Interview: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Screenwriters on Moral Ambiguity and Setting Up ‘Infinity War’
Posted on Friday, May 6th, 2016 by Jack Giroux
Captain America: Civil War marks screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely‘s fifth collaboration with Marvel, after Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor 2: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and their work on Agent Carter. So it’s not surprising Marvel selected the screenwriting duo to handle an undertaking as large as Avengers: Infinity War.
The stories Markus and McFeely are telling continue to increase in scope, but the two rarely lose sight of character and the story at hand, never spending too much time teasing the future of the MCU. Considering the fact that they had to set up Black Panther, the new Spider-Man, and a tiny bit of Infinity War, it’s impressive how focused and cleanly told Civil War‘s narrative is. Perhaps in less capable hands, Marvel’s latest easily could have been a complete mess.
To learn how the script came together, read our Christoper Markus and Stephen McFeely interview below. Be warned there are SPOILERS ahead for Captain America: Civil War.
Juggling all these characters and storylines, how detailed was your outline?
McFeely: Oh, always. I am fairly obsessive compulsive. In order to work together, we need to know pretty much every step along the way where we’re going. We can freelance a little bit within the lines, but we need to know we’re writing the same movie. So yeah, on all our projects we’re big outliners.
Markus: Even though Marvel is actually a very small shop and you don’t have to talk to that many people while you’re making a movie, in terms of getting permission and things like that, there are so many key departments when you are making a movie like this, with character designers needing to get started on conceiving a costume, to effects people, the stunt people. If we didn’t have guidelines being issued on a regular basis, everyone would be left with no time to do their job by the time it actually got to production. So you need to start informing these departments very early on.
This is very much a Captain America sequel, not an Avengers film. For the both of you, what made this Captain America’s story?
McFeely: It’s the Bucky story. As we were crafting Cap 3 before we all decided it was Civil War, we were picking up the threads of Winter Soldier, and primarily that’s the hunt for Bucky.
McFeely: We kept coming back to the things Bucky did over those 60, 70 years as an assassin. What would come back and bite him in the ass?
Markus: What do we know he did?
McFeely: Yeah. And there was one, and we sort of pulled our punch on it a little bit. If you are familiar with Winter Soldier, then you know Zola tells them that Hydra Head killed the Starks. If he killed Tony’s parents, well, then there would be one very specific Tony Stark who has something to say about that. You can only make that Civil War.
Markus: That’s the concept.
McFeely: At the same time, I think Kevin wanted to address all the third acts of the Marvel Universe, which are not dissimilar. You know, we fight bad guys from the sky…
Markus: And make things blow up. Also, there is a certain conceptual level where it feels like Avengers movies are people coming together to fight an external threat. That’s literally what Nick Fury designed them to be. They get these guys together when a big threat comes. This is a different kind of movie. And it felt right for it to be a Cap movie. It’s political. In a weird way, Cap has become…for as much as people tend to think he’s a Boy Scout and a very black and white person, his movies have become where you deal with uncomfortable problems. Maybe that’s just who we are. [Laughs.] But they are murkier than your average superhero movie.
Steve makes more morally ambiguous choices in the film. If he quits, not to say that’s selfish, but more people would die without his help.
McFeely: Yeah. And it was scary to give Steve something he valued over keeping the peace. We had a lot of good conversations trying to figure out how far Steve was going to go. What would he admit to knowing? That’s a big moment, right, when he says, “Don’t bullshit me, Rogers. Did you know?” Can he say yes?
Did you have similar discussions about how far you could push Tony Stark?
McFeely: You know, it was that first scene with Alfre Woodard and, frankly, his arc. I think in Age of Ultron if he doesn’t learn a lesson from Ultron, then he’s a sociopath. And so, Miriam, Alfre Woodard’s character, is sort of a way to bring that all home. So I don’t think he’s acting out of character. But once he makes that decision — we’ve got to be put in check — everything sort of flows after that.
Markus: It’s more of a question of physicality. I think he does ratchet it up in the final fight…well, the final fight and in the airport fight, which is a lot about taking the gloves off, I think. It sort of relates to how we wanted to structure that big fight scene. Even at the beginning of that nobody really wants to hit each other. As they begin to hit each other and the pain begins to resonate, they hit harder. So that’s when you have to kind of modulate the force the people are using, modulate the level of animosity.