CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Set Visit Report: Earth, Wind And Hot-Ass Atlanta

A visit with Captain America's team.

“This is a trailer shot.”

I’m not sure which of us on the Captain America: Civil War set visit said it first, but we were all thinking it. We stood in the presence of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, spread out in a line, and we watched as they charged forward into battle. Ant-Man, The Falcon, The Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, all led by the inimitable, the heroic, the steadfast Captain America.

I stood there and I watched as superheroes burst forward, running after a jeep with a massive IMAX camera on it, and I had the feeling of standing just outside of a comic book panel. This was extraordinary four color action coming alive, right in front of me, and I was lucky to be there.

But I was also aware of the strife tearing the group apart. I knew that behind the scenes these heroes, seemingly united in common purpose, were actually coming apart at the seams. And I knew why.

It was because of music.

I’ve been to a couple of Marvel sets now and I’ve learned one thing - these actors really get along. They hang out. They have in jokes and they goof off together. Among the most solid connections on Marvel sets is that between Chris Evans - Captain America himself - and Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon. They’re such good pals, in fact, that they trade music recommendations. It turns out they have very different tastes.

“He's an interesting guy, that Chris Evans,” Mackie confessed to the visiting press. “I've tried to help him understand that the greatest band in music history, pound for pound, they invented the crescendo: Earth Wind & Fire. I don't care what nobody say, I've never been sitting on my couch and was like, ‘Man! Put on that Doobie Brothers CD!’”

Evans will have none of this. When asked what Captain America’s favorite Earth, Wind & Fire song is, he says:

“Ask Mackie what The Falcon’s favorite Beatles song is. He thinks that Earth, Wind & Fire is a better band than The Beatles. I mean, come on!”

This humble reporter must take Evans’ side, but that isn’t to discount Mackie’s extremely persuasive argument:

“Earth Wind & Fire is the greatest band of all time. If you don't believe it and have iTunes I will give you forty bucks. Download forty songs and it'll blow your mind. Blow your mind, alright? Greatest songwriter of all time, pound of pound, I don't care what nobody says. I don't care about his children, is Lionel Richie. I don't care what nobody says. I don't care. I never was on my couch and was like, ‘Man! Barry Manilow made me cry!’ Never happened. Lionel Richie. Earth Wind & Fire. That's it.

“But [Evans] don't believe that! And it confuses the shit outta me! How do you... It's Lionel Richie! I guarantee you, I put on Say You Say Me you're going to say ‘Damn. I need to text her right now.’ I guarantee you!

“You can't get a girl with Lionel Richie? You’re a loser. All of my high school years, every time I wrote a girl a note it was literally sixteen bars of Lionel Richie and then I would sign it ‘Anthony Mackie.’ She would be, ‘Oh, my God. You're such a poet’ I said, ‘I know, baby. I know. So cultured. I'm a poet. I'm just a renaissance man in my heart. I can build shelves and I can write poetry.’

“I'm just saying, call your girl and recite one of Shakespeare's sonnets and she's going to go ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ Call her and recite one Lionel Richie song. You're going to be tazing her off you. Real talk.

“I don't know, maybe you don't want to taze her off. That's cool. I don't know. Maybe you don't like tazing girls off you. That's cool. Knock yourself out.”


This is what it’s like to visit a Marvel set.

It was also, if we’re being honest, unbearably hot on this particular Marvel set. Civil War was shooting in Atlanta in June, and it was punishingly hot. The scene we saw being shot took place on the tarmac at a German airport, and that meant we were all assembled on a huge expanse of concrete, with the blazing Georgia sun beating down on us through the thickly humid Georgia air. The press scurried from shadow to shadow like lizards, talking shelter against the sides of buses and under the scant shade thrown by looming equipment. We downed water bottle after water bottle, trying to stay hydrated enough just to watch what was going on.

