Avengers: Infinity War, which initially had a release date scheduled for May 4, has been bumped up a week earlier to April 27th. Fans that have been waiting with bated breath to see all of their favorite heroes aligned won't have to wait as long, as one of the most anticipated stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is right around the corner. With advance tickets now on sale here at Fandango, we partnered with Jamie Broadnax, creator of Black Girl Nerds, on an exclusive interview with co-director Joe Russo — who, along with his brother Anthony, has helmed the last two Captain America films (Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War).
In our interview, Joe tells us the tone of this film, some intel about Thanos, and he says that one of the most compelling pairings in the movie is between Iron Man and Doctor Strange.
Jamie Broadnax for Fandango: Black Panther is still breaking box office records and is a film that people cannot stop talking about. As we now transition from the Avengers story in phase three, how much of Black Panther and Wakanda will we get to see in this movie?
Joe Russo: A brief bit. You know I think that Ryan did an incredible job with that film. It's one of the great commercial films of the last decade. It's such a rich character, it's such a rich environment, there are so many rich characters in that environment that it was really a huge opportunity for us to be able to use utilize the world of Wakanda in Infinity War. Especially when you know these movies are about scale — are about this massive clash between our heroes and Thanos and Wakanda provides such a dramatic backdrop for it that there was no way it wasn't going to be in the movie.
Fandango: Will Infinity War be a set up for the next film in the Avengers story, or does this movie sit as a stand-alone?
Joe Russo: In the way that all Marvel movies sit as a stand-alone this one's a stand-alone. You know there's an experiment in serialized storytelling, so it certainly adds a correlation to the Avengers' story, but it's written in a way that all the Marvel movies have a correlation to each other. One thing that we set out from the beginning and said that we wanted to do from the beginning, was that we'd been disappointed about times we've sat in part one of part two films and it feels like they just took out a pair of scissors and cut the movie in half. And the first film isn't really structured in a way where there's a beginning, middle, and an end. It feels more set up like a first act and half of a second act for the second movie.
Avengers 3 has a beginning, middle, and a very definitive end and Avengers 4 does the same. Of course, there will be elements that carry over — and elements of the [Avengers] story that carry over, but I think you'll have a complete emotional experience in each film.
Fandango: I understand that you were inspired by 90's crime films while producing this film. Can you share the films that had inspired you while directing this?
Joe Russo: I think it was really about the structure and we had so many characters on the table, we would look back and looked at movies that also dealt with a lot of characters that had propulsive structure. And that led us to 90's ensemble crime films like Out of Sight and like 2 Days in the Valley. This is, for all intents and purposes, a smash and grab movie. Thanos is making a play for the stones, the way that a criminal would be hunting diamonds or drugs or any element that would drive one of those stones. Take for instance 2 Days in the Valley, there's a sprawling collection of characters built around a plot line that culminates in the third act, and that's similar to what we're doing here.
Fandango: There are a ton of characters in this movie. How did you balance all of them together in this story?
Joe Russo: You know, we've had a lot of experience balancing ensembles. Our first film Welcome to Collinwood was an ensemble, Arrested Development was an ensemble, Community was an ensemble, Happy Endings was an ensemble. We had a lot of experience working with and telling stories with a lot of characters and making sure that each of those characters was serviced either in an A story, a B story or C story in some regard - either driving the plot, or they're driving their own personal story. It's a lot of hard work and it's part of the reason that we decided to make Avengers 3 and 4, was just the pure level of ambition involved in the movies. It's an unprecedented amount of characters I think in a commercial film.
And you know the work is really done in the writer's room with myself and my brother and Steve McFeely and Christopher Markus. We've all worked together on all four Marvel movies and they know the Marvel universe as well as anyone. They've, I think, written six or seven films for Marvel. Our job is once we get the story down on paper, we've got a draft and a script that we're happy with, and that has the structure and the plot that we're all happy with, we then start combing through the script from each character's point of view and try to make sure that we understand the story that we're telling with each character. Again, in a movie with 40 characters people are going to have varying degrees of investment in the story. They're either going to be either really high investment or low investment, and high screen time or lower screen time.
We knew that because we had two films, Avengers 3 and 4, that in one movie we could push people to the forefront but then we could pull back in the second film and push other characters to the forefront who had less screen time in the first movie. We did have the opportunity to divide it up that way. So if you feel like one of your favorite characters didn't get enough screen time in Avengers 3, well then wait 'til Avengers 4.
Fandango: You mention some characters are invested with more screen time than others. Can you name which of those characters were invested more?
