Joe Russo Recalls Marvel Studios "Civil War" Over Captain America: Civil War
"United we stand. Divided we fall." The tagline for Captain America: Civil War came after what director Joe Russo called an internal "civil war" within Marvel Studios, pitting president Kevin Feige against Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter. The schism between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) disassembled the Avengers, but it was Feige's clashes with Perlmutter and New York's "Creative Committee," a group of meddling executives, that nearly splintered Marvel Studios. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo threatened to quit the movie, and Feige weighed leaving Marvel when years of frustrations in dealing with Perlmutter came to a head on Civil War.
Aiming to do something risky and subversive, Feige and the Russo brothers wanted to "take [Marvel's] two most popular characters" and "have them try to kill each other," Russo told Deadline of Team Cap versus Team Iron Man.
Feige, already frustrated with New York's attempt to "scale down" the budget of what was described as Avengers 2.5, risked having his grand plan for the Marvel Cinematic Universe upended by the famously stingy Perlmutter. According to a 2014 report from Variety, Perlmutter was so angered over Downey's potential payday for Captain America 3 he ordered Iron Man written out of the script.
If Civil War wasn't a civil war between teams led by Captain America and Iron Man, as it was in the 2006 comic book event of the same name, Marvel had a problem.
"This famously led to Civil War the movie actually leading to a civil war within Marvel," Russo said, "because there was a group in New York that was trying to impose a more traditional third act on the movie. My brother and I were going, 'We're not interested in making that film, so we're out the door if that's the direction you want to go. We're more compelled to make a story about these two that's more interesting, we think, and will lead to more interesting movies after this.'"
Civil War leads audiences to believe the terrorist villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is behind an Avengers-level threat to awaken an army of super-soldiers, only to learn Zemo manipulated a brutal, knockdown fight between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. "It came very close to we were going to get fired, or New York was going to get off the movie," Russo said of keeping the third act focused on Steve and Tony's turmoiled fight over the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
"A bunch of conversations were had, and [then-Disney CEO] Bob Iger made a decision: he moved New York off the movie, Kevin took full control of Marvel Studios, and we got to make Civil War the way we wanted to make it," Russo said. "I think it empowered Kevin, and it empowered Disney, because they saw that we had done something crazy and it made over a billion dollars."
The move saw Feige reporting directly to then-Disney Studios chief Alan Horn over Perlmutter, and the restructure emancipated Feige and Marvel Studios from the since-disbanded committee: Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, then-Marvel Comics publisher Dan Buckley, and Perlmutter's right-hand man, Alan Fine, then-president of Marvel Entertainment.
"So the next time out, when we said, 'We have an even crazier idea, we're going to kill half your characters [in Avengers: Infinity War]', they understand the language of what they meant and how it could have an impact — a positive impact — on the box office for them," Russo said.
Captain America: Civil War is available to stream on Disney+.