On Thursday’s episode of The Gist, Mike Pesca sits down with Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers who directed Avengers: Endgame as well as previous Marvel movies Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War. The following has been adapted from their discussion and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mike Pesca: I was listening to earlier interviews where you were talking about Captain America: Civil War, and in one interview, you were very proud—and you should be—that you did a focus group, and I think 15 people were on Captain America’s side and 15 people were on Iron Man’s side.
Anthony Russo: Yeah.
But in the beginning of Endgame, aren’t you saying who was right? Doesn’t Tony actually correctly articulate that he had the right answer to that question of civil liberties versus security?
Joe Russo: To an extent.
Anthony Russo: Well, he says that in a moment of great duress. He’s basically starving to death. He’s been stuck in space. He’s devastated.
He’s saying the most hurtful things.
Anthony Russo: Yeah.
Joe Russo: He was not wrong that there was a great threat coming, and they needed to build a suit of armor around the world, and at what point do civil liberties trump—no pun intended—do civil liberties come before the government’s ability to protect its citizens?
I think what’s interesting is that to some extent, they had to go through this. There was a sense of destiny to this. They had to go through it to win it. And in a way both he and Cap were right.
All your movies, I think, have an argument at the center. What would you say the argument at the center of this movie was?
Anthony Russo: “Can you really control your own destiny?” was an idea that we thought essential to this movie. What Thanos did was so overwhelming and conclusive, and it’s like, how does a hero respond to that? How does a hero move forward from that? And the actions that that hero takes, can they actually change things?
And there’s an ambiguity in the answer. I think there is an affirmation that you can change destiny, but at the same time, you can’t always change it on your terms. You may have to sacrifice something to attain that.
Joe Russo: And the essential conflict, I think, is enunciated on a porch scene with Tony and Cap when they’re arguing about whether they should pursue this opportunity to go back in the past and get the stones, and Tony says, “I got a kid now.”
What is everyone supposed to do, who’s advanced their lives over the last five years? Maybe got married, children have come into the world—how do we not put that at risk if we go do this?
And then Cap makes the argument, “Well, what do we owe to the people who are lost? We owe the effort to try to bring them back if we think we can.”
I did a segment on The Gist that was a fake newscast that occurred three days after the events of this movie. And so some of the things that happened are: The housing glut went to a huge housing shortage. The air level in India for the first time in five years went to a dangerous level. I started thinking about airplanes—a quarter of all planes were probably falling out of the sky, if both captains died. But then half the people on the planes would come back, and half who didn’t get dustified, would be dead now. Anyway, there were a lot of considerations. I’ll ask you a few questions.
Anthony Russo: We love that, by the way. Yeah, we spent time thinking about those things.
The one that I saw you definitely address in the movie, because you had to, and it was an interesting way to go, is the environmental aspect. So whales, just looking at bees and insects … and that was also something Thanos explicitly cited: saving humanity by killing half of all life. But were there any other aspects you wanted to take a crack at? About what would really happen if we undid this whole thing after five years?
Anthony Russo: One thing that we talked about a lot—and I thought was really profound, but it was almost too large of an idea for us to wrangle, but we did try for a while—is just the idea that one-quarter of all children have no parents. Assuming you started with two parents. So that’s a lot of global orphans. Just the staggering number of that. I believe at one point really early in development, Black Widow was actually leading the organization in D.C. that was in charge of orphans, basically. That was what she was heading up five years later. But yes, it’s fascinating when you start running it down.
There was no big scene that went beyond the characters that we knew of—say, families reuniting on a large scale in New York City. Some of the other Avengers movies had cutaways. We see, like, the rest of humanity hugging, or whatever. Why? Why didn’t you wanna take it beyond that?
Joe Russo: Well, when we see those things in movies, I just feel like I disconnect from them, because I don’t know those people. And so we always try to find a way to tell that story through the characters that we have and that we care about.
Anthony Russo: We feel like that’s more emotionally arresting, is the characters that the audience has been following through this narrative, realizing the catharsis of that moment with those characters.
Joe Russo: And as directors, we’d rather direct a scene between Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner than with Extra 4 and Extra 5.
Anthony Russo: The other thing we like to think about, too—but it was more on a joking level, we never really approached it as a real dramatic issue—was just simply the remarriages that may have happened during those five years.
That was in my newscast.
Anthony Russo: Yeah.
Well, I was thinking, five years is a really … That’s the hinge. You could’ve said four or six years, but if it was 12 years later, I think there’d be a really good argument for just letting it stay, because people have moved on. And if it was five months later, there’d be really no debate.
Joe Russo: Right.
So I think it is interesting to put it at that time.
Joe Russo: Well and it’s great, too, because we’re owning it moving forward. And that’s a really crazy narrative decision to own, and it’s gonna make things really interesting, because the universe that these stories take place in is a really odd one.
Anthony Russo: Primarily what drove the choice was we wanted it to be far enough where our lead characters had reached a point of acceptance. They had to just accept it as their reality.