Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is a rare achievement in the history of movies based on superheroes. It could have gone wrong in any number of ways thanks to a massive cast of heroes all fighting each other through a complex central plot and numerous subplots. The movie really should not work and yet it completely does thanks in no small part to the amount of care given to make sure each character has a strong place in the story and something worthwhile to say to make the choosing of sides credible.
During the press junket, I spoke with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely about the challenge of making sure so many characters had something important to say about the film’s central issue of heroes overseeing themselves or releasing control to a governmental body. McFeely discussed the difficulty of that process and how it played into deciding which characters would fall on Team Iron Man and which would land on Team Cap. He told me, “You described the only thing we did for a year. Teams shifted a little bit early on where some people were, very obviously, you had to really torture them in order to get them on one side or the other, so they fall naturally.”
Not every character falls in line as naturally as the audience might expect. Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), can be seen on the side of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), which is surprising given her obvious dislike for Stark in Iron Man 2 and budding friendship with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. During the writing process, McFeely focused on the question, “Could we create a situation where that would be surprising to the audience and disappointing to Steve?”
Black Widow was an obvious candidate to help subvert the audience’s expectations, but it was more than that. Markus elaborated, “She starts out dark, she’s been through two Avengers movies, and Iron Man, and this, and she is fighting to be a legitimate person from having been a very dirty soul so that it’s like, well, evolutionarily, she actually might choose to be with Tony because that’s the next step in becoming a solid, legitimate person and not a criminal anymore.” This is a continuation of Black Widow’s arc that first took hold in 2012’s The Avengers, as evidenced in part by the famous “Red in my Ledger” scene between her and Loki (Tom Hiddleston.)
Romanoff makes her point and she makes it well, just as her fellow Avengers do in the verbal debates the film shows long before the fists fly. One thing you would struggle to honestly say after seeing Captain America: Civil War is that you don’t know how anyone feels or why they chose their respective side in the film. It’s all there with brilliantly written and performed dialogue that is equal parts emotional and informative.
There are critical scenes that help us learn more about who these characters are and where they’re headed. Said, McFeely, “And that’s why, I think, these movies do best when they move the ball down the field. If you watch the movie and go ‘Oh, things are about the same [dusts off hands].’ If it’s skippable, you skip it. You can’t skip this one.”
Based on advanced ticket sales, the audience agrees with McFeely and will not be missing Captain America: Civil War when it hits theaters this Friday, May 6. You can read my non-spoiler review of the film here.