The crew called their big scene the “Splash Page.” That’s the comic-book term for a full-spread illustration that either opens a story or marks its climax.
For Captain America: Civil War, this was the moment they filmed an epic throwdown between two teams of heroes: the forces of Chris Evans’ red, white, and blue soldier on one side, clashing against the warriors aligned with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man on the other.
The 2006-07 Marvel Comics series that inspired the movie, which opens May 6, explores the same enduring question of freedom versus safety. In the Mark Millar-scripted comics, hero turned against hero as some resisted government control of their identities and abilities while others sought compliance and regulation for the greater good. Captain America stood for independence from government control, while Iron Man worked to legislate and enforce responsibility on those with “enhanced abilities.”
“In most of the movies, there’s no question who we should be siding with,” Evans says during a break between shots. “We all agree Nazis are bad, aliens from space are bad. But this movie’s the first time where you really have two points of view. There’s really no wrong answer here and it’s just a matter of who we are as men: Tony Stark and myself. Which side of the aisle do we come down on? So it’s hard for [Cap]. It becomes a question of morality and I don’t think he’s ever been so uncertain with what right and wrong is.”
In this film, the new Avengers — seen assembling at the end of Age of Ultron — take on an old enemy: Frank Grillo’s Crossbones, last spotted getting a building dropped on his skull in 2013’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But… the takedown goes wrong. A lot of people die. A lot of innocent ones.
After all the chaos and catastrophe witnessed in the previous films, the world finally has had enough. Government officials from around the globe assemble to enact accords that would clamp down on those with super-human skills. One man helping form the new laws is a young leader named T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) from the fictional African nation of Wakanda, who has a secret identity himself — the long awaited Black Panther.
But Cap has seen too much corrupt authority in his (unnaturally) long life. He ain’t marching anymore.
NEXT PAGE: Who’s fighting who …
On this already broiling July morning in Fayetteville, Georgia, Evans is sweating through his Cap mask as he shoots the Splash Page — this culmination of the conflict over the accords.
He’s standing at the end of a flat expanse of asphalt, ringed with two-story green tarps that will allow special-effects artists to transform this Pinewood Studios parking lot into a tarmac at Leipzig/Halle International Airport.
Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers’ long-lost friend and principle foe in the last Cap movie, is standing at his left.
“Had Bucky not been brainwashed he’d be doing the same thing Cap is doing, taking orders from S.H.I.E.L.D. and fighting for the country and then realizing S.H.I.E.L.D. is corrupt,” Evans says. “But Bucky’s a different situation. He obviously couldn’t make these choices. This is — I don’t want to give too much about the plot away but Bucky’s a big piece of the puzzle in this movie just because it gives Steve something that he really hasn’t had besides Peggy, but even Peggy is well on in her life.”
That would be Peggy Carter, known as Agent Carter to fans of the ABC television series, which chronicles the life of Hayley Atwell’s character as a covert agent in post-World War II America. In The Winter Soldier, Rogers visits with his old flame, who at that point was a frail, elderly woman struggling with dementia at the end of a long, daring life. Apart from Peggy, Rogers only has one connection left to his old self.
“No one on this planet knew him then. No one is left,” Evans says. “He doesn’t have any peace with his youth. He doesn’t have any peace from his life, so Bucky and whatever happens with Bucky in this movie…” Evans trails off. “That’s a big piece in terms of him kind of finding his own purpose in what he’s fighting for and how that friendship can come back to life. Not just them as soldiers, but them as friends.”
There are other familiar heroes aligned alongside Cap and Bucky (mild spoiler warning): Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man (although today it’s a stunt double in the mask), Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.
Leading the opposite side is… nobody. Iron Man and Don Cheadle’s War Machine will be flying toward them, so they’ll be added digitally later. But an equally impressive team of iconic characters is arrayed alongside him, preparing to face down Cap and Co.: Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Black Panther (also a stunt double) among them.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo yell action — and that’s what’s unleashed. The good-guys charge each other in a savage beat-down.
“The story is about family. And what happens if they don’t agree,” says Joe Russo, who directed the previous Cap film, The Winter Soldier, with his brother. “We’ve been comparing it to a fight at a wedding. What happens when your cousin and your brother go at it, and whose side are you on, and where does it go from there?”
“How do you move forward from a moment where people who used to love each other and were on the same side, now hate each other and are trying to hurt each other?” Anthony Russo adds. “[Cap is] such a strong, grounded, morally centered, ethically centered character. You can beat at him pretty hard as a hero, to try to crack that strength — both morally and physically.”
Iron Man definitely tries.
NEXT PAGE: Targeting Captain America …
While Black Widow gives an all-out thrashing to Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch blast away at the sky — him with his trusty bow and arrows, her with her mystical red energy pulses. They’re trying to knock some unseen threat out of the air. (It’s hard to tell which visual effect they’re imagining.)
It’s definitely not Iron Man. He’s flying low and locked onto another target: Captain America. Evans raises his shield, slings an upper cut through the air, and gets in one more hit against his invisible foe before he’s almost taken out in real life.
The main camera is on a crane, and it swoops down on the battle scene — following Iron Man’s descent — until it’s right in Evans’s face. The actor has to dive out of the way at the last second to avoid being clobbered.
After a few more takes, Evans comes over to the video screens to check out the shot, laughing at the fact that each one ends with an extreme close-up of his panicked face, dodging the camera. “I can’t keep throwing punches when that’s so close,” he says. The Russos come up with a solution: Go ahead and drop back.
The shot will end with Iron Man knocking Captain America to his knees.
But he’s not going to stay there.