From Marvel to 'Mosul': Russo brothers embark on global mission

TorontoUpdated: Sep 10, 2019, 09:20 AM IST
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First project after 'Avengers: Endgame' for the Russo brothers is 'Mosul,' which dramatises the true story of Iraqi police's Nineveh SWAT team fighting to recapture their home city from the Islamic State group in 2017.

When you have just directed the biggest blockbuster movie of all time, you earn the clout to dictate terms with even the highest executives in Hollywood.

But for the Russo brothers, it also raised a question that would be familiar to the superheroes of 'Avengers: Endgame' -- what to do next with all that power? 

In an interview with AFP at the Toronto film festival, the Russos admitted the influence that comes with such uncharted global box office success is "an exceedingly powerful tool, more powerful than we understand."

"It can be used for positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement," said Joe Russo, who at 48 is marginally the younger of the affable duo from Cleveland, Ohio. 

The brothers did not spend their many Marvel promotional world tours just taking endless selfies with hysterical comic-book fans, but searching for new avenues to explore, they said.

The result is a notably international and political slate of projects for their new studio AGBO -- and barely a spandex-clad superhero in sight.

First up is 'Mosul,' which dramatizes the true story of Iraqi police's Nineveh SWAT team fighting to recapture their home city from the Islamic State group in 2017.

The action thriller, inspired by a New Yorker article, is told entirely from Iraqis' perspective and shot in Arabic -- radical ground for Hollywood.

"It felt criminally overdue," said Anthony Russo, 49. "That's why we knew this movie had to get made -- because this movie has never been made."

Also in the works are 'Dhaka,' a film about the kidnapping of a Bangladeshi businessman shot mainly in India, and Japanese anime adaptation 'Battle of the Planets.'

But politics is a common thread to the brothers' next projects, which include a film about the opioid epidemic in their home state of Ohio.

"We're living in a time where there's a lot of division -- division is being promoted," said Joe. "You're either looking out for yourself right now, or you're looking out for the community."

"And we choose to look out for the community."

Without naming any politicians directly, they say it would "be great" if the current White House watched 'Mosul.'

"Clearly there is incredible culpability on the part of the US in creating the problem in Iraq, and ISIS is a direct result of the war there," said Joe, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

- More Marvel? -

It is all a marked departure from the Russos' previous projects.

The brothers first gained broad recognition for their work on cult hit TV shows such as 'Arrested Development' and 'Community.'

But after successfully directing 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' in 2014, they quickly rose to the top of the lucrative Marvel Studios filmmakers' stable.

The brothers are not committed to any future Marvel films, but their desire to import new perspectives to Hollywood filmmaking is already apparent in the Disney-owned franchise's next projects.

'Ms Marvel' will soon become Marvel's first on-screen Muslim superhero, with a TV series on Disney+ streaming service about a Pakistani-origin teenage girl living in New Jersey.

China-born Simu Liu will become Marvel's first leading Asian superhero in 2021's 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.'

According to Joe, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige is "expending a lot of energy to diversify the Marvel Universe because everyone has the right to see their stories on screen." 

Of course, the profit motive is unavoidable -- 'Endgame' made more at Asian box offices than the whopping $860 million managed at home.

"Joe and I love big global storytelling," said Anthony. "Our Marvel movies are among our favourite work that we've ever done."

"Cinema is uniquely positioned to help open up people to new experiences and new ideas."

Does that mean a return to the world of superheroes one day?

"Perhaps more Marvel movies. We're not talking about anything right now.