Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe is (so far) comprised of 23 movies and every single one is a significant piece in the wider puzzle, the Avengers quadrilogy is the anchor at the center of the whole thing. There’s a distinction between the style of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the style of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and that’s no surprise.
The former two were helmed by Buffy creator Joss Whedon, and the latter two were helmed by TV ensemble jugglers the Russo brothers. So, here are 5 Ways The Russo Brothers’ Avengers Movies Were The Best (And 5 Ways Joss Whedon’s Were Better).
10 The Russo brothers: Better villains
The MCU as a whole suffers from a “villain problem,” and Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies aren’t exempt from it. Loki is obviously an incredible villain, but he’s replaced by a faceless alien army in the final act. Ultron never lives up to his full potential, having unclear motivations and being replaced by a faceless robot army in the final act.
On the other hand, not only did the Russo brothers give us Thanos – easily the MCU’s greatest villain to date – they also subverted the faceless army cliché by giving the Mad Titan a roster of well-rounded minions, like Ebony Maw and Proxima Midnight.
9 Joss Whedon: More visually exciting action
The Russo brothers’ Avengers movies include some impeccable action, from Tony Stark’s fateful one-on-one fight with Thanos in Infinity War to the breathtaking entirety of the Battle of Earth in Endgame, but a lot of their action felt a little uninspired. The Battle of Wakanda displays this perfectly: flat visuals, incoherent camerawork, all-too-choppy editing etc.
The Russos are primarily TV directors, so they’re not used to framing, color-grading, and editing the big set pieces in blockbusters. But Whedon is, first and foremost, a filmmaker, and his action scenes in the first two Avengers movies are mind-blowing. From the iconic panning shot at the outbreak of the Battle of New York in The Avengers to the heroes bursting onto the screen in the Sokovia-set opening of Age of Ultron, Whedon created the Avengers’ most iconic action sequences.
8 The Russo brothers: Balancing the ensemble
The Avengers films are the MCU installments that tie each “Phase” of the franchise together. After originating in 2012 as a six-person squad, Earth’s mightiest heroes were joined by more and more teammates over the course of the movies.
Where Joss Whedon struggled to give meaningful arcs to six, and later eight Avengers – focusing on the personality traits that define each character, rather than the deeper individual under the surface – the Russo brothers’ experience in directing episodes of TV shows with huge ensemble casts prepared them to effortlessly dig into dozens of characters at once across a disparate, grandiose narrative.
7 Joss Whedon: Tighter plot structure
Joss Whedon is a master of plotting, keeping each of his Avengers movies as tight as possible. He did this by only including as many scenes as were absolutely necessary, finding ways for each scene to serve every character’s arc. The first Avengers film is often accused of having a slow first act, but that’s just in retrospect, since MCU team-ups have become commonplace.
These characters had never been on-screen together before, so bringing them together took some work. The Russo brothers’ Avengers movies are long and unwieldy. They’re enrapturing, and never get boring or meandering, but their plotting isn’t as tight as it is in Whedon’s films.
6 The Russo brothers: They made Natasha Romanoff more independent
Natasha Romanoff is one of the most interesting and significant members of the Avengers team, especially the version presented to us in the MCU, but despite his reputation for creating great female characters, Joss Whedon failed the character twice. In Age of Ultron, she’s the love interest of an angry man she seeks to fix and she becomes a damsel in distress. The Russos, on the other hand, made her more independent.
She had two awesome fight scenes with Proxima Midnight, she led the Avengers into a post-Snap world, and she gave her life in the “Time Heist” mission. Although reshoots made Black Widow’s death scene virtually incoherent in the final cut of Endgame (not to mention, it ignored the established rules of the Soul Stone and was very, very reckless), she still made an incredible sacrifice, tantamount to the one made later in the movie by Tony Stark.
5 Joss Whedon: He made Bruce Banner more complex
If Marvel ever gets to make a Hulk solo movie, then for the love of God, they should get Joss Whedon to direct it, because no filmmaker has understood and depicted the complicated Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque internal conflict that this character lives with better than Whedon. This was partly down to the casting of Mark Ruffalo – a decision that Whedon, as director, would’ve been involved with – but also down to how Whedon wrote the character.
Banner has a darkness inside him that he constantly struggles to keep under control. Whedon articulated it beautifully with one line: “I’m always angry.” In the Russos’ movies, Banner became kind of a joke, calling the Hulk a “big green a******” in Infinity War and becoming a sentient Hulk who eats lots of scrambled eggs and tacos and wears shirts in Endgame.
4 The Russo brothers: Understanding the characters
Joss Whedon did a couple of wonderful things with the Avengers characters, like making Tony Stark and Bruce Banner friends, but it’s clear that the Russo brothers understood the characters a lot better than Whedon. Whedon characterized Tony as a total douchebag, but the Russos made him more of a complex, conflicted dude fighting some demons.
Whedon characterized Steve Rogers as a propaganda machine, but the Russos tested his values, eventually turning him into a political refugee who could only trust himself and his fellow Avengers. Whedon characterized Thor as a pontificating Shakespearean figure, but the Russos made him more broken and ultimately relatable.
3 Joss Whedon: He assembled the Avengers
It’s arguably unfair to compare Joss Whedon’s films with the Russo brothers’ films, because they had very different responsibilities. The Russos had the monumental task of ending the Avengers’ story and living up to expectations, but Whedon had the possibly equally monumental task of creating those expectations in the first place.
His job was essentially to turn the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a cinematic universe by bringing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow – characters who had all been introduced to audiences across five different movies over the past four years – together on the big screen. That was no easy feat. It’s actually astounding, how successful it turned out.
2 The Russo brothers: They disassembled the Avengers
While it isn’t technically an Avengers movie, the Russo brothers’ Captain America: Civil War features almost all of Earth’s mightiest heroes, is often jokingly called Avengers 2.5, and is as integral an MCU entry as any Avengers movie, so it’s fair to at least include it in this discussion.
Civil War irreparably tore the Avengers apart, and the Russos explored the disassembled Avengers in their films Infinity War and Endgame in fascinating ways. There was Tony refusing to call Steve when the threat of Thanos arrived, the heroes reconciling and letting go of their resentments, and eventually realizing that they have to come back together to defeat the Mad Titan and save the universe.
1 Joss Whedon: Wittier quips
One negative impact that Joss Whedon has had on the MCU is introducing his quippy style of dialogue writing. While Whedon writes quips like no other, most of the subsequent MCU screenwriters who have been required to write these kinds of quips – with the exception of Black Panther’s writers, who eschewed the expected quips – are not as adept to this style.
This also goes for the Russos. The Russos have a terrific sense of humor, and James Gunn contributed some Guardians of the Galaxy gags to their movies’ scripts, so the Russos’ Avengers films are still laugh-out-loud funny in places. But Joss Whedon, being Joss Whedon, had better quips in his Avengers films.