If it was hard for us imagine what it was like for the actors, standing there in full costume, running at full speed across this paved surface that was just bouncing heat back up at them. Their costumes are not as bulky as the old rubber molded suits from 90s films but they’re still wearing much more than anyone wants to be in these conditions. Between every take assistants would run up with little portable fans, blowing hot wind in the actor’s faces. They would come bearing water bottles with convenient straws. Evans didn’t pull off his Captain America helmet, which seemed heroic to me, but I also couldn’t imagine how Paul Rudd survived with that full Ant-Man helmet on his head.

Perhaps the only thing harder than dealing with the heat on the set of Captain America: Civil War is getting a straight answer from the people involved with Captain America: Civil War. Each actor meets the press armed with a piece of paper; while we can’t see what’s on it, it soon becomes clear that the paper lists the verboten topics - the things they must not reveal to us. It feels a little silly, especially as experience told me many of the off-limits topics would be touched on in marketing before our set visit embargo was lifted, but you gotta play the game. It isn’t like you’re going to bum-rush Sebastian Stan to grab that piece of paper and see what’s on it.

Not that I didn’t consider it.

Let’s put it this way: when Stan and Evans sat together for their interview, Stan clutching that paper like it was his directions home from a new school, and someone asked where we find Bucky Barnes at the start of this movie, Evans leaned over and taunted his co-star:


Stan did give us an answer, though:

“Whatever notions you had about that post-credits scene [in The Winter Soldier] where you see him in the museum and obviously he’s staring at himself, whatever ideas you got from that scene, keep thinking about those and go with your own thoughts on that.”

Fair enough. Evans was able to talk more about where we find Cap at the beginning of this film:

“He’s still on the search for Bucky. That’s the thing about these movies. You go do The Avengers, you gotta put your own plot on hiatus for a second, and then we try to pick up where we left off. A big piece of that is searching for Bucky. But at the same time, we left off Age of Ultron with a new team of Avengers. So they’re still trying to break in the new members. And I think it’s no secret that what happens is there’s a world around them that expects a little bit more responsibility for their actions. The Avengers have been operating independent of any government restriction, so I think there’s plenty of people that makes nervous. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying what happens is certain governments expect a bit of a change.”

In the comics Civil War broke out over the issue of unmasking, of whether heroes with secret identities should be forced to register themselves with the government. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s a little more complicated - there are almost no secret IDs at all. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely shed a little light on just how Civil War starts in the film - just what kind of change governments expect.

“There’s an incident that will force the governments of the world to go, ‘Wait a second. Let's talk about the laundry list of things that we're not happy about. Let's finally do something about that. We think you guys need some oversight,’” says McFeely. “It's more about oversight than unmasking or outing anyone.”

Markus picks up the thread from his writing partner: "It plays in an interesting way into some critics reactions to these movies, where it goes, ‘You tore down half of New York. Why are we happy about that?’ We dropped helicarriers on Washington, DC. Eventually you've got to go, if this is a realistic world, somebody's going to go, ‘Stop dropping helicarriers on my fucking head.’”

For Marvel this is the logical next step in the storytelling for their shared universe. It’s all been leading to this, even if it wasn’t explicitly the plan from the start. “The Avengers were assembled under SHIELD. That makes sense,” says producer Nate Moore. “This organization will control these super-powered heroes for kind of a one-off situation. What happens when SHIELD is gone and all these people who have powers that you and I don’t have are running around sort of unregulated? It seems kind of like a good idea as long as you are on the right side of that.

“But is everybody comfortable with that? And then once that sort of external pressure is put upon them, how do all these characters who are individuals….all The Avengers don’t agree on everything. We’ve seen that in other films. So when that time of external pressure is put in these very different personalities, Falcon is going to respond very differently from The Widow, which will respond very differently than The Vision, and Tony, and Cap, and so on. So that to us was what’s interesting.”

How the characters respond is incredibly important to Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of Civil War, the same two guys who made The Winter Soldier into arguably the best Marvel movie yet (and inarguably one of the best American action films of the decade). They’re proud of the fact that Honest Trailers couldn’t find a fault in The Winter Soldier, and although they don’t expect to come out as well every time, they spent a lot of effort figuring out how these characters would react and behave in this situation.

