Filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo are back to snatch our wigs again in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War. As the Russo brothers tell yet another chapter after Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers are now tested under their biggest threat — an intergalactic war with one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel universe — Thanos. We chatted with the Russo Bros for a while, so this interview has been broken up into two parts. Below is part 1 of 2.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Aside from the combination of the modern cinematic universe, what’s this movie about?
Anthony: For us, look, since we entered the MCU as storytellers, we picked up the story with Winter Soldier, we’ve been carrying a thread forward from that point, a narrative thread, and for us, this movie is very much about: How do we move forward from Civil War in a big way? What happens to that division between the Avengers and how does that affect them? How do they deal and what does that mean when the greatest threat they’ll ever face comes to that in that kind of a condition, in that kind of divided condition?
Joe: It’s been a personal journey, frankly, I think for us filmmakers from Winter Soldier. There were seeds set in that movie that we then tried to expound upon in Civil War that then led to Infinity War. How we feel about the characters, as comic book fans, the stories we want to see, re-imagining these characters through a very personal point of view. It’s not only a culmination of the last ten years of Marvel storytelling but for us, it’s a culmination of our journey of directors through the Marvel universe. I think having at our disposal all of those characters and allowing ourselves to re-filter them through the way that again — we see the universe and the way that we feel about the characters and the themes that we really want to bring to the forefront, that’s what these two movies are about for us.
What can you say about the state of the world?
Joe: It’s a direct corollary to the end of Civil War. You’re coming into this film with the ramifications of that firm at the forefront of this movie.
How long later in the timeline is this one?
Joe: They would always do everything based on when the last movie came out.
Anthony: It’s going to be roughly two years.
Winter Soldier was more of an espionage thriller. Civil War was a psychological thriller. What will we expect to see in terms of genre, and tone, in Avengers: Infinity War?
Joe: There’s a lot of characters in these movies that have tones that they’re bringing from their own franchises. I think it’s a unique film. I don’t think there are a lot of movies that have the kind of tone that this movie has because it’s a combination of franchises. I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before on this scale. I think it’s got a really unique tone to it and I think it pulses. I’d say it’s an adventure film. We were inspired by ’90s crime films when we were working on the script. It’s got an energy to it, a bit of a smash and grab energy.
Anthony: Almost like a heist genre in a sense.
What would be some of those titles specifically for the ’90s movies?
Joe: The movies that we looked at were — 2 Days In The Valley and Out of Sight. We always look to movies for an inspiration for the energy that we’re looking for or a narrative construct that we want to be inspired by, and those two films in particular.
Anthony: In the beginning, and for us when you are dealing with all these different types of characters and all these different tones that have been established in the various films and storylines it becomes our organizing principle for tone in terms of what the world is that we’re creating. What rules are we playing by and how does that filter? Every character, no matter where they’re coming from, has to intersect with the reality of that tone and that genre.
Joe: I think sometimes people have misinterpreted in the past when we’ve talked about movies, how we’re using them. It’s really an inspiration for a narrative energy. These movies are so complex, you need a unifying piece or a sense of cohesion. That cohesion can come from a narrative construct that you can apply all the characters to. It’s hard to find movies with this many characters. You can look at Altlan films, which have a tendency to be more very today, or we found 2 Days In The Valley, which would have a narrative thrust to it and had an energy that we’re looking for, again purely of something that inspires us in the room when we’re working on the script.
Anthony: Yeah, I would say that comes from those many, many months that we spend with writers Marcus and McFeely in the room, exploring the possibilities of where we can go with the storytelling, where we can take the characters, and then finding ideas that most excite us and then starting to shape things around that way.
You guys talk about filming the whole movie with the IMAX cameras, [talk about] that process.
Joe: Yeah, it’s been amazing. They’re beautiful cameras, the chip is unbelievable. It’s stunning. We have a lot of characters who are tall, unnaturally tall. It really helps with the frame, because that IMAX aspect ratio works for those types of characters. The landscapes are stunning. There are some really exotic landscapes in the film and to be able to put those on an IMAX screen, it’s an incredible tool to have as a filmmaker to be able to exploit that scale of aspect ratio.
