With more superheroes per square inch than any movie before, “Avengers: Infinity War” launches into theaters Friday, April 27, as the beginning of the end . . . of actors’ contracts. While some Marvel Cinematic Universe stars will continue on to the untitled sequel being released next year, the characters of others may meet their doom. Death be not proud, but it doth respect binding legal documents.
Whoever lives or dies, such heroes as Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man and the Black Panther will be arrayed against the cosmic conqueror Thanos. As presaged in many of the previous films, he has been hunting the six Infinity Stones, which variously control time, space and other primal constructs. With them, he plans to destroy half the universe in order to achieve some sort of purported equilibrium.
Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who together directed the well-reviewed hits “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) and “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), reunited with those films’ screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, to shoot “Infinity War” and its sequel back-to-back. The affable siblings, calling separately by phone from the movie’s press tour in Singapore, spoke with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
You’ve called this a heist movie, but those generally are about the clever mechanics of an elaborate burglary. This seems more a war movie, which traditionally is about characters forced to work together and showing their deepest selves under extreme pressure.
Joe: A lot of times we talk about genre elements to make a movie accessible to an audience, so they understand the story structure when they come into it. But also, these movies work much better when you cross-pollinate them with another genre. Thanos is collecting the stones, and there’s a ticking clock: That’s where it reflects a heist movie. And it certainly lines up with a war film because it puts [characters] in a position to define themselves and define who they are. . . . The themes of “Infinity War” are: What is the cost of being a hero in a complicated world, and does the value of doing what’s right outweigh the cost?
Loki has grown from a murderous antagonist in “Thor” (2011) and “The Avengers” (2012) to become a conflicted figure who can find himself doing the right thing, albeit on his own terms. Who is Loki now, to you, in “Infinity War”?
Joe: Reformed-villain characters are typically the most interesting — and I would also put Natasha Romanoff [the Black Widow] in that category — because they harbor a dark past and they understand darkness. But now they can try to embrace goodness in a way that makes them more compelling because they’ve been to the other side.
Anthony: It’s a tough question to answer without getting into spoilers. In general, what appeals to my brother and me about movies in general, characters in general, is the complexity that you can find within them. People aren’t simply this or simply that. Loki is a great example — somebody who is torn in two directions. We tried to do a similar thing with Thanos: Even though he is sociopathic, he also has a strong emotional life and a lot of instincts that can almost be called altruistic. It’s a very complex expression, and I think we’ve seen that with the journey of Loki as well.
About the sequel, the “untitled fourth Avengers movie” — what’s taking so long to find a title? You’ve filmed it already! You know what it’s about!
Anthony: [Chuckles] We do know the title. We spent a long time developing these stories with [the screenwriters] before we went and shot both films back to back. We haven’t announced the title because we thought it would be better to hold it until people had the experience of this movie first.
The title might be a spoiler?
Anthony: Perhaps, yeah.
Stan Lee is now 95 and not as spry as before. A couple of years ago, James Gunn directed three Stan cameos at once, for his own “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” for Scott Derrickson’s “Doctor Strange,” and for another, unrevealed film. Was that this movie?
Joe: We directed everything [in “Infinity War” and the sequel]. We brought him in for both his cameos the same day.
We know he’s shot a cameo for July’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Do you think next year’s “Infinity War” sequel might be his last?
Anthony: That’s a very hard question to answer. It’s entirely possible. I mean, he is very old. And we’ve watched him transform over the last couple of years as we’ve been working with him. All we can do is we can hope that his health stays strong and that he remains vigorous enough to keep appearing. But at that age you just can’t say. When we did shoot with him, I could not be more happy and grateful that it did work and that he was happy to do it.