Joe and Anthony Russo have cemented themselves as two of the most accomplished directors in MCU history thanks to their efforts on Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. But before those two game-changing team-up efforts, they proved they could do smaller-scale outings with big hero counts as well with their work on 2016's Captain America: Civil War, which started Phase 3 over six years ago.
Civil War became the biggest MCU "solo movie" to date upon its release, netting the Russos their first billion-dollar box-office hit as Captain America and Iron Man went toe-to-toe with one another. This all culminated in the famous airport battle from Germany, which included a dozen of the MCU's heroes in battle with each other - both veterans and newcomers alike.
For about 20 minutes, Team Cap and Team Iron Man gave fans some of the MCU's best action to date, showcasing everything from Spider-Man's first interactions with the Avengers to the Black Panther's mission for revenge against Bucky Barnes. And as it turns out, according to the men who made that scene happen, there was a real chance that it could have been even longer than it was.
Russos Talk Civil War Airport Battle
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo spoke with GQ about the airport battle scene from 2016's Captain America: Civil War.
Joe admitted that there was "a lot of stuff" that got left out of this scene, looking back to the "process of trial and error" that he and Anthony used to get the scene to play the right way. He praised Marvel for the resources that he had to work with, remembering the long days of editing and shooting that he had while he attempted to tell "the best story possible" with this scene:
Joe: “There’s a lot of stuff that actually got cut out of that airport sequence. So, you know, when you’re working on a set piece of that scale, with that many characters, it’s usually iterative. There’s usually a process of trial and error, where you’ll shoot stuff, watch it cut together, didn’t get it, let’s go back. Or we have a better idea, let’s go execute this better idea. What’s nice about working with Marvel is that you have very deep resources at your disposal. So you can go back. And Anth and I are relentless and exhaustive in our pursuit of telling the best story possible. When we’re making a movie like that, we’re probably shooting 12, 13-hour days, and editing 4 or 5 hours at night. And, you know, sleeping very, very little.
Looking deeper into the process, the Russos usually look at the material that they've shot in chunks to see if it can be improved upon or if "a certain story element is popping" over something else. They also utilized screenwriters Stephen Markus and Christopher McFeely in the editing room, letting things develop organically with each new element that comes into play:
Joe: "And so our process does involve, you know, revisiting the material in chunks while we’re shooting it, and seeing if we can improve upon it. Or to see if a certain story element is popping over another story element, and then we’ll accentuate that. And you know, we’ll call Markus and McFeely and say, ‘Come sit in the edit room, let’s look at this together, and then talk about what else we could do to enhance the storytelling.’ So that’s why something like that takes 50 days. Had we had a clear plan from the beginning, maybe it would’ve been, you know, 25 days, but our process is more organic than that. And there’s so many elements that you’re working with. There’s previews coming in, there’s storyboard artists, there’s ideas coming from everywhere. And, you know, Anthony and I are sort of commandeering the ship, and trying to source out, what we think, are the most interesting ideas. And sometimes those ideas have to be tied together with a new narrative."
Anthony added his perspective on the matter, noting how important it was to show the battle "from every single character’s point of view" as it raged on in Germany. The duo wanted to ensure that each character was involved for a good reason and that all of their points of view came through in the plot:
Anthony: “And I think one reason why it may have taken so long, and why we may have had to leave some of it on the cutting room floor, is that it was very important to us to approach that sequence from every single character’s point of view. You know, we didn’t wanna take anybody for granted in that moment. Everybody had their reason for being there, everyone had a crisis to deal with, that had an emotional component for them… We spent a lot of time just chasing down the sequence, from every single character’s point of view, and filling it out.”
How Long Was Civil War's Epic Battle?
Seeing 12 different Avengers fighting with one another was more than any MCU fan could have asked for as Phase 3 brought its first movie in 2016. Even with two Avengers films in the rearview window and Captain America about to complete his own solo trilogy, the airport battle became one of the MCU's most iconic moments ever, which remains the case to this day.
Joe and Anthony Russo wanted to make sure that this battle gave each character that was involved a moment in the spotlight, even besides Captain America and Iron Man as their personal issues came to the forefront. From Ant-Man's epic transformation into Giant Man to the emotional battle between Vision and the Scarlet Witch, each hero had their time to make an impact on the fight.
With a movie that was already nearly two and a half hours long, it's difficult to tell how much more length the Russos would have wanted to add to the airport battle if they wanted to go that route. But regardless, what fans got was one of the biggest moments in MCU history, bringing Earth's Mightiest Heroes to their lowest moment before going up against the Mad Titan Thanos a short time later.
Captain America: Civil War is available to stream on Disney+.