Fraternal filmmaking duo Joe and Anthony Russo had lofty ambitions when setting out to stage the crucial airport sequence pitting Team Cap against Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War.
“When Joe and Anthony came to us and pitched it, they said, ‘We want this fight to be remembered in history,’” fight choreographer James Young told Yahoo Movies in the lead-up to the film’s upcoming Blu-ray and DVD release. “I think it might be one of the biggest sequences ever put on film,” Joe Russo told the Toronto Sun at one point during shooting.
The “splash panel,” as the sequence was dubbed in reference to a full-page comic book illustration, didn’t disappoint. The scene is 15 minute-long nerdgasm. It fulfills the titular promise and then some, with Captain America (Chris Evans), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) squaring off against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) for an extremely royal rumble. The fight is full of pulsating action, big surprises (hey, Giant Man!), sharp humor, and one climactic near-death. Like War Machine in that particularly scary moment, fans fell hard for for the tarmac scene.
Watch the actors and crew discuss the scene in an exclusive clip:
But it wasn’t easy. “That sequence took a long time to conceive, to structure, and then to execute,” Anthony Russo told us. “And it involved all phases of production, from pre-production to production to post-production.”
Some numbers to chew on…
As they described to Yahoo, the Russo brothers, along with folks like Young and visual effects supervisor Dan Deleeuw, started planning the 12-character brawl roughly eight months before the film went into production. “We were like kids in a boardroom playing with little figures,” Young said. “And we spent hours talking and going over beats.”
The scene took 30 days to shoot — 27 on a backlot at Pinewood Studios in suburban Atlanta, and three additional at Germany’s Leipzig Airport, where the confrontation actually takes place in the film. At Pinewood, the cast and crew shot in sweltering triple-digit temperatures and 100 percent humidity, which presented a hellish experience for the actors and stuntmen behind the heavily suited characters like Black Panther (Boseman and Jason Chu, respectively) and Ant-Man (Rudd and Mark-Aaron Wagner). To recreate the German tarmac using a massive green screen at Pinewood, Deleeuw and team spent one week at Leipzig digitally scanning the airport and taking aerial textures via helicopter.
All told, the battle was fought on three different continents — shot in Europe and North America, then outsourced to Asia for some of the effects (in addition to ILM work done in both San Francisco and Vancouver). Deleeuw guesstimated there were at least 500 FX coordinators who had some hand in it over the course of post, in case you’re wondering why Marvel’s end credits scroll so long.
And the scene originally ran 19 minutes before it was trimmed down to a leaner 15.
One of the moments that was cut — a scene in which Bucky gets hold of Cap’s shield in a slick nod to the comic source — will be a deleted scene on the Blu-ray, and you can watch it here:
The challenges came aplenty. For the Russos, it was “how to find ways to explore character through action, and advance the story through action,” Anthony said. “Especially since we’re dealing with a lot of characters who were all of sudden coming together. And they all had [one of two story objectives]: One half of them wanted to get to a helicopter and get out there to stop the super-soldiers; the other half of them wanted to [stop their rival heroes].”
For Young, it was the “geography” of the characters: “Say we’re shooting a shot with Captain America and Black Panther fighting, then in the background we have Bucky and someone else fighting, and then you have this person and this person fighting,” he explained. “So in terms of it all on the design end, you’re trying to keep track of where everyone should be at every given moment, which was difficult.” To solve that dilemma, Deleeuw created maps that essentially charted the course of each superhero’s fight pattern.
Variety was also a demand. There are at least a dozen micro-clashes within the macro-showdown (i.e., Spidey’s pursuit of Falcon and Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch raining down cars on Iron Man, Ant-Man getting a shot to the Ant-crotch from Black Widow), and Young as his team had to make each one different. “We don’t want to repeat choreography and we want to have these epic characters do epic maneuvers you’ve never seen before.”
Those maneuvers also have to stay true to each identity. “When you have two characters come up against each other, they have a set of rules they have to play by,” Young said. “If you break the rules, it’s not going to look right.” Cap may struggle taking on Black Panther, for instance. But Winter Soldier and Black Panther make perfect sparring partners, since Panther’s vibranium suit can withstand the punishing shots delivered by Soldier’s cybernetic arm.
For Deleeuw, meanwhile, it was purely a matter of wrapping their collective heads around the scale of the battle. “The biggest challenge was the scope,” he said. “The sheer amount of shots that went into it.”
Like a boisterous coach claiming Super Bowl in the preseason, the Russos predicted big things out of the scene, and the way audiences reaction, they’re now allowed a victory lap. “I think we achieved something grand with it,” Joe Russo said. “And now we’ve got to work hard to try to outdo ourselves on Infinity War.”
History will be waiting.
Captain America: Civil War hits Digital HD on Sept. 2 and Blu-ray, DVD and on-demand Sept. 13.