Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the darkest of all the Marvel movies. But then how on EARTH did directors Anthony and Joe Russo manage to fit in the most ridiculous Captain America villain of all time, Batroc the leaper? In our exclusive interview, we go deep into the secrets of making Cap (and his friends) go dark.
How do you update "the greatest generation" mentality for the modern hero? Captain America is literally plucked from a different world and shoved into this. He's not from a generation Y or a member of the Millennials group, but that's who audiences typically cheer on in films like this. How do you bridge the gap? How do you upgrade him without changing him?
Anthony Russo: Here's why Captain America's perspective is valuable to us in the modern age. We've all been stuck to where we are as a society in this world incrementally over the decade or over several generations. We've seen Watergate, we've seen the Cold War, we've seen 9/11.
Joe Russo: The good thing about Captain is, he hasn't gone through the incremental steps that we've gone through to get to where we are. He's sort of fresh eyes, in away. And those fresh eyes are very valuable. They call a spade a spade, they cut through the BS, so to speak. At first it wasn't so much a question of "how do you update Cap?" or rather, that his point of view is more valuable than our present day point of view.
Cap's got two journeys to make in this movie. One is, he has to figure out how to become a part of the modern world. The second thing is that he's got to figure out how he brings the point of view that he's carried with from that World War II generation, into the modern day and make that valuable to us. It's a bit of movement on both sides.
You brought it up a little, I would like to delve into it a bit more. The military lifestyle and "being a good soldier" is super important to Captain America. Plus it's really the only thing he familiar with anymore in this new world, its the only constant (the military). What's Captain America like when you strip that one last thing away form him?
Anthony Russo: That's what you get in the first part of the first act of this movie, is seeing him lost. He doesn't quite understand his place in this world. The principles which he stood by and that he fought for feel [as though] they are no longer there. He's driven into action by his principles, but in a cynical world where there are a lot of covert agendas, he no longer has those principles to fuel him or he can't find them. That's really the journey for him as a character in this movie, rediscovering those principles.
Did the NSA scandal shape your ideas about this movie's SHIELD storyline, and if so how?
Joe Russo: The NSA scandal didn't break until we were already shooting. But everything that was behind that scandal was already in the ether at that point. We were already thinking about preemptive strikes, civil liberties, drone technology, does the president have a kill list, etc. etc. Those things were very much in our minds, and the fact that we, as a society, were rationalizing that kind of behavior and how that was paradoxical to American values — that was very much the bedrock of where we were with the narrative.
What's interesting about this movie is that it's set in the present day whereas the last film was set in the past during World War II but didn't really deal with the actual too terribly that much. It just dealt with Hydra, not with the Holocaust, the politics, or specific battles. Captain America's biggest concern was Hydra. However in this sequel, even though it's set in the present day, it deals with a lot of the issues that solider fought for during World War II. Specifically mass murder, genocide, a bloody "cleansing" of the world. Was it important for you to revisit WWII themes?
Anthony Russo: It was important to truthfully explore those themes. It's a political thriller. You want to make the movie as relevant to the audience as you can so they have strong and emotional experience watching the film. It was critical to us to be as truthful as we could, in respect to the heavier themes and issues in this movie. It was something that we pushed for when we came onto the project, we really wanted layered into the script was as much topicality and complexity as we could.
I started collecting comics when I was 10. And one of the first comic books I ever got my hands on was the Captain America Falcon team up. A problem I always had with Cap (when I was a kid) was that he always felt a little simplistic. I used to imagine Steve McQueen as Cap in my head because it would bring a certain amount of bite and edge to the character. I also collected in the early 80s when Frank Miller wrote the Dark Knight series. I like post modern deconstruction when it comes to the hero. So we wanted to deconstruct Cap in this movie. And the only way we could do that is to bring in a relevant point of view from our time period that we could smash into his point of view.
Joe Russo: You brought up a really interesting observation in your question. The first Captain America is very much an homage to the golden age of the Cap comics. This movie, we drew our inspiration more from the Ed Brubaker comics. There was a tonal difference between those two runs. Where the original version was more swashbuckling and had more fantasy elements to it. The more modern stuff is grounded in our current political reality. We thought that was a fun journey to take Cap on. If you're going to take a character and pull him out of one time period, and put him in another, you want to find a time period he'd be uncomfortable in. We thought bringing him into this hardcore reality would be the best thing to do.
It's very much the Rocketeer versus a Paul Greengrass kind of film. Of all the characters you decided to include, why did you decide to make Batroc serious. He's a joke in the comics. Why Batroc?
Anthony Russo: You want to be faithful to the mythology, because that's something that the fans get excited about. Like Millar with the Ultimates, you reinterpret. You can take that mythology and put it through a filter. There's a Greengrass version of Batroc that exists. And when people see the movie they will understand how we used him, he's basically a terrorist in the movie. He has a fledgling terrorist organization and he's basically this mercenary for hire, so he fits into this world of our movie. It was something that we could borrow from the mythology.
The same goes for Brock Rumlow [aka Crossbones] — originally, he wasn't in the film. But we saw an opportunity to perhaps do an origin story for him and have him work in the MCU. Clearly, this isn't his origin in the books, but Joss [Whedon] said, very wisely, that this is called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We have two hours to tell a story versus years, and years of comic book issues. We saw an opportunity to bring Crossbones into the universe, and we went for it. Because he could fit as a character that would work in the filter that we were playing with.
Joe Russo: It's not unlike what happened to the character of the Falcon as well. If you look at the origin of that character there was one version where he was a former pimp, there's a slightly less credible history to that character.
Right, Batroc just makes me laugh because his power is leaping.
Anthony Russo: And we also interpreted that through our filter as well. He's not leaping around in the movie, but he has significant martial arts training. We sort of combined a very athletic gymnast, parkour-ish fighting style as well.