Indian fans, assemble: the Avengers movies have a local connection, claimed Joe Russo, co-director of the latest chapter in the franchise, during a visit to Mumbai. Parts of the climax of the second title, Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), which was directed by Joss Whedon, was apparently inspired by an action sequence from Shankar’s Tamil science-fiction fantasy Enthiran (2010).
Enthiran, which was released in Hindi as Robot, starred Rajinikanth as a scientist and his robot creation, Chitti. “All of the Ultrons come together to form a huge Ultron and that was inspired by the robots in the Indian film that form a snake,” said Joe Russo, who directed Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and its upcoming sequel, Avengers: Endgame, with his elder brother, Anthony.
The films, which began with The Avengers in 2012, have been moneyspinners around the world, including in India. “There was a recording of an Indian audience watching Infinity War, and the moment Thor lands, the cheers sounded like the cheers from a football ground,” Joe Russo said during a round-table interview in Mumbai on Monday. “We used to play that whenever we got tired shooting on Endgame.”
Avengers: Endgame will be released on April 26 in India in English, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. The 22nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will reunite the Avengers for a final stand against arch-villain Thanos, who wiped out half the squad in the previous film.
There is hope, Joe Russo assured journalists. “Hope is always important, and that is what heroes are about,” Russo said. “Both the films ask the question, what is the cost of being a hero? The films are about community and heroes standing up against tyranny. We certainly look at that as waves of nationalism sweep the world.”
The interview was followed by the launch of the Marvel Anthem for the Indian versions, composed by AR Rahman.
Avengers: Endgame has a battery of superheroes played by some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Tony Stark), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The concept of superheroes resonates with audiences, especially in times of conflicts and hyper-nationalism, Russo said.
“Superheroes are archetypal, there is a lot of conflict in the world right now, and I think that everyone can identify with the code of ethics or values of a superhero,” Russo added. “You can identify with the morality of Captain America or the amorality of Deadpool. There is a lot of darkness in the world. Infinity War has the message that sometimes villains win and that is a fair subject matter in America right now.”
The focus is on the heroes, but all eyes are on Thanos, who has his own fan following. Played by Josh Brolin, the character is “sociopathic”, but with the “traditional beats of a hero”, Russo pointed out.
“Thanos has an altruistic goal where he wants to kill half the universe to preserve the other half of the universe and that’s a relevant theme today,” Russo said. “There are horrific beats like throwing his daughter to her death to complete his goal. Ultimately, he is nuts. And some of his traits make it complicated, and people do not know whether to hate or love him.”
Joe Russo’s favourite Marvel character, however, is Spider-Man, most recently played by Tom Holland. “The idea of a boy who was tasked with this incredible responsibility, who also has this Shakespearean weight of the death of his father figure is very powerful to me,” he said. “I think the thing that impacts you as a child stays with you.”
Joe and Anthony Russo cut their teeth in television, directing the popular shows Arrested Development (2003) and Community (2009). They joined the Marvel lot in 2014 with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was followed by Captain America: Civil War (2016). Television helped the siblings steer the Avengers movies, which have intertwining storylines and a massive cast. “Sometimes in Community, we had more than 20 characters make an appearance in an episode,” Joe Russo recalled. “That took a lot of focus and execution. That correlates to what we are doing in these films.”
Joe Russo described his professional relationship with his brother as a “yin-and-yang” bond – the result of opposites working together in harmony.
“We don’t try to divide up duties,” Joe Russo said. “We try to put our minds in everything equally. We have different thought processes, and that makes for a very good testing of ideas. The way that we interact with one another can be spirited when we argue about concepts. That is what makes some of these ideas stronger.”
One such idea was a no-script rule for the actors to ensure that the plots were kept under wraps. “We are the ones who withhold the script from the actors and the reason is because if they don’t know a lot about the story, it makes it easier for them to not slip about it,” Joe Russo said. Tom Holland and Mark Ruffalo are among the actors who have given away spoilers from the film.
“For the first film, the only copy existed on a single iPad and only a handful of people read that draft,” the filmmaker added. “Every other script was fake. In Endgame too, we cleared the sets for important moments. We have very thoughtful conversations with actors about their motivations, and if we want to hide something from them we will elicit the performance by using certain tactics.”
The Avengers films have a fanatical following around the world, raising the stakes for the directors. “There is an urgency to having everything yesterday,” Russo observed. “I don’t think that is the prevailing opinion of everyone who wants to see the movie. We work very hard to make sure that fans who want to have a genuine first experience of the film can have that experience.”
Is an Indian-origin superhero on the cards? “Moving forward, you are going to see a very diverse Marvel universe,” Russo promised. “I think it’s really important that audiences around the world are able to identify with a character on screen, and I think you can see that happening real soon.”