Joe Russo Explains Humor’s Role in the Success of MCU Movies

After twenty-seven films, several companion series, and now a slate of Disney+ originals, Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the most successful franchise with more than $25B in worldwide box-office gross. The franchise has seen several stories and characters make live-action debuts from Marvel Comics, creating a far-stretched shared continuity that established unprecedented achievements in terms of story-telling.

But, throughout these years, each film, despite the seriousness of the plot, has had a certain amount of humor in it, making people laugh even when the characters are in the most dangerous and life-threatening situations. And it has worked perfectly well for the franchise. There’s an abundance of humor in MCU movies in the form of jokes, a pinch of sarcasm, witty banter, and even amusing exchanges during battles, that make turn these films into action-comedy flicks, which are of complete amusement and entertainment.


The decision to induce humor regardless of the seriousness of the plot has often been criticized, but Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo has an explanation for it. Russo has helmed four films for Marvel Studios, two of which went on to gross over $2B at the global box office, and wasn’t short of humor, laughter, and comedy. Russo credits Kevin Feige and his understanding of people’s need for entertainment and joy from films as the rationale for Marvel to push for humor. Talking to Deadline (via The Direct) during Sands International Film Festival where he was for the screening of The Gray Man, he said,

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Well, Marvel’s secret sauce is that Kevin likes the films to be entertaining, right? And entertaining typically involves humor, and I think that Kevin’s very big on testing movies and I think he likes to sit in the test screening and hear the response. So the audience’s laughing, you can hear their response. You can understand, ’Okay, every 2 minutes [they] are getting some enjoyment out of the movie,’ and that’s a strong way for him to gauge how the movie will perform with an audience, right? So I think humor is very important to him.

Feige has called the shots on Marvel films almost since its inception and has himself learned and studied audience’s response to his films. It’s probably the idea of helping people find joy and happiness through his films that he relies on humor, which adds up to the optimistic approach found in the saddest moments of Marvel movies.

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Robert Downey Jr., who has led Avengers and, to its extension, MCU, being the first superhero to debut in live-action in the franchise, is probably the man who inspired comedy in superhero films. His quirky and mostly improv approach to Tony Stark in Iron Man, where he portrayed him as the playboy and billionaire genius, paved the way for Marvel to adapt that into each of the future characters and films’ themes.

MCU films’ writers and directors may not work together on every project, but they probably study all the films to maintain continuity and consistency in the story’s progression. And ever since Iron Man, Marvel has maintained that frequency of hope through humor in all the films. In fact, the idea has worked so well with the audience that the public has not shown the same response to films with less humor, case in point – The Incredible Hulk and Eternals. On the other hand, with humor, Marvel has managed to touch on several social issues such as racial bias in Black Panther and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier without losing the true purpose of a superhero film.

Even when rival DC, through its DC Extended Universe, tried competing with dark and thematically hard-hitting and serious films, the response to those films was far less exciting in comparison to MCU movies. Many feel that the humor, which many dubs as “Marvel Humor,” in MCU feels forcefully sometimes imposed and that it overshadows or disrespects the deeper themes that shall be more highlighted in Marvel films. But, despite that debate, the MCU has grown successful and has gained equal critical acclaim, to the point that it mostly leads as an inspiration to other cinematic universes.

The creation of action comedies isn’t something Marvel exclusively came up with but has sure made the most out of it in the years since its inception. Following the old-school ideas of laughter and jokes, with Feige’s commitment to not making MCU dark, the franchise is standing tall and growing beyond with a massive fan following and recognition.

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