Avengers: Endgame’s Joe Russo on 3hr runtime: “Emotion requires story real estate.

5 min read
10

Avengers: Endgame opens in just a couple of weeks, and if I could give a tip to anybody that’s going to see it (which should be everybody), it would be this: Avoid the sodas. The greatly-anticipated culmination of the past 10 years worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, Endgame was recently confirmed to boast a bladder-bursting runtime of 3 hours 2 minutes! Of course, we had known about this runtime a while back already, but that was while the film was still in post-production. Usually some time spent in the editing room would drop that number down.

However, talking to BoxOfficeProin an extensive interview, Joe Russo – who co-directed Endgame and its precursor Avengers: Infinity War with his brother Anthony – explained that a movie this epic in scale required a runtime to match.

We went through the pain and effort to shoot both Infinity War and Endgame in IMAX, so they’ve been shot in incredible scale. I think they’re two of the biggest movies ever made from a character standpoint and from a visual standpoint. The scale is tremendous.

We’re still looking at a similar time [approximately three hours]. This one’s been very specific in its run time. It really hasn’t changed since we executed the first cut of the film. Even though we’ve shot a lot of footage between now and then, we’ve swapped things out and the water keeps rising to the same level because the story’s so dense. We have so many characters that we’re working with again that require that kind of run time.

It’s not just about the size of the cast and the scale of the action though (though that certainly adds to it), but also about how Endgame is bringing full circle some stories that began a full decade ago. And as the audience reactions to Infinity War’s devastating ending proved, there’s a lot of emotion in that.

My brother and I are really committed to emotional stakes, and emotion requires story real estate. When you have a sprawling plot with a lot of characters and emotional stakes, it requires time to breathe emotionally. On the scale, you’re just going to wind up at a certain run time. We’ve been really hard on the film. We don’t like excessive run times; it’s just very difficult wrapping up 10 years of storytelling.

Joe and Anthony Russo burst onto the superhero blockbuster scene with Captain America: Winter Soldier and then Captain America: Civil War before tackling these two Avengers movies. Long before they were ever involved with all that MCU storytelling though, they had only really been known for their work on TV comedy series like Arrested Development and Community. You would think that made them unlikely picks, for these gigs but their early work actually prepared the Russos for these massive productions.

We spent a decade squeezing complex comedy stories with many, many characters, both of those shows being big ensemble shows, into 21 minutes. We’d call it ‘the Russo path,’ where we came in and squeezed it down to a density that we felt would elevate the show, because it would move so quickly that you’d miss half the jokes and have to watch it again. That was an agenda of ours. The same thing is true when we work on these Marvel films. We try to create a density in storytelling that makes them feel compulsive, irrespective of the length. We’re very rigorous about storytelling points, and we spend months in the edit room twisting and turning the narrative a bunch of different ways until we think we’ve unlocked the best one.

Clocking in at 2 hrs 29 minutes, Infinity War proved that runtime didn’t really matter as it whizzed by since every scene had meaning. And even with that extra half hour or so, the same apparently holds true for Endgame as well.

We’re vigilant about using test audiences to tell us whether we’re on the right track or we’re making bad decisions. With Endgame, it had one of the most incredible audience responses in Marvel history. Irrespective of the length, it’s been consistently embraced by the test audiences.

Finally, as we’ve heard from Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige before, all the footage used in trailers for Endgame only come from the film’s first 20 minutes. With that extensive runtime this means there will be more surprises than you can shake a vibranium shield at. And the Russos really want you to keep it that way.

At a certain point, I’m sure we’ll write another letter this year that asks everyone to stay off the internet. I think this one has even more spoilers than the last one. This is a culture that wants everything now, and it’s getting worse. The world is connected via social media, and information travels within seconds. If you’ve been following along with this narrative for 10 years, you’re going to want to protect yourself. It’s best to go in clean. I encourage people to go opening weekend because I’m sure everything is going to hit the internet the moment the movie hits the screen.

I’m sure as hell going to be there on opening day at IMAX and I can’t wait! 26 April can’t get here quick enough!

Last Updated: April 2, 2019

Check Also

E3 2019 Eyes-on: Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t yet let its characters stand out in interesting ways

Crystal Dynamic's Avengers has a tough challenge to overcome. How do you gather some of Ma…