Joe Russo on Taika Waititi's Thor, Civil War and more

Poster for Thor: Ragnarok
Poster for Thor: Ragnarok

Joe Russo, co-director of the highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War, can't wait to see Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok.

The Russo brothers became Marvel fan favourites with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and are now looking ahead to the two Avengers: Infinity War films, which will be released in 2018 and 2019.

On the Civil War publicity trail, I caught up with Joe in Singapore, and couldn't resist asking what he thought of the Hunt for the Wilderpeople director's upcoming foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"He's one of the nicest guys in the world," Joe told me.

"He's super smart, super funny, he's going to bring so much to [Thor 3]."

We also talked about filming some of the action in IMAX format, the realism he brings to the Marvel films, bringing Spider-Man and Ant-Man into the Avengers line-up and more.

Taika Waititi is about to direct the new Thor film. The connectivity is part of the appeal of the Marvel films -- do you guys all get into a room to discuss that? Have you met Taika?I haven't met with him yet, but I'm getting information back-and-forth through the producers who are working on Thor. I talked to Hemsworth a couple of weeks ago, information is being passed back-and-forth all the time. We have a very close relationship with a lot of the directors who are working on these movies, they're personal friends of ours. People are texting and emailing each other all the time. It's like United Artists, it's a group of very like-minded guys who all like each other, we're working on the same story-telling, helping each other and looking for the best ideas to create movies that appeal to the audience.

What was your reaction when you heard Taika was going to direct Thor: Ragnarok?I thought it was fantastic. I think Marvel has been absolutely brilliant in some of their choices and Taika is a home-run. Tonally, he's one of the nicest guys in the world. He's super smart, super funny, he's going to bring so much to that project. I'm really excited about what he's going to do with it.

With full respect to the full Marvel canon, for me Winter Soldier changed it up. It took it from standard superheroes to being something else altogether. Was that your mission when you took on that film? Absolutely. We like realism, we like psychological realism. We like the characters to feel like they're living in our world. So it was a very conscious effort on our part to ground the storytelling as much as you can with a superhero movie.

There's been a lot of talk about the airport fight scene in Civil War. How much of a priority was choosing to shoot that in IMAX?It was a huge priority because we're looking at what tools are available to us as technology evolves so quickly. The IMAX format is very popular right now and it works really well for this large-scale storytelling that we have in the movie. There's a lot of characters with verticality; they fly, there's some big characters, big of stature, so we felt like it was the proper format for the audience.

How did you figure out which heroes would be on each side?That was a lot of work. We spent a lot of time thinking about it. Obviously we're trying to pay off all the relationships that have been established in the Marvel universe. We sat in a room for many months, discussing all the different possibilities; certainly some characters are easier to decide than others. And of course you want to surprise the audience as well. You don't want to make it predictable across the board.

Part of doing that is reaching back in time and bringing new characters on board. How did you narrow that down?As we were breaking out the characters we started to think the story was going to become very linear. It was going to be binary. We've got two factions fighting each other. So we thought, can we introduce other characters that will complicate the binary nature of the two factions? So we introduced Black Panther, who is a free radical -- he is invested in the storyline, but not in the same way that the other characters are. Spider-Man doesn't have the same level of stakes as the other characters, so he offers a lot of humour to the story. Ant-Man coming in for the first time is the same thing, he doesn't have a lot of stakes, but he can offer humour because he's not as emotionally invested in what's happening as they are.

There's been such cheering over Spider-Man's introduction. How much pressure do you feel when you know how passionate the fanbase is for each of these characters?You do feel the pressure, but to be honest I push it all out. You have to be very Zen about the approach. I'm a comic book fan, I grew up collecting comics and am a very voracious comic book reader. So I have my own opinions about what I want to see. I find that the best way to do this -- the fans are unbelievable, but they don't speak with one voice. They all want something different. So if you try to make a movie for the fans, you're going to fail. You just have to make it for yourself and hope that other people will appreciate it.


Captain America: Civil War opens in New Zealand cinemas on May 5.