'Civil War' Writers on Introducing Spider-Man, Black Panther (Q&A)

"We needed those different perspectives on the same conflict, people who didn't have the same angst about everything because they hadn't shared five movies with these people," said screenwriter Steve McFeely.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

With its expansive superhero ensemble, Captain America: Civil War looks more like an Avengers film as opposed to a Captain America stand-alone.

The movie sees the return of Iron Man, Captain America, the Winter Soldier, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hawkeye and Falcon, as well as the addition of Ant-Man and franchise newcomers Spider-Man and Black Panther.

Civil War follows the Avengers as they split into two factions over legislation that would allow for political interference into their activities, with Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man leading the charge for the affirmative and Chris Evans' Cap taking up the mantle for the opposition. 

Steve McFeely and Chris Markus are the writer's responsible for taking all of these superheroes and storylines and distilling them down into a coherent film with a two-hour 27-minute running time.

The duo talked to THR about introducing Spider-Man and Black Panther, the film's political undertones and how they plan to deal with the complexity of the impending Infinity Wars.  

How did you work newcomers like Spider-Man and Black Panther into an already very crowded storyline?

Steve McFeely: They came around very organically. We needed a character who sat outside of the Avengers who was wronged by their actions and could take party in the festivities, if you will, and not have the same agenda to either side of the Avengers. By the same token we needed another fresh face — an ingenue — who would work with the Avengers and his arc would be something like, 'Look I am playing on the big team!' We needed those different perspectives on the same conflict, people who didn't have the same angst about everything because they hadn't shared five movies with these people.

The film doesn't show their origin stories. Did you hold off on that so it could be addressed in their stand-alone movies?   

Chris Markus: Part of the fun of comics is in coming upon a new character or new superhero that is fully formed and then finding out where they came from. Spider-man has had five movies prior to now so it isn't necessary to give them an origin, but it's fun to just come in on their kid. The same thing with Panther — this is not his origin in this movie, but he has been introduced so now you can go into the mechanics of a real plot as opposed to having a half-hour where he become that guy and then having less time for plot.

I think it makes for a better movie if people are just coming in. It also makes for a more organic Universe, where previously existing things are intersecting in an interesting way.

So when writing Civil War you were banking on your audience's preexposure to these superheroes.

CM: Yeah. We would not have included Spider-Man if we had to show him getting bitten by a radioactive spider. The whole movie is long enough as it is without adding that. The mantra for us was to bring in characters when the story needed them.

This movie, more so than any in the past, sees these superheroes dealing with the very real nature of international politics.

CM: You can't have a character named Captain America and not get knee-deep in some form of government policy. By having that title, you are sort of beholden to talking about being American and what that means. It has almost by accident chimed into what has been going on in our daily life.

Seeing the movie in it's finished state, does it surprise you how well it aligns with America's current political climate?

CM: I think our political climate, while incredibly conflicted at the moment, is always incredibly conflicted. I can't think of a certain time when we weren't arguing. I'd be interested to see which candidates would be on Cap's or Iron Man's side.

You guys have been with Marvel for five-plus years now; what surprises you most about the growth of the studio?

SM: The longform storytelling that they have committed to has completely influenced every study. Everyone is rushing to do this. I think other people can do it. Maybe. Marvel just did it slower and well and the filmmaking has grown and they keep aiming for better storytelling. Every day you see that someone else has decided to make a new Universe. It is a testament to Kevin Feige.

CM: There is just so much history now that these characters are finally starting to feel like real people. It's like the fourth or fifth season on a really good TV show. When we signed on to the first Captain America, I would have never thought this place would have become self-sustaining.  

Are there any words of wisdom you would tell your younger selves, who were just starting out on that first Captain America?

CM: Oh boy…uh…. What is really weird is that there have been no breaks between [each movie] so I feel like the same person because I haven't had the time to become anyone else.

SM: I wouldn't want to tell us anything because we got hired back and I wouldn't want to mess that up.

You two are set to write the two Infinity Wars films. How do you plan on navigating the convergence of all of those plots and characters?

CM: There are a lot of index cards.

SM: We learned with Civil War that you can have different stories that rotate around a central question. So when we have people all of the universe, relating to one central thing, it is going to cohere more than having five separate strands that you are hoping will bang into each other by accident. This is nothing new. In Star Wars there are a lot of different things happening on a lot of different planets but it all comes together.

Is there any one Marvel character from anywhere in the universe that you would like to see down the line in a Marvel movie?

SM: Namor. He is kind of a jerk and has a chip on his shoulder and he is a king and lives underwater. The degree of difficulty is so high, though. Cause it could be a great movie or it could be truly terrible.

CM: I think it would be cool to make a Marvel Zombies movie but that would require a whole other wing or, at least, another dimension.

Captain America: Civil War hits theaters May 6.

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