These days, the universe revolves around the Russo brothers.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is.
By the end of 2019, Joe and Anthony Russo, brothers and self-described comic book fanboys, will have directed four Marvel movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and a second, still-untitled Avengers movie slated for 2019.
“Our day job is spoken for in the foreseeable future,” Anthony says on a muggy July day at Pinewood Studios, just outside of Atlanta.
If you have an aversion to blockbuster movies or major pop cultural events — Marvel movies grossed more than $12 billion worldwide between 2008 and summer 2017 — you might have caught the pair’s work on the small screen with shows like Arrested Development and Community.
Now the Russo brothers are about to release what fans expect to be a culminating event that will change the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it and make way for — what else — more Marvel movies. Infinity War will tie together elements from the entire MCU, including Thor: Ragnorak, and Black Panther — a blockbuster so huge it prompted Marvel to move up the new movie from its original May 4 release date to April 27.
I went to Pinewood Atlanta Studios to talk to Joe and Anthony about what it’s like to helm a full-fledged Avengers movie, explore virtual reality storytelling and get inspiration from ’90s heist films. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Joe Russo (left) and Anthony Russo say they’re always on the hunt for new ways technology can push storytelling.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET As filmmakers, what technology interests you?
Joe: We’re really obsessed with virtual reality right now. I think part of the reason why TV is in such a golden age is that, collectively, we’ve perfected storytelling in a half-hour format. Moving forward, storytelling and narrative needs to expand and it needs to be pulled in different ways. I’ve had emotional experiences in VR that I haven’t been able to have in two-dimensional experiences.
I think that’s really the future of storytelling. I’ve got kids. I see the way they consume media now is very different from the way I did. What excites them is very different from what excited me. The more immersive the experience, the more hooked they are, and that’s what they’re looking for. So we’re really digging into VR and trying to figure out how you tell stories in that format, what those kinds of stories can be and what the future of the technology looks like.
What’s the biggest difference between directing a Captain America movie and a full-blown Avengers movie?
Anthony: On one level, it’s the scope of the ensemble. While the Captain America movies we did were ensemble films, and Civil War had a lot of characters in it, they both fail in comparison to these two. Joe and I have always been drawn to ensemble storytelling. We like the idea of telling stories from multiple characters’ points of view and thinking about the story from multiple characters’ points of view. It’s a way to develop very layered, thick storytelling. It’s the kind of storytelling that, hopefully, you can keep revisiting because there are a lot of dimensions to discover on multiple viewings.
We also look into the comics themselves for ideas. We may end up doing a different iteration, but a lot of the ideas are sourced from the comics.
Joe: You have all these characters coming from successful franchises where they have their own history, their own emotional history, and you put them all together in one