It’s now less than a month until the long-awaited release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a movie which finds Steve Rogers coming to terms with the very different ways wars are handled in the modern day than they were in the 1940s. We’ve been excited for the movie since long before any footage had been shown publicly or before they’d even finished shooting. Yes, we were allowed to a press day on the set of the film at Marvel Studios during its final week of principal photography all the way back in early July of ’13, before the SDCC panel or anything. There, we got to speak to the people in charge of making the film, including producer Kevin Feige, directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, about what we can expect from the film and what the process of bringing it to the screen was like.
Because all of Marvel’s films are connected yet separate, there needs to be a balance between following on from the previous entries and creating a cohesive, singular story. “I believe every movie should stand apart. If you hadn’t seen Star Wars, I bet you could probably watch Empire Strikes Back and get what’s going on. Same thing here,” said Feige, worrying about becoming too “inside baseball” with the whole endeavor. “I think this movie should work for people who’ve never seen The Avengers or Cap 1, and it needs to work for people who’ve seen everything. That’s important to me that the movies can play on multiple levels like that.”
For this installment, which Feige said is really the third chapter in Captain America’s saga, they wanted to focus on him being the square peg in the round hole in terms of how he sees the world and his dealings with the government. Feige says, “It definitely felt like this was the right time to deal with how he can come to terms with a past that is long gone and is seemingly never coming back, dealing with the shades of gray of the modern era, and certainly of being a part of an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D.”
The writers threw around a lot of ideas before settling on what everyone says is like a ’70s political thriller. Said McFeely, “It was a lot of throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck and eventually we set on the conspiracy genre. Everyone he knows is dead, so who can he trust?” Markus added that the genre also helped the production’s goal of accentuating how lonely Cap feels in his journey. “The great thing about conspiracies is that it’s not usually 16 people versus a conspiracy; usually it’s one guy feeling increasingly isolated.”
When asked what particular ’70s conspiracy movies were being focused upon during the development stage, McFeely didn’t even let the sentence end before declaring, “Three Days of the Condor,” the 1975 CIA thriller starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. “There’s a lot of that seepage from movie. Also, other conspiracy movies of the time like The Parallax View, and Marathon Man. It’s not like we stole particular things from them, but there’s just that sort of sense of layers of the onion being peeled away.”
The Three Days of the Condor connection was raised even further with the casting of Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce. Despite the old-school cool and Hollywood royalty of Redford, Feige explained that casting him wasn’t nearly as hard is it might have been. “Mr. Redford is not shy about the fact that his grandkids are fans of our movies, and he wanted to do something that his grandkids would watch him in.” That’s not always the case, he later explained, but the studio’s reputation often helps them attract the bigger names. “They know who we are already and, until we royally screw it up, they think it’s a safe place to come and put on a costume and stand in front of a green screen and come off very well.”
The film explores a lot about Steve Rogers’ various relationships, whether they’re positive or not. Markus explained that Cap has a lot easier time dealing with the threats than he does his coworkers. “I think the idea that he’s not alone in being a hero anymore is very prominent,” he said. “He thought he was getting into this gig 70 years ago to be part of an army, and he almost is that. Whereas he was all alone in 1945, there’s an assortment of people who have his back now.”
In particular among these people is Natasha Romanoff, a/k/a Black Widow, who represents the modern government stooge, at odds to Steve’s more pie-in-the-sky view of the world. “Steve and Natasha really bounce off each other well because of how different their circumstances are, their shifting value systems,” said McFeely. “We’ve always said he’s our Gary Cooper; the world shifts to him, and she’s a lot more flexible in terms of loyalties and how she’s going to get the job done. She’s the best representative of this century and the grey morality of it.”
However, co-director Joe Russo thought that the film is much more about an internal struggle. “The core of the movie is Cap’s relationship with himself,” he postulated. “Really, that’s the essence of the movie, Cap’s relationship to the modern world, and then within that you have concentric circles or overlapping circles of relationships.” He said that everybody else plays a part in that self-realization. “There are people he’s saying goodbye to, there’s a new friend in Falcon, he has a very strong relationship with Widow in the movie, and he and Fury have a great relationship, but it’s combative.”
Joe and his brother Anthony have been in show business since 1994 but had never, to date, been involved in anything of this scope or tone, having worked extensively on Arrested Development and Community. “We got a call from our agent who said that Kevin [Feige] was a big fan of Community and would we come in and meet on Captain America. Obviously, we jumped at the chance,” said Joe. “The conversations were really just about our passion for the material that kind of lined up with our love of comic books and our love of ’70s thrillers, and I think our passion translated and we ended up getting the movie.”
Feige explained that he tries not to limit director choices based solely on their past work, and that the more left-field candidates seem to work out. “We’ve taken people who’ve done very, very good things and very rarely has one of those good things been a giant superhero movie,” Feige said. “And like all of our director choices, it starts with meetings. Are we connecting on a certain idea? I pitched them Cap 2 as a ’70s political thriller and they lost their minds and started coming back with more and more great ideas.”
Anthony Russo felt that getting to work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier ended up being a very smooth process. “This project came at kind of a sweet spot for us in that we loved everything that had come before but at the same time they wanted to go in a direction that was completely new,” Anthony said. “So, for us, all of what we were inheriting was good and where we took it we had a lot of freedom.”
And finally, what kind of inspiration did the Russo brothers draw on for the film’s enormous action scenes? “There were a couple of action sequences that we knew were going to be really complex,” he explained. “We wanted to bring some kind of style of action that maybe hasn’t been seen in American movies in a little while. Really aggressive and more realistic.” He also described a lengthy sequence which required shutting down a large portion of a Cleveland freeway for two weeks. “We always knew that would probably be the most difficult part of the shoot, not only because of the length but because of fighting the elements, being outside.” He added that to the savvy filmgoer, “John Frankenheimer’s Ronin might be the biggest influence on the car stuff in the movie.”
To see how all the conspiracy and action comes together, see Captain America: The Winter Soldier when it explodes onto cinema screens on April 4th.