Before they became the most commercially successful directing duo of all time – their four films for Marvel grossing more than $6.7bn dollars – the Russo brothers, Seán Rocks tells us on Arena, were movie fans. When they were growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, they spent hours in the cinema watching action movies and their new film for Netflix, The Gray Man, is their homage to those action movies from their youth. Anthony explained their motivation:

"Joe and I have been able to do a lot of things in our career. We started off as, you know, really micro-budgeted indie filmmakers doing experimental movies and that ended up segueing into a career in comedy, primarily on television, but action has been a favourite genre of ours throughout our lives."

Even outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Anthony and Joe Russo can call on a very formidable bunch of actors – The Gray Man features Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Regé-Jean Page, Alfre Woodard and Billy Bob Thornton. This, presumably, goes some way to explaining how it cost $200m, making it Netflix's most expensive film. The Gray Man is based on the novel of the same name by Mark Greaney and Anthony told Seán how the brothers connected with the book:

"It felt very smart to us. We loved the level of detail, the inventiveness of how it was using the details of the world and the job. The fact that it was packed with action and a bit of a gauntlet. We did want to design a film that was, sort of, a non-stop ride."

Joe likens The Gray Man to the action movies of the 1980s – like Die Hard and the Lethal Weapon series – which married high-octane action with a sense of humour. And Anthony adds that, for them, character is the most important part of the movie:

"It’s a character exploration, basically. 'Cause that’s how Joe and I approach action in general. It’s like, it’s really an exploration of character and the whole movie is about forcing this person, this Gray Man, this person who’s living in the shadows, hiding himself, forcing him out and forcing him to commit and declare himself."

The casting of the titular Gray Man was crucial to the film’s chances, and Ryan Gosling is an actor the Russos have wanted to work with for a long time.

"Why he seems so perfect for this movie is like, he’s a bit of a master of minimalism, in the sense that he is uniquely capable as an actor of conveying a very full inner life by doing very little. He can give you a lot of thought, emotion, humour, intelligence, by doing very little as an actor, you see it. And he seemed like the perfect marriage to this character."

But what about Captain America himself, Chris Evans? Cast in The Gray Man against type as the villain of the piece, Seán suggests that there may be a kind of meta narrative going on in the film and Anthony can’t resist rhapsodising about the man the Russos worked so closely with over an extended period of time:

"When we were working with Chris on Captain America, I mean, that was one of the great joys of our career was to be able to explore that character with him for four movies over many years. He’s an incredible actor, he's an incredible filmmaker in general. And we, of course, knew that his talents went way beyond what people could see in him up to that point in his career."

The three filmmakers couldn’t have reunited, Anthony says, with a character that was further away from Captain America than Evans’s role in The Gray Man. But, just as in The Winter Soldier, the Russos have sprinkled their new movie with thoughtful commentary on the state of the world and those who control it, as Joe explained:

"We always infuse our own anxiety about where the world is into pop entertainment. I mean, you know, if you want pure spectacle entertainment, you can just go sit in the theatre and have a good time. If you want a little brain food, you know, we do like to add some for the addicts that make it topical, that make you feel more connected to the movie because it feels like the world around you."

Brain food, eh? Is there a zombie movie in the Russos’ future? You may have heard it here first (or it may be a bit of a stretch). You can hear Seán’s full conversation with Anthony and Joe Russo by going here.

The Gray Man is in cinemas now and arrives on Netflix on July 22nd.