Captain America: Civil War
'Captain America: Civil War': How Marvel made its biggest action scene ever
Is it the biggest action scene in Marvel movie history? Or the biggest action scene in movie history, period?
To hear the directors of Captain America: Civil War tell it, the massive, jaw-dropping battle that happens when the movie’s two opposing group of superheroes clash at a German airport could be one of the most monumental fights in the annals of cinema.
“Up until this point we’ve seen these characters come in conflict with one another, we’ve seen them fight one another a little bit,” said Anthony Russo, co-director of Civil War, opening in theatres May 6.
“But this movie is the first time where they become full-fledged adversaries, and that’s the heart of the film. It gets ratcheted up to a level that we’ve never seen before in storytelling in the Marvel universe.”
His co-director brother Joe Russo puts it even more simply: “We’ve got a sequence that we’re shooting on Imax cameras that I think might be one of the biggest sequences ever put on film,” he said.
The Russos are talking about Civil War’s much buzzed-about airport battle, which sees two opposing teams of superheroes – one led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and one by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) – finally come to blows. Blows and bullets and energy beams and explosive arrows and telekinesis and spider webbing and a whole lot more.
The airport sequence is prominently teased in the trailers for Civil War, but the Russos say that’s just the briefest taste of what’s in store. The cast and hundreds of crew spent several weeks filming the fight, both on location at Germany’s Leipzig/Halle airport and on the backlot at Pinewood Atlanta Studios, where copious amounts of seamless digital effects added the terminal buildings, aircraft and often the heroes themselves.
“One of the first (comics) I ever read was Secret Wars, which is basically a massive superhero battle against all the villains,” said Joe Russo. “But as a kid I always dreamed of superheroes fighting each other.”
He got to see his dream come true. And design how it all went down.
“This is a massive-scale sequence,” said Joe Russo. “It’s the most interaction that the Marvel universe has ever had in one film, it’s the most characters that any of the movies have ever had in one film.”
Without giving too much away, the movie’s simmering, underlying conflict – a superhero registration act that will force the Avengers to operate under the supervision of the United Nations – spills over when the two sides meet and decide their beefs can only be solved through force.
During a visit to the Pinewood Atlanta set last summer, we watched a tiny portion of the big brawl being filmed, a shot that sees Team Captain America dashing forward to engage Iron Man and pals, only to be stopped short when Vision (Paul Bettany) unleashes a blast of energy, carving a line in the tarmac in front of them. Over the course of 45 minutes the cast and crew shot multiple takes from multiple angles, baking in the sweltering Georgia sun. On screen, the shot lasts roughly two seconds.
“The hardest thing to do is executing the action,” said Joe Russo. “And I think the toughest sequence by far in this film… was the airport sequence. It’s filled with a lot of moving parts, a lot of different characters, you want to move each character forward, you want to make sure you’re not leaving anybody behind.
“We went well into the post-production process still reshaping and thinking and reconfiguring that sequence to make sure that it has its maximum storytelling thrust to it.”
Civil War has several standout action scenes, including a cool opening sequence that has Captain America and friends slugging it out with the villainous Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and a fight inside a decrepit apartment building that feels like a superheroic take on Jason Bourne’s close-up, brutal fisticuffs.
But unlike the climactic battle against the invading Chitauri in The Avengers or the clash with Ultron’s minions in Avengers: Age of Ultron – both of which had the heroes beating the crap out of dozens of faceless, expendable aliens and robots – the airport fight is hero on hero, with much higher emotional stakes. There’s lots of drama in the various fights-within-the-fight, yet also a surprising amount of lightness, thanks largely to the presence of Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).
“To bring in characters like Spider-Man and Ant-Man… it gave us that opportunity as storytellers to sort of bring new colours into the film at key places in the movie, lighter colours, more whimsical colours,” said Anthony Russo. “And I think it helped balance that big fight out that they all have with one another at the airport in a really nice way.”
Is it the biggest and best action scene of any Marvel movie? Yeah, it just might be. Now, the problem is: how will they ever top it?