Just how big does Avengers: Infinity War get? Allow directors Joe and Anthony Russo to explain.
“[Imagine] you had a comic book and you opened it up to your [two-page] double panel,” Joe Russo said. “Then you fold it out [to four pages]. And then you folded it out again. And again.”
“And you have another comic book laid out next to it,” Anthony Russo added. “We have the equivalent of that in this movie.”
Last June, we visited the Atlanta set of Avengers: Infinity War and talked to the Russos about the herculean task ahead of them. They weren’t just shooting Avengers: Infinity War, but also the untitled fourth Avengers film immediately afterwards. Both movies incorporated several dozen characters, multiple storylines, and the weight of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, making them not just a huge, two-movie saga but two giant, final chapters of a single story—the conclusion to the epic Marvel began 10 years ago, when Iron Man premiered in 2008.
“There’s a narrative thread that is connecting these films, but at the same time, there’s an independence in terms of what the experience is or where the story goes,” Joe Russo said. “The two-parter concept came back when Marvel decided they were going to culminate the MCU. But as we developed the movie, in execution, it ended up being more of two singular expressions.”
Since there are nearly 20 movies worth of story to tie-up in the two movies, things were constantly in motion as the directors tried to juggle everything they needed to include and needed to accomplish in them, a process that continued well into filming. Just one example: At one point, Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel was set to make her debut in Infinity War. During our set visit, Larson had her own mailbox at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta and the Russos seemed very confident the hero would be in the film... but that’s no longer the case.
Disney now says Captain Marvel is not in Infinity War, but that’s just indicative of how much the directors are dealing with. One minute, Infinity War is introducing a new, major Marvel hero to the world; the next, she’s outta there (her debut will now be in the Captain Marvel solo movie, which will be released in March 2019, right between the two Avengers movies). With so many established characters needing to be in the film, there’s no room for someone new.
“Everyone is interwoven in this plot in a way where they have an emotional connection to the story and are emotionally affected by the stakes of the movie,” Anthony Russo said. “You can’t [have] a movie with this many characters and not have each of those characters show up and honor them from the 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.”
Surprisingly, to try and figure out how to achieve that unique blend of tones, characters, and narratives, the Russos looked at two crime movies from the 1990s: John Herzfeld’s Two Days in the Valley and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight.
“We use them as inspiration for narrative imagery,” Joe Russo said. “It’s hard to find movies with this many characters. You can look at [Robert] Altman films, which have a tendency to be more veritè. Two Days in the Valley has a narrative thrust to it and had an energy that we were looking for. Again, just purely something inspires us in the room when we’re working on the script.”
“I think you’ll see several different styles employed in the movie,” Anthony Russo added. “Because the chemistry is different in each sequence and the needs of each sequence are different.”
Of course, the Russos also looked at all the different MCU movies as well. In preparing for Infinity War, the brothers basically talked to each of the Marvel filmmakers for various kinds of input. James Gunn, for example, is an executive producer on the film and helped integrate the Guardians of the Galaxy into the movie. Taika Waititi was also a big help to the Russos, simply because his version of Thor in Ragnarok, which was still unreleased as the Russos were filming, was so different than the Thor the movies had portrayed before. The same goes for Ryan Coogler, who was filming Black Panther simultaneously with Infinity War. Since Wakanda plays a big role in Infinity War (read more about that here), there was a lot of communication back and forth between the directors.
“For the movies that haven’t been completed, that’s where it gets into a tricky spot for us,” Joe Russo said. “We want to make sure we’re being sensitive to what’s happening during the execution of those films [and] the process of discovery that they will go through in the execution that’s different from what was on the page in the scripts. So that’s really where it becomes critical that we communicate with other people, just to understand how things are evolving while we’re executing, while they’re executing...”
“And what we need from their storytelling to help move us forward,” Anthony Russo added.
Though they wouldn’t say how, the Russos mentioned one upcoming Marvel film in particular that ties in closely with Infinity War. “I think from a plot standpoint, if there’s any corollary, [Ant-Man and the Wasp] probably has some elements that stitch in,” Joe Russo teased.
The balancing act of all of this is unfathomable, and that’s even before you factor in the actual story, which is based on The Infinity Gauntlet comic book saga, written by Jim Starlin in 1991. In it, Thanos gains all six Infinity Gems (referred to as Infinity Stones in the films), and uses them to instantly kill half of the beings in the universe, at which point Marvel’s superheroes have to band together to stop him and erase his atrocity. But for the Russos, the classic comic is just their jumping-off point.
“It’s a brilliant comic, and the ideas behind it are so large, it’s what pushed us to go for the scale that we’re going for on these movies,” explained Russo. However, that was just the beginning; they looked at many of Marvel’s many other epics starring Thanos, which often have Infinity in the title, and much more. “We’re kind of combining it all into... our favorite stuff and how do we see elements from each helping our story and the story that we want to tell,” he continued.
The original Infinity Gauntlet story became a classic in large part because Thanos is Marvel’s biggest, baddest villain. This meant the Russos had to make him the same in the film—despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe already containing some impressively diabolical bad guys.
“Our job with Thanos is to make him the preeminent villain in the Marvel Universe,” Joe Russo said. “That is his role in the comics. That’s his role in these movies. And in order to be a preeminent villain, you have to do some pretty bad things.”
There’s an implication here that some of these beloved heroes are going to die. And though the Russos wouldn’t get into much detail, of course, they talked about how crucial the stakes are for a story this big.
“We like mature storytelling. We like dramatic storytelling. We like intense storytelling. I think we appreciate conflict and we appreciate stakes. And without stakes, there really isn’t a lot of value to the story,” Joe Russo said. “And I think if you look at the Marvel Universe as a whole, as a story that’s been told for 10 years, you can look at this as the climax. And the stakes will be higher in this movie than they’ve ever been, times 10.”
Between all of these elements and goals and needs, the Russos have an immense amount of responsibility with Avengers: Infinity War. And they know it.
“If you were to think of the Marvel Universe over the last 10 years as a book, this is the ending of the book,” Anthony Russo explained. “There may be new books written, but this is certainly the ending of this book.”
Avengers Infinity War opens April 27. We’ll have more from the set soon.