“Not everything lasts forever!” exclaims Joe Russo.
I’m with the filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo, aka the Russo Brothers, at the Venice Film Festival where their latest movie, Mosul, is making its world premiere. The film, directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan and produced by the Russos as the debut feature for their studio AGBO, tells the remarkable true story of the Nineveh SWAT Team—an elite group of Iraqi soldiers fighting to reclaim their city from ISIS. It’s akin to a more kinetic Black Hawk Down, minus the shitty politics and Ewan McGregor’s mystifying accent.
As these are the Russo Brothers who rejuvenated the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain America: Winter Soldier, introduced Black Panther and Spider-Man to the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, and then closed out Phase Three in crowd-pleasing fashion with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, our talk eventually drifts to the news that Marvel has cut ties with Sony-owned Spidey, jettisoning the webslinger from any future Marvel films. Given how the Russos—along with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige—fought tooth and nail to incorporate Tom Holland’s Spider-Man into the MCU, they’re sad to see him go, but enjoyed the ride.
“We were extremely passionate about it. This is something we really wanted to happen, and fought a long time internally at Marvel to make it happen,” Anthony Russo says of bringing Holland’s Spider-Man into the fold.
“It wasn’t easy,” adds Joe Russo. “Kevin [Feige] went through a lot. There were a lot of ups and downs, and he kept walking into our office and we’d go, ‘Look, we’ve got to do it with [Sony],’ and he’d go, ‘OK, I’ll figure it out,’ and walk back into his. He was looking for the way out. He wanted to open that door and have us go, ‘We figured it out! We don’t need Spider-Man!’ because it’s a lot of work to get two major corporations to play nice with each other, and the fact that it happened at all, we should all be dancing and celebrating that we got that little bit of time.”
“I think that’s why Joe and I are not so devastated or surprised that there’s been a falling-out, because it was so hard to make it happen in the first place,” offers Anthony Russo.
Then there’s the matter of Avengers: Endgame and its awards prospects. Since the film received rave reviews, and eclipsed Avatar as the highest-grossing movie ever, it stands to reason that there will be some Oscar chatter surrounding it—even though it is a superhero blockbuster, a genre which, with the exception of Black Panther, hasn’t exactly won over Academy voters.
But the Russos feel that awards pundits and voters often overlook just how difficult it is to make a big studio production like Endgame, employing thousands of workers and incorporating dozens of A-list movie stars in the service of a thrilling, large-scale film.
“It’s certainly as difficult as it gets—without question,” says Joe Russo. “On a scale of 1-10, this is a 12. We’ll say this: there certainly is a disconnect between the Academy and popular audiences. It started about 20 years ago. If you go back and look at the Academy Awards up until that point, they were in sync with popular audiences.”
Much of the blame for this rests on the gross shoulders of Harvey Weinstein, who relentlessly harassed and manipulated Oscar voters into caping for his arthouse films under the Miramax banner—many of which, e.g. Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, and The King’s Speech, weren’t worthy of the Best Picture Oscar.
“That’s what happened,” chimes in Anthony Russo of Weinstein’s influence. “And to its credit, the Academy seems very focused on trying to champion smaller movies, which is awesome, but you don’t want to have that be the only thing they try to do.”
“Because then it just becomes an independent film festival, which we’re all in support of, but if you want to draw an audience, and you have to draw an audience for the Oscars to keep working, then at some point you’ve gotta listen to the audience,” adds Joe Russo. “We don’t make movies for awards. Yes, making this was exceedingly difficult. We made the two most expensive movies ever back-to-back. But I just want to stump for one thing, and that’s Robert Downey.”
Both the Russo Brothers believe that Downey Jr.’s final turn as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Endgame is not only worthy of Academy Award consideration, but that he should win it.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen—in movie history—a global audience react to a performance the way they did to Robert Downey in that movie,” claims Joe Russo. “There were people bawling in movie theaters, hyperventilating. I mean, that is a profound performance, when you can touch audiences all over the world to that degree. We’ve never seen anything like that, and if that doesn’t deserve an Oscar, I don’t know what does.”
Our longer feature with Joe and Anthony Russo—along with fellow producer Mohamed Al Daradji—on Mosul, Trump and more will run Sunday.