At Hall H, the Russo Brothers Take a Victory Lap

by Brent Simon July 20, 2019
Directors Joe and Anthny Russo at ComicCon 2019

kevin winter/getty images

Though celebratory in nature, San Diego Comic-Con is reflexively oriented toward the future — the new films, TV shows and graphic novels that loom on the pop-cultural horizon. But when you’ve just earned $2.78 billion in the worldwide theatrical box office, as Joe and Anthony Russo did with the April release of Avengers: Endgame, the capstone to a three-phase, 10-year run for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a moment of communal jubilant reflection and tribute seems perhaps not unearned.

So as an appetizer of sorts — in advance of Saturday night’s Marvel panel, where more actual news about Black Panther 2 and Marvel’s future plans for cinematic domination is expected — the Russo brothers took a victory lap, sitting for a 50-minute conversation in Hall H that was one part celebratory MCU retrospective and one part “coming attractions” preview of their post-Marvel career plans.

The co-directors of Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War and the last two Avengers films were peppered with questions right out of the gate about whether they had plans or thoughts about eventually returning to the Marvel fold with an adaptation of the epic “Secret Wars” storyline, one of Joe’s stated favorite comic books. The brothers good-naturedly sidestepped these questions, and instead talked about their fraternal method of dispute resolution (“We argue through Socratic dialogue, just kind of ‘point-counterpoint,’” said Anthony).

After revealing that the last big disagreement they had was over the length of Captain America’s hair in Infinity War (“It’s an argument that I think is still going on, actually,” joked Joe), the brothers were asked who among the Avengers cast ruined the most takes, and said it was “a tie between Mark Ruffalo, because he gets excited and kind of lost in the performance, and (Anthony) Mackie, because he gets lost outside of it, and he likes to crack a lot of jokes on set.” Asked, meanwhile, who nailed scenes in a single take, the brothers immediately both said Scarlett Johansson.

The undeniable highlight of the event, though, came when video-submitted questions from people who were introduced as “fans” gave a platform for Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Rudd, and Robert Downey, Jr. to each lob queries — most silly, but some rooted in informed nerdom about the MCU — at their directors. Rudd exhibited his characteristic perfect comedic timing, pausing for a beat after asking, “How are you doing Comic-Con?” and offering a slight nod that anticipated the two- or the three-second roar of enthusiastic response. Rudd then joked about the “best Chris” debate playfully taking place among Avengers fans, saying that he was less interested in that than the best Paul discussion (“Bettany is number two, I presume”), before wrapping up by asking the Russos who in the movie had the “best ass.”

A playful, sunglasses-clad Downey, meanwhile, called the Russos his “brothers in art, and brothers in actuality” before asking them to compare his delivery of the line “I am Iron Man” in the 2008 movie which saw him debut the role to his last delivery of the same line in Endgame, in response to Thanos. That query teed it up for the Russos to talk about the emotionality of that day of filming, and also share a neat piece of trivia: It turns out that Downey’s last scene was filmed next door to the soundstage where he did his very first screen test for the character of Tony Stark 12 years earlier, before getting the role.

The last half of the panel pivoted to the Russos’ future plans. Next up behind the camera for them is an adaptation of the novel Cherry, a contemporary drama about a returning war veteran grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Scheduled to begin filming in October with Tom Holland, the movie is set in the brothers’ hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and will feature locations they grew up in and around. (The author of the book even worked at the same restaurant Joe did years previously.)

Most of the latter portion of the conversation with the Russos, though, centered around AGBO Studios, the company they founded with screenwriters Chris Markus and Stephen McFeely, and envision as a “storytellers studio.”

“The inspiration really came from sitting down in a room and breaking story with Chris and Stephen in a very disciplined fashion. And since Steven Soderbergh really discovered us 20 years ago and held the door open for us, now we want to do that for others too,” said the 48-year-old Joe.

Showcasing the depth of that commitment, the brothers then pivoted to an introduction of movies they are either producing or planning to produce. The only footage shown was the new, final trailer for the upcoming crime drama 21 Bridges, which was introduced with a short video from Chadwick Boseman.

On their development slate, though, are planned adaptations of Magic: The Gathering, the graphic novel The Electric State, 1980s comic book Grim Jack, and a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Michael B. Jordan. The Russos also teased an adaptation of Battle of the Planets, stating that it was at least possible that it was a project the brothers would actually direct themselves, and if they did it would be live-action. “Basically we’re slowly hunting down all of our favorite IP from childhood,” admitted Joe with a laugh.

Given the massive consumer embrace of their last several big-screen efforts, it seems like a childhood trip down memory lane with which a lot more people may soon happily become familiar.