“We spent a good year and a half literally sitting in a room every day with Markus and McFeely and Nate Moore, combing through the script,” said Joe Russo. “You're constantly trying to flush out logic for every character, and you have to track it. You have to do two or three days where all you do is talk about ‘What is Panther doing? What is he doing in this scene? How does he feel in this scene? What's his motivation in this scene? Is this the correct end line for him? Is this setting him on the wrong motivation?’ And you have to do that for every character.”

“We do a lot of ensemble work,” said Anthony Russo. “Most of our work is ensemble work and we love ensembles. I think that's part of the fun for us, we love looking at movies through the filter of a specific character. Characters who aren't the lead and figuring out the film from their point of view. How do we connect everything on an emotional level, on a narrative level? This movie is great fun on that level, very complex.”

It isn’t that complex for Hawkeye. While his pal, Black Widow, has joined Team Iron Man, Jeremy Renner explained that it was easy for his character to choose Team Cap. “He’s not a spy like Natasha – she’s a little more slippery in her decision-making, maybe,” he said. “But Barton is a pretty brass tacks kind of guy. Get the job done so I can go home. So I don’t think it’s very difficult for him to decide.”

And getting home, as we saw in Age of Ultron, is a big deal to Clint Barton. “You have real life, and then you have fight life,” Renner said. “And that’s the character that I love now; discovering that in him makes him a very sort of accessible Avenger. That’ll always be there, I’m sure. And it certainly plays in this movie.”

Which raises the question fans have in this movie - if Hawkeye gets his story, and if Vision and Scarlet Witch get their story (and they do get their story. Said Elisabeth Olsen: "I think there’s something unique in the fact that her powers come from the same thing that powers him  {the Infinity Stone Vision now wears on his forehead}, and that is how we’ve made them have something in common, as opposed to being what the comics kind of created, which has been pure romance. But they do have something uniquely special because of that.”) and if Black Panther and Tony Stark get their stories (which you’ll read about in the next instalment of this set visit report) and Bucky gets his story… what about Steve Rogers? Are they planning on having any Captain America in their Captain America movie?

“I’ll take all the help I can get,” laughed Chris Evans when asked if there were too many co-stars in this Captain America movie.

“Civil War is kind of a backdrop to what's going on, and what is going on is 100% Steve's story,” said Markus. “We kind of set up an area with Winter Soldier, where we're the franchise that kind of takes in the consequences of all the fun superhero destruction and action. If the Avengers kind of have more of an Iron Man feel and everyone comes and plays in Iron Man's world. We wanted to drag everybody into Cap's world.”

And it’s an element of Cap’s world - The Winter Soldier himself - that makes what was a disagreement escalate into something more. Nate Moore told us that Bucky’s involvement makes everything more complicated: "What makes it a Cap movie is that external pressure is applied and then The Winter Soldier pops back up. So, we were already kind of at odds with each other and now this very true free radical shows back up. We don’t know if he’s a good guy. Is he a bad guy? Does he remember everything? Does he remember nothing? Cap is going to have a very different reaction to that than, say, Widow, or Tony, or Falcon, or Vision because he’s a bad guy to most of the world except for Cap, who goes, ‘That’s my best friend.’"

“This is a huge relationship,” agreed Evans. “This is a huge piece of his history, it’s a huge piece of his struggle, not just to have someone that he can connect to on a friendship level, but just the guilt that he must have. ‘I let you go. I’m sorry.’ Just the survivor’s guilt element.”

But that’s something Cap doesn’t let many people see. “Any other person who has gone through what Cap is going through, they’d probably bleed on people a bit more. Cap’s such a selfless guy, he kinda stuffs all that down, which is a shame because there’s a lot of good meat on the bone to chew on. In this one we get to explore that struggle a bit more.