Joe Russo: Interestingly enough, I'll start out by saying Thanos, even though he's not a character that had a huge preexisting story in the Marvel universe. He was a threat but he was not developed in any way up to this point. Thanos has an incredible amount of screen time in this film, in a lot of ways I would say it's his movie. Our job when we make these films — and what we feel is important to us — is to surprise the audience. We wanted to tell a story that they weren't expecting, and the story is told from the point of view of a villain, which I think is also really unique and risky for a commercial film that will surprise the audience. I think this is a market where the audience really enjoys innovation and disruption, and we want to do something innovative in this space. So I think Thanos has an incredible amount of screen time, and I think you'll find that Thor has a really interesting arc in the film. He hasn't been at the forefront of other Avengers movies but he certainly has a very important role in this film. So I'll say, Thanos and Thor.
Fandango: Speaking of Thor, he and Hulk are now much funnier characters since Thor: Ragnarok. Will we see the same kind of humor from those guys in this movie?
Joe Russo: Each film I think that the audience is part of, is what they love about Marvel, it is that in the same way, that different writers in comic books have different interpretations of the characters. [The same goes] for filmmakers who work with Marvel. Our tone is very different than Taika's tone, it's very different than James Gunn's tone, it's very different than Ryan Coogler's tone and I think that is what excites people about seeing the movies. What keeps them distinct from each other is that they're all different tonal explorations. I think you'll find that obviously there'll be some correlation to his character from Ragnarok, and my brother and I spent years doing comedy with Arrested Development and Community, but that's not always necessarily appropriate for the tone of this movie. I think you'll see that Thor is at times hilarious and at times tragic in the film.
Fandango: The airport scene in Captain America: Civil War served as the splash page moment for that film. What was your splash page moment for Avengers: Infinity War?
Joe Russo: You know, it's crazy, but the level of ambition in the airport sequence almost killed my brother and I. It was a really intense sequence. It took us literally a year to execute from start to finish, from the time we rolled cameras on it til the time we locked picture on it. It was a lot of work and it kept evolving as it went. This movie has three or four airport sequences. We really wanted to feel the concept of Infinity War so I think I don't want to point out anyone specifically so I don't spoil it for anyone, but there are some huge sequences in this movie.
Fandango: Was there a pairing or partnership that you were most excited to see or a pairing that you think audiences are most excited to see among the Avengers?
Joe Russo: Amongst the Avengers, let me see here. I think Tony Stark and Doctor Strange is a really interesting pairing and a really compelling pairing. It's a bit of an odd couple, and we used to reference DeNiro and Grodin from Midnight Run, so it's a somewhat contentious clash of egos, but very interesting and it has a big impact on the story.
Fandango: Civil War was more of a family film, Winter Soldier was more of an espionage film, what kind of film will Infinity War be?
Joe Russo: I equate it to a heist film, I really do. I think that it has a lot of structural elements that were borrowed from the heist genre.
Fandango: Whose story does this film belong to? Does it have its own hero telling the narrative?
Joe Russo: Its point of view is Thanos' point of view, so it's a villain driving the narrative. But there are, that being said, it is at times multi-perspective and there are very important roles for a couple of the heroes. I think you could argue, too, that a lot of the film is told from the point of view of Gamora, and I think she has a really fascinating arc in the movie.
Fandango: Is there a character in this movie that will surprise people?
Joe Russo: I need to think about that. Running down all the characters in my brain right now.
Fandango: There's a lot to get through!
Joe Russo: Who's the most surprising? Let's take Thanos. I don't want to keep defaulting to him but I think people will find him at turns horrifying and at turns empathetic.
Fandango: Ooh, okay. Sounds like he's kind of a Killmonger.
Joe Russo: Certainly, we love villains with depth and it was really, you know, in Winter Soldier what motivated us to work on that film is the fact that Captain America was unwittingly going up against his best friend. As a villain it’s an incredibly rich backstory and potential for real drama there, so we love complicated villains. Civil War, Zemo is a victim, he was victimized by the Avengers. His family was killed and he blames them for it, so we always try to find the human side of a villain because in every villain's story, they're the hero in their own story. Their point of view is that they're right. And I find that when I watch films where the villain is more complex I find that it makes the heroes more complex and ultimately in the story more interesting.
Fandango: Last question. You won't destroy Wakanda, will you?
Joe Russo: You know what, I can't say. Let's just say that it's Infinity War. Everything's on the table, including Earth.
Avengers: Infinity War premieres in theaters nationwide Friday April 27th. You can get your advance tickets right here at Fandango.