Russo brothers on past obsessions that fuel their filmmaking future
As they close a chapter — for now, at least — on shaping the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s of-the-moment mythology, Joe and Anthony Russo are enjoying a bit of a victory lap, while still keeping an eye on a future full of projects, some once again drawn from their own pop culture fandom, others featuring some of their “Avengers” actors in fresh new roles.
As their most recent film, “Avengers: Endgame,” just crossed the box office threshold to displace “Avatar” as the top-grossing film of all time, the brothers admit the capstone of 11 years of Marvel storytelling was a Herculean effort that, if gone awry, could have broken them. But as Anthony reminded, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”
“If that couldn’t kill us, then what will at this point?” agreed Russo.
As the brothers sat down with CNN at San Diego’s Comic-Con International — ground zero for the fervent fandom that fueled their directorial ascent — to promote the home video release of “Endgame” (available for digital download July 30, and on 4K Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray and DVD Aug. 13), they were both eager for fans to re-visit the film and feeling energized about their just-announced, ambitious slate of projects as both producers and directors, including a slate of films starring actors from the MCU.
“Every movie that you get to make is an amazing opportunity,” said Anthony. “We love filmmaking in all its forms, so we’ll move forward sort of finding new ways to challenge and surprise ourselves as filmmakers.”
They’re excited that “Endgame” viewers will soon have the opportunity to hit “Pause” and soak up the finer details the many epic-scale battles scenes that close out the film (“They may want to freeze-frame on those big tableaus of dozens of Avengers, just to see who’s in the frame and who’s doing what,” suggests Anthony), and they’ve been surprised when checking in on audience conversations about the movie [Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen “Endgame”].
“Death of favorite characters is certainly a very cathartic experience for a lot of people,” said Joe. “We tried to explain the point of view that death can be a noble and not always a negative, you know? That’s been an interesting conversation, about who died, and when, and how…Heroes, that’s their job, is to sacrifice their lives.”
Anthony admits to being pleasantly surprised how often people have embraced some of the film’s most emotional sequences, over the super-heroic slugfest spectacle.
“It seems like a lot of people are really struck by the fact that Thor got to revisit his mom, and Tony got to revisit his dad,” he said. “Those two things in particular, I feel like people talk about a lot, because it’s just really impactful.”
“It’s probably a wish fulfillment for a lot of people, to be able to have closure,” agreed Joe.
In terms of their professional relationships, there’s little closure ahead. The brothers will be next directing and producing “Cherry,” an dark opioid addiction drama starring Tom Holland, as well as producing the action thriller “21 Bridges” starring Chadwick Boseman and the mercenary thriller “Dhaka” starring Chris Hemsworth.
“We know each other so well that there’s a shorthand, a creative shorthand that allows us to get to much more interesting places. There’s also a trust. That’s the most important part of it,” said Joe. “These are very risky choices that they’re making. You don’t know that they would make them with someone else who didn’t have this level of trust with.”
Another upcoming project is “Battle of the Planets,” the American adaptation of the ’70s-era Japanese anime series “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman,” redubbed and reworked for a more kid-friendly context, blending teen superhero-esque characters with “Star Wars”-style space opera.
“We would race home from school every day for three or four years,” remembered Joe. “Anything that has an emotional resonance with you as a child tends stay with you throughout your life. We love this concept of orphan characters trying to save the universe, the team had to work together.”
Also on their production plate is an adaptation of the comic book “Grimjack,” an ’80s-era independent science fiction comic book created by John Ostrander and Tim Truman featuring a sword for hire who operates from a pan-dimensional city with access to multiple realities.
“I still have Grimjack #1 in my comic book collection at home — that was a big book for me,” Joe revealed. “I just love this notion of a mercenary in this city of Cynosure where doors to other dimensions could open and any story could be told. I thought that was a very clever conceit for narrative and mixing genre and tone. If there’s anything that we love, it’s mixing genre and tone in a way that is unexpected. I think Grimjack offers that potential in spades.”
The brothers expect that comic book and pop cultural properties will continue to attract them as filmmakers. “It’s definitely something that’s in our creative sweet spot,” said Anthony. “We have a passion for it.”
Both Russos agree that their own entertainment passions helped inspire and develop their filmmaking abilities early on.
“We were voracious in our fandom,” agreed Anthony. “Just being exposed to so many different things I think helped us make sure that we are doing our best to be original in terms of what we’re doing as storytellers, because we know what’s out there so well.”
“I think it gives you a taste meter or a sensibility about what it is that is exciting about that material, and we’ve always said that we use our own internal sense of taste to make these films,” said Joe. “We don’t try to predict what it is that people want. We try to create the movie that would excite us in the theater and then we hope that other people are going to respond to it the way that we do.”