3. A day at the office for Kevin Feige
Kevin Feige is the face of Marvel Studios. As president of the studio and the producer on all of its films, he oversees the entire operation. He’s the boss, though the job of a movie producer remains a mystery to many. That’s because there’s no narrow description for the role of a movie producer. The job entails a large number of tasks in turning a basic concept into a finished film.
At this point, no one really questions that Feige is an outstanding producer and executive. Everyone knows that he has been the common denominator through Marvel’s eight-year run of consistent cinematic success. Joe Russo, however, takes time in the commentary track to highlight one specific example of Feige’s skills as a filmmaker. It was Feige who helped bring the biggest emotional impact out of War Machine’s (Don Cheadle) fall at the end of the airport fight.
“There was a reconstruction we did very late in the editorial process. This is where Kevin is probably one of the most value-add producers in the history of the business. He was sitting in with us in the edit room and he said ‘I think there’s another way we can get more impact out of that.’ And we literally, I think, changed the construction of two shots at the end there and people gasped in the next test screening that we did.”
Anthony Russo elaborates that Feige made the call to adjust the sequence of the shots in the edit so that the audience would lose track of where War Machine was in relation to the ground. This allowed the audience to be surprised when the ground appears right before the impact in the final shot.
Knowing how to make small adjustments to get a big impact is critical in elevating the quality of a film and this is a great behind-the-scenes look at that process. It’s a fun, specific example that demonstrates what you probably knew already: Kevin Feige is good at his job.
2. No Avengers died because that’s not what this movie is about
For whatever reason, some people have become fixated on this idea that some Avengers need to start dying in order for there to be any kind of stakes in Marvel movies. The Russos, Markus, and McFeely do not share that opinion and their reasoning shows why they get paid to make movies and the people who raise this oversimplified point do not. McFeely nails it in the commentary.
“Not saying you can’t have stakes when people die, but it is, I think, often a shorthand for stakes.”
If Captain America: Civil War had used that shorthand, it would have hijacked the story the filmmakers were actually trying to tell, as Joe Russo explains.
“This is a film about divorce. It’s a family getting divorced from one another. If you then were to kill a character, it’d become a movie about a family getting divorced and then somebody dies while they’re getting divorced. Those are two different stories that you’re telling. What we wanted people to walk out of the theater with, all of us, was the tragedy of a family falling apart, not the tragedy of somebody’s dead, which would’ve overshadowed the tragedy of them falling apart.”
That the movie ends with only three Avengers left at the compound and the rest of them as fugitives (most of whom were just busted out of prison) is proof that the stakes in Captain America: Civil War were very high. The team and individual characters audiences have come to know and love over the course of thirteen movies have been torn apart. One leader of the Avengers, Tony, feels completely betrayed by the team’s other leader, Steve (who no longer appears to be Captain America).
The adverse impact Captain America: Civil War has on its characters is beyond sufficient in establishing the stakes for this movie and the future of the MCU.
1. When the Russos knew the movie was done
The process of making a movie, especially a blockbuster the size of Captain America: Civil War, is very long. The last leg of that process, post-production, usually takes several months to a year for Marvel movies. That’s how much time is needed to complete visual effects and sort through everything that was shot on set to put together the best possible cut of the movie.
Often, the process does not really end until the deadline of a release date finally forces the director(s) to let go of the movie and leave it in the hands of the audience. Captain America: Civil War was probably no different when it came to final VFX shots and sound mixing, but according to Joe Russo, he and his brother/co-director knew when they had the locked cut of the movie.
“When we had our last test screening, we had 30 people that stayed after. We asked them some questions. The last question we asked them was how many believe Cap did the right thing and 15 people raised their hand. How many believe Tony did the right thing? 15 people raised their hand. So when we had the split, we went ‘That’s it. We’re done. Lock the movie.’”
For the filmmakers, the goal all along was to allow the audience to choose their own side instead of having the story decide for them. Joe expands on this point.
Had we committed to a point of view as storytellers, it makes it too simple. It makes the story too simple. And what’s the point of having two heroes fight each other unless you wanna… you should confuse the audience’s sympathy.”
There you have it. If you think Tony is wrong, it’s because you’re supposed to. If you think Steve is wrong, it’s because you’re supposed to. Captain America: Civil War is intended to be messy on an emotional and philosophical level so that the audience can feel what the characters are going through in the film. It’s one big shared experience in the shared universe that Marvel Studios has developed.
As I said at the opening, there are many, many more fascinating facts and insights in the Captain America: Civil War commentary track besides the ones I’ve highlighted. If you’re a Marvel fan and/or someone interested in learning about storytelling, it’s an awesome listen while you watch the movie.
Once you’ve listened to the commentary, be sure to come back here and tell me your favorite moments in the comments!