Remember back in 2012 when it was announced that Anthony and Joe Russo would direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier for Marvel Studios and the fans let out a collective “Who?”
Flash forward six years later and the Russos have come an incredibly long way. Not that they were exactly nobodies back then either; but their vast (and Emmy-winning) experience directing shows like Community and Arrested Development, as well as a handful of feature film comedies, did not give any hint that The Winter Soldier would end up being one of Marvel’s best movies and an entry that upped the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe game.
Next came 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, also one of the MCU’s top tier outings and a dry run for what would come next. The Russos (along with TWS and CW screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) were given the task of making the next two Avengers films, not just the culmination of the first decade of Marvel Studios but an epic undertaking involving every major character in the mythology that would change the landscape of the MCU going forward.
The first of those movies, Avengers: Infinity War, opens this weekend. It’s enormous and awe-inspiring and heart-tugging and emotional, and a behemoth befitting the finale of a story 10 years in the making. But the Russos aren’t done either, as they begin the final year of work on 2019’s Untitled Avengers.
Den of Geek had the chance to sit down with the Russos earlier this week and talk about the creation of Avengers: Infinity War, while trying to pry whatever we could out of them about its sequel.
Den of Geek: Obviously there’s things that you want to keep as close to the vest as possible in this movie, which is why it wasn’t screened for reporters before these interviews.
Joe Russo: It’s a big ending, and a lot of fans have 10 years of their time and energy and passion invested in this universe. The last thing anybody wants is for the ending spoiled for them.
Civil War was a good test run for this kind of thing, and now you’ve got four times as many characters in this one. When you look back, even going back to the TV days, did the stuff you did on shows on Community also prime you for this kind of ensemble?
Joe Russo: Without question. I think everything in our career has primed us. We grew up in a big Italian family, and I think we’ve always been fascinated by personalities, the way they interact with each other, and relationships between people. Welcome to Collinwood was an ensemble, Arrested Development was an ensemble, Community was an ensemble, Happy Endings was an ensemble, Winter Soldier smaller ensemble, but an ensemble. Civil War, larger than that. This, twice the size of Civil War. I think our whole career has been in preparation for us to handle something like this.
How is the tone of this one different from the first two, the Joss Whedon movies, and how is it different from the next one?
Anthony Russo: I think it has to do with, first of all, you have a different range of characters, than you have in the Joss movies, so that just naturally these characters carry with them, a certain tone and a certain energy from their history in the MCU, so there’s a different cocktail mix, so to speak, than in the Joss films.
But also, I think it’s the stakes, the stakes are the highest they’ve ever been in this film, in a Marvel movie. And those stakes create a story energy and a character focus that I think is very unique, and urgent and dire. I know all the movies have high stakes of course, but with Thanos’ agenda, nothing’s been quite this tense before.
You described this one as sort of a heist movie. Elaborate on that a little bit, and also, how does that play against the next one?
Joe Russo: Well we needed a simple plot structure for this film, because when you take this many characters and put them in a movie, you need story real estate for those characters to interact. You can’t just spend that on that on exposition and character interaction. We didn’t want to spend it on exposition. We didn’t feel like this was a plot driven movie, this was a character driven movie, Thanos included in that list of characters.
So we wanted a simple MacGuffin, like a heist film, which is why we cite movies like Out of Sight or 2 Days in the Valley. Out of Sight, it’s a bunch of diamonds in a fish tank. It’s a simple plot device that involves all of the characters. And this film, that’s Thanos collecting the stones. It’s a smash ‘n’ grab heist film, in respect to that structure. I don’t know that anyone will walk out of the movie and go, “That’s a heist movie.” We, from a film geekdom standpoint, often look to other films as inspiration when we play with these movies. Sometimes that’s readily apparent, sometimes it’s less apparent.
We can’t speak to how that affects or compares to the second film, other than the fact that, every time out, we try to surprise people and do something different.
How challenging was it to be able to create an ending for this, while also knowing that there’s another story to come?
Anthony Russo: It wasn’t actually that challenging because our history with Markus and McFeely has been…in the same way that Winter Soldier throws the story to Civil War — you know, Winter Soldier ends, but there’s a thread that continues forward, that turns into Civil War. Civil War ends, but there’s a thread that continues forward, that turns into Infinity War.
So for us, it’s that same pattern, one more time. Infinity War will end, but there will be a similar thread that will continue forward into the next film. So I don’t think it was as hard as it sounds, simply because we, on a creative level, we approached the proposition, exactly like that.
The way this film looks seems different from the grittier, hand-held style you employed on the two Captain America movies. Have you altered the way you film?
Joe Russo: For sure.
Anthony Russo: Very much.
Joe Russo: The style is dramatically different. Those were Captain America stories. Our intention of those movies were to be brutalist. We stripped all color out of those films, made them as bare as possible, stripped down, handheld, on the ground with Cap. Trying to humanize him and deconstruct him. These movies are massive in scale on scope. They have CG characters in them. Characters with fantastical abilities, built around a gauntlet that has the ability to…that has elemental powers to the universe.
It’s a very different kind of film, and that dictated a different style of storytelling. It’s a much more colorful movie. There’s a lot more studio mode in it, a lot more cranes, a lot more moving dollies. It’s got a lot of characters, which requires a certain style of framing for containing a lot of characters. So it’s just been dictated by a whole different set of rules than the Captain America films were.
Was there any one moment on set, for either film, where you guys kind of looked at each other and the little boys came out and you were like, “Wow, look at this”?
Anthony Russo: I think there were a lot of moments on set where that happened. In Civil War, of course, we would always talk about that moment, being the airport fight, of course. This movie, there’s several of those. There are remarkable combinations of characters, and remarkable events that you never thought you could actually get to on a narrative level.
Joe Russo: Civil War was the double panel. Infinity War is you open the double panel, and then it folds out again, and again, and again. It’s of a scale that is incredibly dramatic.
Did the success of Black Panther have any impact on the part of your movie that takes place in Wakanda, even late in the game?
Anthony Russo: It actually didn’t have any impact, because we were picture locked by the time Panther came out. We were very dialed in to the story of Black Panther, because we introduced the character in Civil War. And that character, in his world, ended up carrying that into this movie. We were certainly aware of what was being done, on a narrative level, with the Black Panther film, while we were working as well. We kept in contact with (Black Panther director Ryan) Coogler, and there was definitely sharing of information, because we were both working with the Wakanda world. Our story had a very special place for Wakanda long before Panther was finished.
Where are you guys now on Untitled Avengers? Do you foresee some more shooting in the future, or…
Joe Russo: I think so for sure.
Anthony Russo: Yeah, we didn’t quite complete the movie, we have a bit more work to do.
Joe Russo: We’ve just begun editorial. We got home end of January, and we had to really focus on Infinity War. So we just put (Untitled Avengers) on the shelf.
I heard that might be a little bit longer than Infinity War, which is what, two hours and 40 minutes?
Joe Russo: This is 2:30 and I think that one certainly…
Anthony Russo: It’s hard to say what that length is, because it doesn’t even have a length right now.
Joe Russo: But it’s a very big story. And I think that ultimately it certainly has the potential to be longer than this one.
I also read that you toyed with not doing any post-credit scenes on Infinity War.
Joe Russo: Yeah, I think that we’re always looking to do things differently, and do what’s best for the story telling. Do we need a post credit scene, or do we not? So certainly, it was a long conversation. I won’t tell you what our final answer was, but it was a long conversation.
Avengers: Infinity War begins previews tonight and opens everywhere tomorrow (Friday, April 27).