Captain America: Civil War is a tremendous balancing act. Marvel’s latest pits two of their franchise headliners — Chris Evans‘ Captain America and Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man — against each other in a battle that is both ideological and strikingly personal. The resulting film is a precision act that has to provide complete emotional arcs for both warring parties, introduce two new marquee heroes in Tom Holland‘s Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman‘s Black Panther, and allow plenty of space for the massive ensemble of teammates. Fortunately, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the team who previously helmed Captain America; The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, are more than up to the task.
Something that’s really impressive about what you guys had to juggle with Civil War is how many characters there are, and a lot of them new, but were there some characters you wanted in the film that didn’t make it?
CHRISTOPHER MARKUS: You know, almost everybody made it in. There was a period where we talked about bringing Wasp in. There was actually a draft Wasp was in because she was so almost on the edge of being in Ant-Man, but then you’re taking something awesome away from the Ant-Man team’s quiver if it’s like, “Well, we’re doing her!” Plus she had a similar skill set, so it’s like “Well, maybe we just isolate it to Scott.
STEPHEN MCFEELY: And as you see in the movie, you see that Scott is his own comic relief so it would change that a little bit. They would be this pair. Everybody else we would talk about them and then they’d go away, but we got most everybody back.
What was your backup plan if you didn’t get Spider-Man?
MCFEELY: It was Black Panther. Yeah, I mean, we always had a recruitment section which allowed for smaller arcs. Because not everybody should have the same screen time, the same arc otherwise it would just be unwieldy. So we definitely had a recruitment section where, “I’m going to get my backup and you’re going to get your backup and so that meant we could probably do a couple of different things and those were always … And Spider-Man where usually the first draft choices for those. Yeah that’s the best way to answer it.
So Black Panther would have been a recruit?
MCFEELY: Yeah, I guess I don’t mean that. Would he have been that guy?
MARKUS: It would have functioned differently.
MCFEELY: Yeah it wouldn’t have been the same.
MARKUS: There was also like, you would see recruiting Ant-Man.
MCFEELY: Yeah. That’s right. That’s what it was. There was a whole scene where they go get him in San Francisco. Just didn’t shoot it.
MARKUS: Yeah. It becomes like; what do I really need to see and what is the audience’s brain just going to fill in? Which is a weird thing we come upon every movie. We write the first draft and then, “Oh yeah. Absolutely need this. Absolutely need this.” And then, when you’re reading it through, or sometimes all the way to watching the cut, you’re like, “No. I know that.” Like, “We do not need to explain this. It is naturally occurring in a viewer’s head already.”
Well the best “We don’t need to explain this” was Spider-Man’s freaking back story.
MCFEELY: No because those movies already did that for us.
MCFEELY: Right. We have five of them and we know exactly who he is even though it’s a different guy in a different universe but people are well-versed in that, and we also didn’t want to eat the next Spider-Man‘s lunch. Like let them deal with it however they want to deal with it.
MARKUS: But it’s also not — One, we don’t have room for an origin story so what are we going to do? Like, he’s bitten by a spider in the airport? [Laughs] But it’s also…the fun of the ‘Civil War’ comic book is that people you haven’t seen in a thousand years drop in without explanation.
MARKUS: It’s like, “Don’t you remember this guy?”
MCFEELY: No, but okay [Laughs].
MARKUS: No, but I can look it up. There was a Black Goliath in 1978, and that’s him! So it’s fun to kind of just pluck Spider-Man fully born and bring him in.
MCFEELY: Then they cast the hell out of him. That was fun.
It was also cool because you guys kind of did the origin story without talking about it. It was all there in the scene, just subtle.
MCFEELY: There’s clearly something he is regretting, right.
Was that because you didn’t want to do Uncle Ben, or was Sony like, “Maybe don’t say Uncle Ben?”
MARKUS: No. No it was all just like, “We don’t want to go over ground that’s been covered.” And it’s almost…it’s more poignant when you don’t talk about it at this point because everyone knows it so it’s like you know.
MCFEELY: People are having your reaction, which is like, “Thank you, because I know it.”
MCFEELY: Right? So then, when you don’t get it, it’s like, Oh, I just got respected. Thank you.
Right. It is respectful I think.
MCFEELY: Yeah. I hope.
