With Avengers: Endgame, director duo Anthony and Joe Russo are trying to give the perfect closure to Marvel Cinematic Universe’s decade long journey, comprising of 11 franchises and over 20 superheroes. Popularly known as Russo Brothers, they joined the MCU with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and went on to helm Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.
The siblings, who are just one year apart and mostly work as a team, were in Seoul, South Korea recently to promote their latest magnum opus – Avengers: Endgame. During an exclusive media interaction, the two shared the vision with which they entered the Marvel universe, how they handle audience pressure and their take on superhero films finding root in mythology.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Q. When you guys came to the Marvel franchise with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, did you have a vision of how the story arc will progress over the years?
ANTHONY: He and I would discuss it at times. We kept moving forward in the Marvel universe because we didn’t know what we were going to do after Winter Soldier. Kevin (Feige) sort of plays with one movie at a time because if you don’t make a good movie, then there is no next movie. So it was really more of a discovery process, but we had ideas as we went along.
Q. Did you have any fear while coming into the MCU and directing movies here?
ANTHONY: I don’t think we had any fear. Joe and I have been fans of these characters since our childhood. And then, we also had a great passion for this material. As we saw the first Iron Man movie, we wanted to be a part of it. We knew we had that skill set required to do these movies, even though people may not have seen it in us up to that point in our careers. So I think we were more than just excited about it. And that is kind of what drove us to get the job.
Now, of course, seeing that the movies are so well received and the fans are so passionate, it certainly ups the stakes on the work that we do. But I think we just use that to energise ourselves. I still think our passion is driving us through the process. So even though it is intimidating in certain respects, we just keep focused on the work. We know all we can control is the work that we do.
Q. The incredible surge in popularity of this franchise with hero-worship suggests that it is rooted in mythology. You suppose that is probably why these films have impressed fans in a country like India, the land of Ramayan and Mahabharat?
JOE: I think they are archetypal characters, and that there is so many of them that everyone can find something of themselves in one of the characters.
India has a story culture as old as anywhere on the planet. Indians understand mythology at a very deep level. These are modern mythologies and characters with God-like abilities. I also think that this notion of community is really important. Because if you look at how excited fans are around the world, it is because of unity.
Q. Do you think these stories sometimes don’t get their due because they are superhero films?
ANTHONY: It is hard to say they don’t get their due when they are sort of watched by the highest number of people. There are certain people who don’t connect to them but that is okay. Not every movie should be for every person. But certainly, they are bringing people together on a global scale that is unprecedented. And that means something.
Q. But these are really big budget movies. So is there additional pressure on you to make a blockbuster?
JOE: We never think of it that way. We only think that our job is to be the best storytellers we can be. And if you tell a great story, it is going to be successful. It is impossible to sort of define what the characteristics are that make a successful blockbuster. And if you could write them down on a piece of paper, then everybody can do it. Ultimately, we make stories that excite us, and then we hope everyone else is as excited as we are when they see it.
Q. How do you react to all the fan theories? Has any theory ever impressed you so much that you thought that it would have indeed made an interesting plot in the film?
JOE: People are creative and funny, and the fact that they are so excited about these movies that they are adding their own stories to it, I mean, it is not really all that storytelling, it is this sort of collective contribution. And I think the Marvel universe represents that – how 11 franchises are woven together by a bunch of different artistes. I think that it is just fun to see the fans reflecting it the same way and telling their own stories.
Q. Captain America and Iron Man share a love-hate relationship, and given that you have directed two Captain America movies, does that mean that your heart lies more with him than Iron Man?
ANTHONY: You know we are both very torn because we love both of these characters and also adore both the actors (Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr). And the characters are really complex. It is so funny because you go back and forth on those two characters because they are so different. Yet they are both kind of the leaders of the Avengers. Captain America is more like the moral center and Iron Man is more of the sort of energy and vision for it. So, it is like you are constantly floating back and forth between those two points of view.
Q. If not Avengers, which other Marvel characters would you like to make films on?
JOE: Well, you know, I love Wolverine. Growing up I loved Ben Grimm – The thing in Fantastic Four. There are a lot of characters and now that you know they (Marvel) have acquired Fox, I think we will see it more.
Q. Where do you see MCU after Endgame?
ANTHONY: We didn’t focus that hard on anything beyond Endgame. We focus on the story of the first six Avengers. But clearly, it is getting more diverse and global. And it is a responsibility to represent everyone on screen and audiences are global.
Q. Stan Lee shot for his last cameo in Endgame. Do you guys plan to make a movie on him?
ANTHONY: We love Stan Lee and it is incredibly special that Endgame would be his final cameo. I can’t believe that he made it to this point in the run of the MCU. Yeah, we are fascinated with the life of Stan Lee and we are actually developing a little something that has to do with his work and the history of Marvel, but we are not quite ready to present it or talk about it yet. It is definitely something we are working on.
Q. Jeremy Renner said that the end isn’t really the end. So is there a separate end in the MCU? Can you put more meaning to it?
ANTHONY: Well, I think, with the number of characters that are in the MCU, there is always a way forward. But this movie will feel like a conclusion among people.
Q. One emotion you would want your audience to feel after watching Endgame, since Infinity War gave us a lot of emotions?
ANTHONY: We hope Endgame does that as well. When you go to the movie theater, you want to have a complete experience. We strive for a lot of what we call balance in our storytelling because we want movies to give you everything. We want them to make you laugh, cry, scared, excited etc. So we look for a big density of experience in the way we fashion our narrative. So hopefully Endgame sort of does that for you in a similar, but different way than Infinity War did.
JOE: I don’t know if I can put it down to a single emotion. We just keep telling everyone that it is cathartic. I think it is an ending and endings are supposed to be cathartic. And you know, endings can be scary, but they also can be the best part of the story.
Q. Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) said he shot five different endings in Endgame. Is that true?
JOE: We have to keep Mark’s head spinning. The truth is he actually shot 11 endings!
ANTHONY: All the endings Mark shot for, the camera was only running on one of them (laughs).
Q. You two work as a team. How do you tackle difference of opinion or any kind of friction?
JOE: Friction is what makes the team work. I think the fact that we challenge the ideas so strongly, it helps the ideas get better.
Q. What do you think each other’s strengths are?
ANTHONY: It is hard for us to be analytic about our relationship. Also because we don’t really think about it a lot. It is kind of natural. We don’t really have a formal process with one another. So, it changes all the time. We changed roles based on who is supporting what at that moment. So the other one can be a contrarian and push against the idea.
Q. Joe came to India. When is Anthony coming there?
ANTHONY: I am so sad that I couldn’t. We will get there soon. I mean, somebody had to finish the movie.
Q. And what feedback did Joe give you about India?
JOE: I told him how much I loved the food.