuality of artists’ voices and telling very different stories.
Can we expect to see more of the mysterious Russo brothers Twitter feed?
JR: (laughs) I don’t know who is running that Twitter feed. It may disappear, it may come back. We do have two more movies to shoot…
I know you’re busy, but did you ever get a chance to check out Batman v Superman?
AR: We will, but we haven’t yet. We’re dying to see it, but with our schedule, we just could not fit it in. But we will see it. Here’s the thing: We know almost nothing about what Warner Bros. is up to with their movies. Everyone is private with their process. They know nothing about what we’re doing. It’s not like you can make decisions based upon, “Oh, they’re doing that, because you have no idea what they’re doing.”
JR: You have to commit to what you’re doing and tell the story you want to tell. We knew there would be some similarities because there were similar titles and similar concepts. But if you’re trying to be predictive, you’re going to make a mess of the movie.