"He refuses to show the struggle. I think this is the one time there’s a conflict where his compass doesn’t know which way to point. I think he handles conflict well because he knows what’s right and he knows the right thing to do. Sometimes that’s hard, because it may affect  certain people, and it may butt with what other people believe, but at least he knows his own mind. I think this is one of the first times he doesn’t know. And I think when you’re kind of aimless, I think that’s terrifying.

"Ultimately he knows he has a good heart. The problem is we all think we have good hearts, we all think we know what’s best. And this is the nature of compromise. It’s tricky to understand where to bend. I think in the past films, in the first one we all know Nazis are bad. In The Winter Soldier Hydra is no good either. But this one, there’s no clear bad guy, and I think that’s far more parallel to the struggles we got through in our current political state. There’s logic to both sides, and where do you bend? Where’s the compromise? What’s the goal? I think Cap’s struggling because every time he has fallen in line, and has been a soldier, and has taken orders and leaned on the structure of society, it’s kinda turned on him. And I think he ultimately feels the safest hands are his own, because at least he can trust them. But again, that’s not gonna work for the masses. So it’s the first time he really doesn’t know what the right answer is.”

In The Winter Soldier the theme was that Cap doesn’t change, that he makes the world change around him. But in Civil War Cap finds himself in a world where things have changed in ways he doesn’t really understand. “When you're a guy who has very strong beliefs, and the larger system suddenly changes around you, you become a criminal without moving,” said Markus. “You don’t have to go rob a bank if they decide that what you've been doing since the day you were born is suddenly illegal, you don’t have to change.”

“That said,” interjected McFeely, “we don’t want him to be a boy scout. And we don’t want him to never pay attention to the world around him and have blinders on. So at the edges we want him to sometimes go, Have I screwed up? He has doubts.”

Markus nodded. “You want him to go, 'Am I a dick? Am I? Am I just annoying for no good reason?'”

At the beginning of this piece I told you that the fight scene we seeing took place at an airfield in Germany. That location wasn’t chosen lightly - the Russos wanted to return Steve to the place where he had the clearest moral superiority at a time when his superiority is much less clear.

“Bringing it full circle is really important,” said Joe Russo. “We're taking Cap to a place in this movie that he's never gone before. That for us is taking Cap full circle. How do you take this guy that began where he began and had that great arc that he's had and still take him to a place he's never gone before? We always talk about him, he's such a tough character in a lot of ways because he's so strong and so centered, he has such strong ethics and morals, how do you upend a character like that? It's easier to upend a character like Tony Stark in some ways because he's a little all over the place. You can spin him out easier, so to speak. So how do you spin Cap out? We found a way to really get at the heart of who Cap is to shake his foundation, push him somewhere I think that's going to surprise a lot of people.”

Next time: Team Iron Man! How does Black Panther play into it all? And is Tony Stark just a jerk, or does he maybe have a point? He is definitely a nerd, according to Anthony Mackie: 

"I don't know why everybody thinks Tony's cool, and Tony thinks he's really cool, but Falcon just thinks he's a nerd. And not like a cool Millennial nerd. Nowadays you see a nerd and they're, like, hot chicks and they're like 'I'm a nerd!' and you're like 'What's up?' I'm talking about a 1985 nerd. Naw, kid. You don't win.

Let me leave you with this exchange between Jeremy Renner and Elisabeth Olsen as they discuss what Chadwick Boseman, in a full body Black Panther suit with a closed face mask, deals with in the scorching Georgia heat:

Olsen: He has the worst costume, Black Panther.

Renner: I know, that poor guy. It’s the worst of any Marvel character.

Olsen: Yeah I thought Ant-Man was bad and then I saw him…

Renner: Cap would complain about his cowl and it’s like dude, Panther’s got three on! Terrible, sweating – if it takes you thirty minutes to go to the bathroom, that’s a problem.

Olsen: It takes me thirty minutes…

Renner: Thirty minutes! You got a mini-skirt on!

Olsen: Nah, I got pants on.

Renner: Oh, maybe that’s just a dream I had…

This is what it’s like to be on a Marvel set.