SFX recently had the chance to chat with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, screenwriters of Captain America - The Winter Soldier and the talent now shaping the shield-slinger's third big screen adventure. Here's what they had to say about conspiracies, comic books and whether the Falcon could ever step into the red, white and blue suit on the big screen...
We’re all familiar with Captain America from the comic books but what does writing him teach you about the character?
Christopher Markus: It’s teaches you that it’s very hard and sometimes beside the point to try and give him an arc. I don’t mean that in a dismissive way, like we just let him run around. But he is a guy that history revolves around, and in some ways he does not always have the biggest change. The biggest change in his life was when they injected him full of super soldier serum. And it was a physical change – morally, intellectually, he was the same guy when he was 90 lbs. It runs counter to screenwriting logic, because we always want to take a character, arc them and have them changed at the end of the movie. It’s how you structure these things. And he resists that. He’s like a statue that stands there during all four seasons – everything happens and at the end of it he’s like “Nope, still here, sorry!”
People really responded to the political thriller style of The Winter Soldier . Did you guys create a story to fit that specific tone, or did the tone grow organically out of the story that you wanted to tell?
Stephen McFeely: Good question. I don’t know if I can chicken and egg that…
CM: I think it’s more the latter. I know at some point Kevin Feige suggested “Well, why don’t we just take down SHIELD? And have Cap have a hand in it?” He’s one man versus this giant organisation – you’re not going to have him drive in with a tank so there’s going to be some underhandedness. And suddenly it begins to suggest a political conspiracy. If you put that 1940s man into present day geo-politics everything is going to seem like a conspiracy. It’s just going to seem dirty and underhanded and shifty, and people won’t be telling the truth. I have a tendency to believe that it was exactly the same way in 1945 but it’s not how we view it. It becomes a political conspiracy simply by putting 1945 Steve Rogers in present day America.
SM: We so wanted to avoid iPod jokes but we wanted Cap to adjust to the new world, so it was about emotions, it was about ethics, it was about morality. It’s “How far have we come since you went into the ice?” not “How short have the skirts become?”
Do you think that kind of grounded political tone will continue into the third film – or could you create something as different as The Winter Soldier was from The First Avenger ?
CM: Well, that’s the challenge! But we are working on something that I think is an amalgalm.
SM: When we hit upon the Brubaker run of the comic book, we all said that, with certain exceptions, that ’s the tone of Cap’s modern franchise. And you can imagine that with us back, with the Russos back, then if you like Winter Soldier you’ll hopefully like the third one, if we do it right!
You say it’s an amalgalm of the first two. Could you also be bringing in a new flavour, too?
CM: Well, you never know…
CM: I don’t know if there’s anybody that we had in the wings that we couldn’t pull off. There are people that I’m always wanting to bring in. I want to put Modok into something, but you can’t just drop a giant floating head in! It’s not like “Oh, we have to go talk to this guy – there’s something I should tell you about him first…” [laughs]. Suddenly the whole movie needs to take on that structure in order to accommodate him. I never win that fight!
SM: But you will never rest.
CM: There were actually drafts where we had Hawkeye in it, but he didn’t have enough to do and suddenly it seemed like we were giving him short shrift. Hey, it’s a cameo!
SM: Natasha was doing a lot of that work for us.
Obviously you’ve drawn on the Brubaker material. Were there any ‘70s Captain America comics that fed into The Winter Soldier ? It seemed to have a touch of their sensibility…
CM: There’s one story where he’s going up against the Secret Empire and it eventually turns out to be Richard Nixon, although you never see his face! That certainly laid the groundwork for us saying “Are we crazy for doing this? For having a conspiracy?” No, they’ve been doing it for years! And there are other bits and pieces. The ship at the beginning was originally a big tanker and came from a run where Mr Hyde and Batroc are going to ram Manhattan with this giant gas tanker. I liked the dynamic of that big, slow moving thing. And then that evolved into a satellite launching vessel!
We’ve just heard that the Falcon is taking over Cap’s role in the comic books. Do you think the movies can accommodate these kind of shake-ups or do they need to stay faithful to the big, familiar icons?
SM: We tend to stay on the sidelines when it comes to the comics. We wait and see what we’ll steal from in three or four years from now! [laughs].
CM: I think the movies can accommodate almost anything, if there’s a need. I think there is a much greater need to shake things up in the comics because that’s a narrative that’s been going on for 60 or 70 years, so you’re going to wind up having to do things to it. Ours has only been off the ground for five or so. So it’s not quite time to start changing things up yet. Plus I can’t figure out how he’s going to have the wings and the shield at the same time. Isn’t it going to get all crammed up on the wing? I don’t know… When those things happen in the comics you also have a tendency, perhaps cynically, to go “Yeah, but he’s going to be Steve Rogers in two months…” He’s going to wake up out of cryo-stasis or whatever it is and it’s going to be like “Oh, I need the shield back”. [laughs].
SM: We’re all so cynical.
You said you went back to some of the ‘70s source material. Is it daunting seeing just how many Marvel stories there have been, simply because there’s so much stuff to cherrypick?
SM: Yes. And you definitely want to read them in colour. When you get the bound black and white ones they’re…
I grew up reading the black and white British reprints...
CM: We wound up reading I don’t even know how many years’ worth of Cap in black and white. And the thing that becomes clear is that colour is the only thing that differentiates most of the villains! Just looking at these people you’re like “It’s a guy… in a stripy costume… who shoots some kind of energy out of himself…” It’s all gotten across by colour. I feel terrible for you there in Britain!
I was very jealous of your colour. And your Twinkies.
CM: But you have Hob-Nobs, right? [laughs]
Captain America: The Winter Soldier will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray and digital download on Monday 18 th August