Avengers Director Joe Russo Briefly Replaced Josh Brolin As Thanos

Joe Russo gained enough cache with "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" that he's been able to pump out generic streaming action flicks unimpeded ever since. Not to be needlessly negative, but I've seen "The Gray Man" and I don't remember a single thing that happened in "The Gray Man." Russo has also penned two "Extraction" movies, which shot to the top of Netflix's most-watched charts but similarly felt as if they came and went without making all that much of an impression. All of which isn't too egregious, but Joe is also ready to welcome an AI-driven garbage future in which our films are produced entirely by machines.

In other words, I'm far from the biggest Joe Russo fan. But that doesn't mean I can't give the man his due when it comes to his Marvel work. Alongside his brother, Anthony, Joe is responsible for some of the best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is saying something, considering the cultural impact of that particular franchise. After invigorating the Captain America movies with "Winter Soldier" and "Civil War," the directing duo produced two of the highest-grossing MCU films ever in "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame."

Now, if you're also someone who's not too keen on Joe, you might be tempted to chalk this up to the fact the brothers had been given the biggest MCU brand going, and couldn't really fail. But just take a look at the behind-the-scenes featurettes for "Endgame" and you'll see the pair weren't just sitting in video village calling out instructions. Instead, they were fully engaged with the production, even acting out various moves they wanted to see on-screen. In fact, Joe actually went a step further and acted in a few scenes when one of the movie's stars wasn't available.

John Brolin wasn't always available to shoot scenes on 'Avengers: Endgame'

Last year, it became abundantly apparent that we'd had too much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it was time to slow things down considerably. Thankfully, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige seems to have gotten the message, and his studio is set to release only one movie in 2024: "Deadpool 3" (which looks to be a whole lot wilder than we thought). But while it's easy to criticize Marvel at this point (fun, too, if you consider it payback for how they treated some of their VFX artists), let us not forget that the company has dominated the box office for over a decade at this point — I mean, they truly crushed all competition.

No clearer was this point made than by "Avengers: Endgame" which remains the highest-grossing MCU film of all time with a staggering $2.7 billion worldwide take. Pretty good for a film where the central villain is basically some really good graphics that vaguely resemble Josh Brolin.

Thanks to motion capture and facial tracking, Brolin's movements and expressions were mapped onto a CGI realization of Thanos, giving the digital Mad Titan a pretty convincing, if slightly uncanny, ability to emote and convey the actor's performance. In most cases, that performance came from the sets themselves, with Brolin on hand to give the other actors something to work with despite the fact he would be digitized in the final film. But what do you do when Brolin isn't available? Stick a cardboard Thanos face on Joe Russo, that's what.

Gillan found it 'surreal' to act opposite Joe Russo

In the book "MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios" authors Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards quote Robert Downey Jr. as saying that Josh Brolin was "our real ace in the hole." The Iron Man actor added, "To me, it's not Thanos, it's Brolin. Because he's the one who is making this avatar be scary. And he's a sweet guy, but he's a formidable guy."

You can see Brolin projecting that formidable energy in clips of "Avengers: Infinity War" without CGI. But during filming of "Avengers: Endgame," the "Sicario" actor wasn't always on hand to provide that energy, as was the case when it came time to shoot scenes involving Nebula actress Karen Gillan, who filmed these scenes with a stand-in. As Robinson, Gonzales, and Edwards reveal in the book, that stand-in was none other than Joe Russo himself.

Gillian spoke about the experience during a panel at Comic-Con Paris back in 2019 (via ComicBook.com) where she provided more insight:

"It was funny to sort of be in the scene, acting with one of the directors of the movie, and he was just wearing his own clothes, and then he had a stick with a big Thanos cardboard picture sticking into the air so that I would look at the right height. I was like, 'This is surreal.'"

While Joe Russo might be partly responsible for some of the most generic actioners you've seen in recent years, then, you can't fault his commitment to the work.