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It looks like Marvel Studios has found its screenwriting equivalent of Captain America and Iron Man in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. After penning Captain America: Winter Soldier, which became an instant canon favorite upon its release in 2014, the duo (who had previously written Thor: The Dark World, all three Narnia movie, and the Mark Wahlberg-Dwayne Johnson action-comedy Pain & Gain) was reenlisted for the follow-up, Captain America: Civil War, now in theaters. Not only that, but they’ve also been charged with reassembling Marvel’s A-Team in the still-to-be-titled Avengers: Infinity War, coming in 2018 and 2019.
Like any Marvel adventure, Civil War introduces new characters (i.e., Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Zemo) and conflicts (too many to name) while also continuing and/or resolving storylines from films past. The threequel also raises plenty of questions. To answer five of those, we went to Markus and McFeely for the behind-the-scenes scoop.
Warning: Big-time Civil War spoilers ahead!
1. When did Spidey come into the picture?
Marvel Studios announced that it had come to an agreement with Sony, which controls the cinematic rights to Spider-Man, in February 2015, allowing the web-slinger to join the MCU. But Markus and McFeely had been aware of the possibility as soon as the project became Civil War (sometime around Marvel’s Phase Three announcement in October 2014). “At one point we were told, basically like, ‘Run scenarios for a movie that Spider-Man would be in. We don’t have him yet, but we might ask,’” Markus remembered.
“So we worked up some scenes and had some spots for him, and then he was out. And then relatively late in the day he came back. And because he always appeared in that recruitment section, we were able to leave that kind of baggy and self-contained, and not tied to too many other things, so he could come and go if we wanted him. Plus we could expand or contract Black Panther in the movie to sort of fill the hole if Peter Parker wasn’t going to be in the movie. So we had good options.”
2. So the plan wasn’t always to unveil Black Panther?
Nope. Initially the plan was to just meet T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), plain-clothed future King of Wakanda, and to save the actual Black Panther reveal for his upcoming solo movie (if another Marvel movie didn’t co-opt it first). “You can get a lot of good stuff out of just plain old T'Challa,” Markus said. “So at one point we had [T'Challa] and Spider-Man and then Spider-Man went out and we were like, 'Well, we have a guy who owns a superhero costume, let’s have him put it on.’ So it wasn’t so much that we didn’t want him, it’s how much of this are we going to burn off in one movie?”
McFeely thinks the move will ultimately pay dividends for the Boseman-starring franchise, which will start with 2018’s Black Panther, directed by Creed’s Ryan Coogler. “Black Panther was always going to do very well,” he said. “But I think a lot people will be very excited because he’s already been sort of presented in a movie that they were going to see anyway.”
3. Did they consider killing Captain America?
We just saw Superman “killed” in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and many fans wondered if Cap might have the same fate given that he’s assassinated (at least temporarily) in the aftermath of the Civil War storyline in the comics. “We never really went into this with the intention of killing Cap,” Markus revealed. “One, because he doesn’t really die, so we weren’t going to do the time bullet [like in the comics]. And there are other movies coming, and it’s like, 'Are you gonna kill him?’ And you get crap for fake-killing people. We fake-killed [Nick] Fury [in Winter Soldier] and it worked pretty well, but… At a certain point you’re lessening the gravity of the movie when you kill somebody, because people are like, 'Oh now we’re in comic-book world because he’s gonna come back.’ So you get more gravity out really hurting somebody.” Someone like, say, War Machine.
The film does feature Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in an early action sequence, and he’s the villain who initially fires at Cap in the comics (though a brainwashed Sharon “Agent 13” Carter lands the lethal shot). But the screenwriters weren’t trying to misdirect us, they swear. “It was more that we introduced Rumlow in [Winter Soldier],” Markus said. “And purposely left him alive,” McFeely added.
Screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus (Getty)
4. How did Giant-Man make it into the movie?
Not all of the Avengers have standalone franchises, but Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) does. So you would have thought that Scott Lang’s ability to reverse-engineer his shrinking capability and blow the eff up would’ve been saved for, say, Ant-Man and Wasp. But Markus and McFeely fought to introduce Giant-Man in Civil War, and they won. “Theoretically he had the power in the comic, and the ant thing can only go so far in a big roundhouse fight,” Markus explained. “Also when you start with 17 or however many, 12, super-powered people hitting each other, how do you ratchet it up?”
McFeely said he believed directors Anthony and Joe Russo “had to go a few extra rounds with Disney” to assure them the Ant-Man’s enlargement wouldn’t come off as silly. “Disney, to their credit, they were very much like, 'Let’s do a real, grounded, issue-driven, superhero-conflict fight movie,’ Markus said. "And we were like, 'We want to put a 100-foot-tall guy in it.’”
Lang’s love interest Hope van Dyne (a.k.a. Wasp, played by Evangeline Lilly) was also included in early scripts for Civil War, but that was an entity that needed to be saved for the standalone Ant-Man world, especially given the upcoming 2018 sequel is literally called Ant-Man and the Wasp. “It would’ve been gutting too much out of that franchise,” Markus explained.
5. Why was Zemo so radically different from the comics version?
Simple, the comics he appeared in took place long, long ago. “There are two Zemos in the comics,” McFeely noted. “One’s a World War II villain, and then one’s his son. So he’s a '60s villain. So we would really have to stretch all of that given that it’s the MCU and Steve is 70 years removed as opposed to when they unthawed him in the comics and it’s 20 years.”
In the movie, it makes perfect sense that Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is motivated from losing his father, wife, and son in the Sokovia carnage from Avengers: Age of Ultron. But the screenwriters say it wouldn’t have worked if he was driven by the events of WWII. “Then you’re like, 'OK, this guy is weirdly resentful for something that happened to his grandfather,’” Markus said.
“We did debate, 'Should we just take the name Zemo off of him and make him a generic guy?’ And it’s like, 'No it’s more fun if his name is Zemo.’”
Captain America: Civil War is now in theaters.