With a character like this, especially with this amazing deal that nobody ever thought would happen, how many people were watching every word that he said and double checking you guys down the line?
MARKUS” You know, when we were writing it, just the usual four or five Marvel people. It wasn’t like, “We need to call up and see whether he can say this word.” They read them afterward but it was, I would say, very few notes.
MCFEELY: On that end. And changes were, we only made changes really because of Robert [Laughs]. You know? We want to make sure that that all feels good in his mouth because he’s so wound together with that character. But, in general, that’s a pretty faithful version to the first draft coming out there.
Looking ahead a little bit, you guys have the two part Avengers bonanza down the road.
MCFEELY: I can’t be here.
[Laughs] It’s down the road, but realistically, not really for you guys.
MCFEELY: No. We are here not writing it.
Okay! So how far are you guys in your drafts?
MARKUS: We’re nearing being done with first draft.
MCFEELY: Yeah, we’ll turn in two movies at the end of April and then pass out for a day.
Then you get back your notes?
MARKUS: Yeah. And pick up the phone to have them go, “Yeah this is insane.”
MCFEELY: But then we’ll be starting the process of … We got back from Atlanta after spending all of our off time in Atlanta brainstorming. And then got back from Atlanta and spend the last four months of the year in a room sometimes with sometimes the Russo brothers and almost always Jeremy Latcham, who’s the exec on it and he did all the Avengers movies, and Nate Moore who was our guy on Winter Soldier and Civil War and just brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. It looks like a serial killer’s lair with all the cards and the stuff on the walls.
MARKUS: You know, and gradually it begins to take a shape and then gradually begin to go like, “Okay that’s one story.”
MCFEELY: We know that.
MARKUS: “That’s another story.”
MCFEELY: We know this.
MARKUS: “And those are two movies.” And then, now how can we surprise people? This is a case where people know the villain, people know about the stones and stuff like that. So like it is actually a little more known than the other movies we’ve done.
MCFEELY: Right. We’re starting a little less from scratch.
MARKUS: Yeah. But then what do you do with all that? If you read the comic … I’m saying too much, but if you read the comic it’s bonkers how it turned out.
MCFEELY: It’s pretty crazy.
MARKUS: How much acid are we expecting the audience to take [laughs]?
MCFEELY: I have said this, Winter Soldier is not the ‘Winter Soldier’. Civil War is not ‘Civil War’. They’re not direct interpretations. We take the best ingredients and make a different little meal out of it and we’ll undoubtedly do the same thing.
Absolutely. Well, you know, like Winter Soldier was your political thriller. This one’s a bit of a mystery. Do you guys have an angle that you’re working out with that one?
MCFEELY: We probably can’t tell you.
MARKUS: It’s literally based on everything.
MARKUS: All these things, the more you go further along, you know, you get the question, what’s it modeled on? Very often it’s modeled on the movies that have come before. We are beholden to, at this moment for Civil War, 13 movies of these characters and those faces and that’s what we’re sort of paying off. That’s why I think it works pretty well because it’s paying off something you love already.
Yeah. I think that certainly helps give you guys the room to bring in a lot more characters because the groundwork is there.
In terms of how much acid are you expecting the audience to do. We’ve got Guardian‘s which is pretty far out. You’re about to do Doctor Strange with they, many times, have said is going to be the weirdest thing yet. By the time we get there, how free are you guys?
MCFEELY: That’s a great point. We do — We look at all the movies that are coming and go, “All right. This is weird what we’re writing now. It will be less weird in a year from now or two years from now because the audience will have seen a few different things.”
MARKUS: I mean in the vaguest possible way we have no limits at the moment. Limits come with budget and with schedules and with people going, “That’s a bridge too far.” But, at the moment, anything we have the rights to, is in the bucket. And that’s the appeal of this project. It’s the appeal of the MCU, is that we can pluck as needed, both from the comic book background, but also from the movies that have already been made you know. Why William Hurt is in this movie because … Who is someone who represents the government who kind of has a grudge against superheroes. We need that character anyway. Oh, it’s one of the greatest actors in history. Let’s get him.
MCFEELY: Who was very good, and very nice to us, and eager to play him. Only green checkmarks. It was great. It’s the biggest challenge of our screenwriting lives I think.
MARKUS: Certainly on a logistical level, but I’m told we’re going to make it!
Awesome. Thanks guys, and congratulations.