When Marvel Studios and Sony announced their plans to introduce Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it sounded like a dream come true. And for a brief moment, many a fan found themselves dreaming of seeing the web-slinger brought to life alongside Joss Whedon's Avengers team.
But wait -- Whedon has left the franchise (for now), after previously writing and directing the first two films featuring Earth's Mightiest Heroes. And while his departure may have some fans worried, there really isn't any reason to fear. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" directors -- Anthony and Joe Russo -- are set to helm Parts One and Two of Marvel's "Avengers: Infinity War" after setting the stage in "Captain America: Civil War." Quite frankly, the brothers are the best thing to happen to Marvel since Whedon first brought the MCU's solo heroes together for the mega-franchise superteam.
Is There Anything They Can't Do?
Given their shared resume full of "Arrested Development" and "Community" credits, it's easy to see why fans initially scratched their heads when Marvel brought the brothers onboard for "Winter Soldier." Then we saw the movie and realized these guys gave Cap's battle against a Hydra-infected S.H.I.E.L.D. the perfect amount of everything it needed.
Writing and executing situation comedy requires a significantly different skill set than pulling off a big-budget tentpole like "Soldier," and the Russos did so virtually flawlessly. Right now, there is seemingly nothing they can't do, which has us excited to see how they'll tackle Spidey, and what will happen when they play in "Infinity War's" cosmic setting. When the Russos jettison the Avengers into space, we should be treated to a visually interesting, dramatically rich take on the heroes battling their most dangerous threat. Not bad for two guys who went from the banana stand to the Infinity Gauntlet.
They Really Get What the MCU Does
In less than seven years, Marvel Studios has established itself as a household name, a brand on par with Pixar, in terms of the mere presence of their logo promising a certain level of quality.
With "Winter Soldier," the Russos not only served and protected what the MCU does -- grounded spectacle, carried on the backs of likable, complicated heroes -- they enhanced it. There is a certain "safe" quality to Marvel's pre-"Avengers" films, a quality the brothers Russo went against to both box office and critical success by telling a "Three Days of the Condor"-esque spy thriller that just happens to star a thawed-out, shield-throwing WWII vet. Moreover, they (in concert with co-screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) did this while staying true to the tone and core elements that make Marvel, well, Marvel -- a task that's not as easy as it may sound.
Taking such a then-creative risk on an established assembly line way of doing things brought new life to both the franchise and to the MCU; it felt inspired and fun, exciting and bold. Expect a similar, but different (read: better), experience when Marvel's mightiest heroes unite to stop Thanos' courtship of death.
From Cap's movie-opening punch fest aboard a hijacked boat, to Nick Fury Mario Kart-ing through traffic and away from Hydra's thugs, the Russo proved they're just as skilled with action scenes as with punch lines. "Infinity War" is going to push the already-impressive limits of Marvel's visual spectacle, most likely building on what has come before and then putting its unique spin on it. The war between our heroes and Thanos deserves nothing less, and the Russos will no doubt bring both fun and tension to the action to make it, like "Winter Soldier," worth paying to see more than once.
No matter how cool or endlessly inventive an action scene is, it means nothing without characters worth caring about throwing the punches, and the Russos clearly, and coolly, get that.
At its core, "Winter Soldier" is less about Cap finding new ways to take down bad guys with his fists and more about a hero struggling to find his place in a world that he is forced to tear down in order to one day save it.
The big, emotional ideas a villain like Thanos brings to the table will need such emotionally-driven storytellers to do the "War" justice. The cost of whatever victory our heroes are fighting for will ripple effect across the MCU, and if "Winter Soldier" is any indication, each panicked breath they take or small win they achieve will feel like one of our own.
Worthy Heirs to the Whedon Throne
"The Avengers" let Whedon do what he does best, crafting a story filled with lots of mismatched characters, each one an engaging, relatable personality, all jockeying for identity while discovering who they are as members of a crew. With lots of kick-punching.
In between all that, "Avengers" displays is an impressive amount of humor and heart. Whedon's voice is unique, obviously, and audiences clearly dig it. Ditto the Russos, who will come into "Infinity War" with a remit to service not just the core team of Avengers, but any potential new recruits that appeared or will appear in all the films that come before these two chapters. That's a challenging balancing act for any level of filmmaker, but we've seen the Russos more or less "nail it" once before, juggling the various characters and narrative threads in "Soldier."
Whedon's thesis for these heroes was this: The Avengers shouldn't even be in the same room, let alone on the same team, but ultimately, they learn how to work together just in time, discovering what it takes to be heroes. Thanos will painfully test that alliance; a test that will unfold with impressive stunts, solid character work and a laugh or six.
With "Infinity War" marking the end of Phase Three, the Russos have a tremendous burden to carry on the way to executing those movies. Assuming "Age of Ultron" is even half as good as the first "Avengers," the bar will be set that much higher.
There's no better team of filmmakers in Marvel's stable capable of clearing it. This passing of the torch is in good hands.