Interview: Why Directors Anthony and Joe Russo Wanted to Deconstruct the Superhero Genre with ‘Captain America: Civil War’
Posted on Friday, May 6th, 2016 by Jack Giroux
A decade ago, the two films Anthony and Joe Russo had under their belts were Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree. Now they’re the filmmakers behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. The Russo brothers were initially a surprising choice to direct The Winter Soldier for some Marvel fans, in particular for those unfamiliar with their background in television, but they ultimately proved any skeptics wrong.
Obviously, Marvel is quite pleased with what the directors have done with their heroes, as the duo are currently gearing up to shoot Avengers: Infinity War later this year. Delivering “culmination films of everything that has happened in the Marvel universe” is no small task — indeed, it’s an incredible amount of pressure — but Civil War shows they’re up for the challenge, considering the massive balancing act they’ve accomplished with Marvel’s latest.
In our Anthony and Joe Russo interview, the brothers discuss deconstructing the superhero genre, the film’s central conflict, and Avengers: Infinity War. They both jump into spoiler territory right at the start, so, like our interview with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, you may want to wait to read this SPOILER-heavy discussion until after you’ve seen Captain America: Civil War.
The film presents a surprisingly tortured Tony Stark. What was the motivation behind showing Stark at his most vulnerable?
Joe Russo: That was the most important thing to us because there was no other way that you’re going to get Tony Stark, who in Iron Man 2 told the government to go fuck themselves, to take the government’s side unless he was vulnerable and he was in a position of feeling great guilt. That’s where we wanted him at the beginning of the film, which is why Pepper Potts left him. He’s extremely vulnerable at that moment. He does not understand where his life is going. He gets confronted in the hallway by a woman whose son he de facto murdered because he created Ultron. We were also not interested at any point in making either character in this conflict the antagonist. We wanted both to be the protagonist and antagonist at different points of the film, and to give you very emotional reasons to support each character.
He goes on the most horrific emotional journey of anybody in the movie. It is very empathetic. It’s very difficult to watch that scene with Bucky and Tony’s parents, but we shot it violent because we want you to be horrified. We wanted you to feel what Tony was feeling in that moment. Also, Bucky can be considered the longest suffering POW. Cap has an equally emotional reason that he is trying to protect and preserve Bucky, which is the last shred of his humanity from the past, the last shred of his sense of self and his home. The character is a pure victim. Again, all these characters do complicated things and, hopefully, in the end, the sum result is that you walk out of the theater arguing with your friends and family about who was right.
Anthony Russo: He’s a victim who murdered Tony’s parents.
While shooting the film or even in the editing room, was making both sides equally empathetic ever a challenge? Were there ever moments where you pulled back, worried a line or scene might turn Tony Stark into an antagonist?
Anthony Russo: You know what guided us, and we didn’t expect this at first… Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans have both now, in multiple movies, crafted very well-rounded, very textured, very deep characters that are also very heroic and rousing. They have great arcs. You actually can’t turn either of them into a villain. Unless you want to go the Bucky Barnes way and mind control them. Tony Stark is never going to be a villain, and neither is Chris Evans, but they are going to be flawed, they’re going to make mistakes. You can treat them as protagonists but can’t treat them as villains; it’s just not really in their DNA. You can’t do that to the character without destroying all the work that’s been done.
Joe Russo: All the storytelling. Unless you took them on a very specific journey to turn them into somebody very different than who they are. They both have codes, they both try to serve the greater good, in very different ways. Tony is a clinical narcissist, and Cap can be a stubborn son of a bitch. You can’t undo what’s been done for ten years. So we knew that all we had to do was put them on a trajectory towards each other, and then we’d create very complicated storytelling.