What’s it like doing the quieter scenes with these?
Shell: Well, the good news is we’ve been working with IMAX very closely on this. The technology of the cameras continues to evolve. There’s a new iteration of the cameras that are much more user-friendly than they have been. We, in our style we like a very active, aggressive camera. It’s always been important to us to try to convert their system to something that is a little more mobile and something that camera people can actually move in a way that’s not going to drag them to the ground. Yeah, we have a brand new camera that we’re using on this called the ARRI 65, which is finally completely synced up with the IMAX needs as well and it gives us a lot more latitude in terms of what we can do with the cameras.
Anthony: IMAX branded ARRI 65.
Going back to the tones that you were talking about, each of these movies has their own tone in the MCU, but the one that really stands out as the most distinct is Guardians, and you guys are bringing them in. What is the approach to getting them to mix together? Are they going to bring their own music?
Anthony: Yeah, everybody does, everybody does.
Joe: Everybody does. Strange brings his own energy, Ant-Man brings his own energy.
Anthony: Thor brings his.
Joe: Thor has a whole different. Taika has a new approach to Thor, as you’ve seen, and all of that energy is combining and specific to the Guardians we have to find a way to bring those tones in, honor them, but also make them work with what we’re doing with the movie. Again, I think the best way to do that is to filter these things through our very personal expression of them as characters. It’s not dissimilar with what we did with Cap and Winter Soldier. There’s a movement with the characters towards a more Russo brothers execution.
What kind of role would you say they have in this film?
Joe: They have a great role in this film. Everyone is interwoven into this plot in a way that they have an emotional connection to the story and are emotionally affected by the stakes of the movie. You can’t tell a movie with this many characters and not have each of those characters show up and honor them from their different franchises if they are not motivated to be there, if they are not in life or death circumstances, if they are not fighting to save their belief system or their way of life.
Can you talk about the challenges through the big set, the choreography of all these superheroes, especially in a movie like this? How many, are all in a scene together and how does that work practically for you guys?
Anthony: Look, there is a high character count in this scene [you’ve watched today]. It’s not a high [number], it’s not a very complex scene on an action level, but even a scene where you’re just talking — becomes massively complex when you have a lot of characters. It takes a lot of time to shoot.
Joe: And a lot of movie starts.
Anthony: Yeah, because you have to shoot every one of them. They’re all special. They’re all special characters. They’re all important to the storytelling.
Joe: They’re somebody’s favorite character.
Anthony: Yeah, exactly. This movie is only achievable with this amazing team that we’ve been working with now over several movies. We’ve gotten an amazing shorthand with one another. We’ve tuned-in into one another very specifically on a creative level. We have a really strong team. We spend many, many months preparing. That’s really the trick. One thing I love about our process here at Marvel is we have the opportunity with the technology here — and the budgets that we work with — to make the movie several times before we make the movie, which is through Prevez, through extensive storyboarding, through editing, and all together. There’s a lot of experimentation and that is very helpful, especially when you’re dealing with such a complex number of characters and action, et cetera. It’s basically the way we work our way through is a lot of prep work.
Joe: And we’ve had the good fortune to have worked with a lot of the same collaborators on the last three films. Our video effects supervisor, Dan Delure, our editor, Jeff Ford, our DP, Trent Oplak, our stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave. There is a core group of individuals that we’ve done a Vulcan mind meld with over the last three movies. They know how we like to work. They understand the style that we like to employ. They think about the characters the same way that we think about the characters. We’re all in unison in terms of the storytelling. Having that support system has made it a lot easier with each successive movie. Certainly, that airport sequence in Civil War was exceedingly difficult, but all of those people were there with us going through it, and in this movie, I think we have multiple sequences that are more difficult and thank God that we have this great unit of really talented people working with us.
Anthony: It does really feel like we’ve all, we are working at even another level now on these movies, which is very exciting. It’s great.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Russo Bros’ set interview on Avengers: Infinity War!
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.