‘Who knows what will happen next?’
Ahead of Avengers: Endgame’s release on April 26, director Joe Russo talks about keeping spoilers at bay, bringing the decade-long first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a climax, and how his work is a mirror of society
The Russo Brothers, (Anthony and Joe) have been vital to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The duo have directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). As Marvel recognises India as their fastest growing market, Joe makes his way to India as the first stop of the press tour before the release of the final part of the Avengers to talk about the movie, the superheroes and secrecy.
“I know that in today’s internet culture there is an urgency to having everything yesterday. I don’t think that that’s the prevailing opinion of everyone who wants to see the movie, so we’ve worked very hard for three years to make sure that the fans who want to have a genuine first experience of the film can have it,” says Joe. The plot of their films is kept a secret not only from audiences but also from the cast. “The reason we keep it a secret is that if the actors don’t know the whole story, then they can’t slip up in an interview. It makes it a lot easier for them to not say things if they don’t know anything,” says he explaining that the actors are only given information for the scenes they are in.
“Thor in Infinity War doesn’t need to know what’s going on with Captain America, they’re completely different stories till they meet in Wakanda. We have very ‘thoughtful’ conversations with the actors about what their motivations are and what they’re doing in specific scenes. When we’re trying to hide something from them, we’ll elicit a performance from them using different tactics,” he says adding that in Avengers: Infinity War, there was only one original copy of the actual script that existed on one iPad. “Only a handful of people actually read that draft, all the other scripts that existed were fake. In Avengers: Endgame, even more so. We cleared the set for important moments, there are very few people who know what actually happens,” he says.
WORKING ON THE FILMS
Joe and his brother are always in sync. “We don’t try to divide duties, we try to put our minds on everything equally. We just have different thought processes which makes for a very good testing of ideas. We can be very spirited when we argue about concepts. But I think that’s what challenges us to become stronger,” he says.
Working on movies of such massive scale can be emotionally and physically draining, but the duo’s motivation comes from the urge to tell the stories they believe in. “We’ve never reached that point where we’re not invested because then we would have never made these movies. We’ve learnt that unless you’re getting out of bed excited everyday to tell the story you’re about to tell, you can’t do it. And you certainly cannot do it for movies of this scale, it’s too hard and takes a lot of energy and time away from your family,” he says. He recalls how a video of an audience watching Infinity War in India used to cheer up the cast and crew while working on Endgame.
Joe believes that it is the global thematic of their films that makes audiences connect with it. And after this build up, the first phase of the MCU deserves a climax which is worth the interest that audiences have invested in all the films and characters. “I don’t know whether we are going to have a moment like this in movie history. Who knows what will happen next? It could get bigger from here, it could not — I have no idea. What I do know is that both Infinity War and Endgame have incredible amount of pop culture attention around the globe and the opportunity to be able to infuse that with relevant thematics is too important for us to pass up,” he says.
The first part of the film, which ends with half of the superheroes vanishing into thin air, delivered a reality check to audiences — “Sometimes the villains win, though it’s an irrelevant subject matter if you’re an American right now,” he smiles, adding, “It’s like a mirror held up to society.”
According to the directors, both the movies ask the question — what does it cost to be a hero, and is it worth the price of standing up? “Those are certainly relevant questions today. These films are about community — a community of heroes that stand up against tyranny and you can look at that as waves of nationalism sweeping the world. It’s about the choice between individualism or about community,” he says, urging audiences to watch the films to get the answer.
OF HEROES AND VILLAINS
Joe shares that Spider-Man was his favourite character while growing up. “I related to him when I started reading comic books at the age of 10. The idea of a boy who is tasked with incredible responsibilities and the Shakespearian way he has to deal with the death of his uncle who was a father figure, was very powerful to me as a child. The things that emotionally impact you as a child, stay with you throughout your life. I don’t know whether I would connect with another character the way I connect with Spider-Man,” says he. But with the friendly Spidey also turned into dust, one can only hope that Joe brings his favourite character back to life in the MCU. But as he said, unhappy endings do exist.
“There’s a lot of conflict in the world right now. Because so many different superheroes are there, everyone across the globe can find the code, ethics or values and identify with at least one of them. Superheroes are archetypal in the way that all of them are hopeful. You can identify with the morality of Captain America or the amorality of Deadpool, it depends on your personality type. It’s no different than any mythology,” he says.
Coming to villains, Joe says that the team tries to approach them the same way in every movie. “Look at Bucky or Robert Redford in Winter Soldier, or Zemo in Age of Ultron where his family is dead. Thanos has an altruistic goal where he wants to kill one half of the universe to preserve the other half. I think that’s a relevant thematic. People understand that we are dealing with global crisis issues, and certainly using up resources very fast. Thanos is a sociopath, but he has traditional beats of a hero in the film, horrific beats like throwing his daughter to her death to obtain his goal, but I think the people related to his monastic dedication to his cause. Ultimately, he’s nuts, but there are elements in his personality that were admirable to audiences, which complicates it for them. It’s more interesting when they’re not sure whether to root for him or to hate him,” he ends.
There’s a lot of conflict in the world right now. Because so many different superheroes are there, everyone across the globe can find the code, ethics or values and identify with at least one of them