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‘Captain America: Civil War’: How the Russo Brothers Deconstruct the Superhero Genre

'Captain America: Civil War': How the Russo Brothers Deconstruct the Superhero Genre

There’s a reason why there are striking similarities between “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Captain America: Civil War.”

Both feature mano a mano superhero fights as well as government intervention as a result of collateral damage. According to sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo (“Community,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier”), it’s all part of the zeitgeist of self-reflection.

Joe Russo isn’t the only one “growing weary of the traditional three-act structure in superhero films,” he said. “There’s a real reason why everybody’s deconstructing the genre at the moment. It’s in the air. It’s a very divisive time, it’s all gray and people see the end of certain things coming and the beginning of other things happening. That’s why movies like ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Batman v Superman’ and ‘Civil War’ are coming out this year.”

So the Russos latched onto Captain America (Chris Evans) as a linchpin for deconstructing the highly dysfunctional Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which kicks off Phase 3 with “Civil War.” His character arc in this trilogy became the perfect metaphor for our times, said Joe: “He starts off as a patriot with a very clear villain in World War II, and then when he works for S.H.I.E.L.D. in this clandestine organization, he has to rebel against the structure and convention because he finds out it’s corrupt.”

“Cap is no longer the traditionalist and Tony Stark [Robert Downey Jr.] is no longer the free-spirit,” said Anthony. “And Cap becomes an insurgent by the end of this film.”

In other words, in a clever reversal, the hero becomes the anti-hero and the anti-hero becomes the hero. And that became the tipping point for the Russos. 

Joe compares it to the evolution of the western, which turned dark and self-reflexive during the counter-culture ’60s with the emergence of the anti-hero. “In the journey of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we needed to deconstruct things in order to build them back up. And as you’re heading into ‘Infinity War,’ which is a culmination film, there will be a finality to it. It’s very important to have a downbeat heading into those stories.”

Thus, the Avengers are in a crisis situation as a result of the unintended consequences of their extreme powers. “Is there a greater good in allowing them to continue or should you mitigate the collateral damage by negating them?” Joe continued. “In which case, are you putting the world and its citizens in greater danger? That’s the whole question of the film and it’s not dissimilar to things that are happening right now with the election in the U.S. and what’s happening in Brazil. There’s a lot of radicalization going on and people are becoming very emotional about their points of view.”

Which leads us to the centerpiece battle among the Avengers in “Civil War” led by team Cap and team Iron Man, and featuring the enlistment of Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). 

“Everything is an uber objective for each side,” Anthony explained. “But at the same time, you have many mini-motivations, pulling everybody through the fight on different levels. For instance, Panther’s there because he got recruited to help with the uber goal of the fight, but he just wants to kill the Winter Soldier [Sebastian Stan] and he goes right to it. Spider-Man doesn’t really understand the stakes of the fight, but he can’t believe that Tony Stark has taken an interest in him and he just wants to impress him and help him. One of the most interesting things about the sequence to me has been that poor Paul Rudd couldn’t be more of red shirt in the whole fight and then he ends up being the central piece when he turns it.”

So where do they go from here in the two-part  “Infinity War” (set for May 4, 2018 and May 3, 2019)? A large, multi-perspective, “Nashville”-like tapestry featuring more than 50 Marvel characters and revolving around the ultimate MacGuffin offering unlimited power: the Infinity Stones.

“We’re on a metaphorical journey with both the genre and the characters,” Joe offered. “So there will be a finality to them. Can these characters repair their relationships? Should they repair their relationships? It’s a big act.”

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