[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Avengers: Infinity War,” in theaters now.]
The Russo brothers know they’ve upset you. Anthony and Joe Russo, directors of “Avengers: Infinity War,” realize that the shocking ending of their latest Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster packed quite an emotional punch, as infamous baddie Thanos not only won his ongoing altercation with Earth’s mightiest heroes, but then also used his be-jeweled Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half of the universe’s population.
With a literal snap of his fingers, Thanos took out a slew of beloved characters, from Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), the vast majority of the Guardians of the Galaxy, plus a new-and-improved Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and even the future-seeing Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).
“We knew that this was a risky choice to make, but we felt like it was the right choice to make because it was where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see, because it felt most challenging and surprising to us,” Anthony said in an interview with IndieWire. Joe put it a touch more succinctly, adding: “Sometimes villains win.”
The audience response has not been lost on them, and Anthony recalled a recent screening that concluded with a particularly emotional Q&A. “The first question after the screening was from a 10-year-old kid, and he just said very feebly, ‘Why did you kill Spider-Man?’ It was, you know—” His brother cut in, “It’s hard.”
“There’s no answer to that question,” Anthony added. Well, there might be.
“‘Empire Strikes Back’ was a very important film for my cinematic upbringing,” Joe said. “I went to see it at 11AM when it came out and I stayed in the theater until 11PM and saw it, I don’t know, five times in a row. The catharsis from that film was important to me, and I do think that obviously there’s value in optimism in commercial movies and there’s also value in pain.”
It’s the concept and question of emotional catharsis and big-time stakes that speaks to the Russos, an attitude reflected in the closing moments of “Infinity War.”
“We just reflect upon, ‘What are we looking for when we go to the movies?,'” Anthony said. “Having a good time is certainly part of it, but at the same time, we want to have an emotionally cathartic experience. We wanted to experience something that’s emotionally resonant with us, that helps us filter our own experience through that.”
Joe added, “There are things that you can deal with in fantasy that you can’t necessarily deal with in reality. I think that the film is a bit of a reflection of our times.”
The Russos are also trying not to be too hung up on fan expectations, which is a difficult ask, given the widespread adoration for the MCU films and the ease of which the fanbase can chatter about their hopes and theories for each installment.
“We’ve learned over our careers that we do our best work when we tell the story that we want to tell, and that we hope other people enjoy it,” Joe said. “The more you block out everything else that’s going on and the less you care, frankly, about everything else that’s going on, the more pure the potential for good storytelling. And so our mission was to tell a very difficult and complicated story.”
Early buzz about “Infinity War” was mostly mired in fans discussing who of their beloved of heroes was going to die, and the impact it would have on the series going forward. There were plenty of early favorites for the chopping block, from Iron Man to Captain America, though it’s safe to say that no one saw the final act of “Infinity War” coming. These days, that’s rare in Hollywood.
“We don’t pay attention to it. We do hear it, obviously, but I think that’s reflective of the 10 years of emotional investment that the audience has in these films and what’s so unique about what Marvel’s done,” Joe said of fan chatter. “It’s an unprecedented experiment in narrative. Never have we seen this many franchises this successful, told with interweaving storytelling and all culminating into a single film.”
This article continues on the next page.