One of the most obvious traits that's come to define the set of 20 (and counting) interconnected films we call the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an emphasis on buildup. It's something that's been used by many fans to define the key differences between what's been happening at Marvel Studios for the last decade and what's been happening over at Warner Bros. with the DC Extended Universe: Marvel will take its time and build its characters, while Warner has a tendency to rely more on the familiar iconography of its characters while jumping right in to massive stories.
Both approaches are valid, but for Avengers: Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo, the buildup of the MCU became particularly important when they decided it was time to break all of our hearts.
Speaking to Deadline this week about various projects they have in the works from their studio, AGBO, the Russos also took some time to provide an update on the upcoming fourth Avengers film, which they hope to have finished in March after a fall and winter spent in editing and post production. Of course, the whole reason we're interested in hearing updates from the editing bay, no matter how dry, is due to the massive emotional impact Infinity War had on even casual MCU viewers, something Anthony Russo attributed to the years of buildup and good faith that the film was able to play with, as it careened to those final devastating moments.
"It was so gratifying that in a movie with this scope and scale and that wide of an audience, that we were able to end with a gut punch and yet the audience stayed with us and found value and kept coming back," he said. "It’s a rare thing to find in commercial filmmaking and we know it had a lot to do with the capital that’s been built up around these characters for the last 10 years of Marvel filmmaking. The audience is so invested in these characters that they’re willing to stick with them even through the hard stuff. It has been out great pleasure as storytellers to take them through that hard stuff and have it be a cathartic and even entertaining experience at times.”
It's interesting to ponder just how much Infinity War risked in terms of the goodwill it had to gamble with as the narrative played out. Yes, there were 10 years of Marvel movies before it, most of them massive hits, and yes the films have their diehard fans who are going to keep coming back to see the rest of the saga no matter what. The MCU would not have come this far, though, were it not for the more casual fans, particularly those who aren't generally too connected to the level of comic book storytelling Infinity War was playing with. Many fans understand that "death" in these films is not final, that even the most devastating villains can eventually be defeated, and that crossover events mean we sometimes have to wait for certain characters to get more of a spotlight next time around, but many fans also have very little understanding of these conventions. For them, the film is a different kind of experience, and yet the Russos were able to make an impact within both camps. Could Infinity War still have worked as a film if it had been made sooner, without so much buildup? Perhaps, but the impact would have likely been softened.
As for the most memorable moments that came out of that impact, Joe Russo recalled a time when a young boy approached them at a Q&A and asked them why they killed Spider-Man, crying as he did so. That's an amusing story, but also a telling one when it comes to discussing Infinity War's impact. It's not necessarily a daring film when compared to something like Sorry to Bother You (just an example), but when you consider that it's one of the most expensive films ever produced by one of the world's biggest entertainment companies (Disney, a name synonymous with relatively family entertainment), the MCU's biggest spectacle so far was also its biggest risk-taker from a storytelling standpoint.
“The best reaction was probably that 10-year old kid crying and asking us why we killed Spider-Man. From the time we came to Marvel, our goal was to surprise the audience and not give them the same thing but rather to challenge them,” Joe Russo said. “That was our view on Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Civil War was also very controversial internally with the powers that be in turning Iron Man into the antagonist and severing the relationship between Cap and Tony Stark. Every Marvel film we’ve created had this controversy, like are we pushing this rabid audience too far? Are we making movies that could perhaps be too emotionally complex for the genre? That the audience has shown up wanting more is a testament to the hard work everybody has put in over those last 10 years of films.”
Avengers: Infinity War is available on Blu-ray and digital now. The untitled fourth Avengers film is scheduled to arrive in theaters May 3, 2019, but we're still holding out hope that it'll take a cue from its predecessor and show up in April.