Q&A: Age of Ultron's Joss Whedon on Avengers newcomers, the Hulkbuster, and controlled chaos
The big question before 2012’s The Avengers hit theatres was, how could such an enormous cast of superheroes — each capable of headlining his or her own franchise — come together to create a coherent and watchable movie?
The answer? Great writing and directing, both provided by Joss Whedon (TV’s "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly"). The film was a huge hit with critics and fans and became the third highest-grossing release in history after Avatar and Titanic.
Now, three years later, Whedon is back with the follow-up, Avengers: Age of Ultron, a story that takes the first film’s unwieldy cast — including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) — and only adds to it with three new super-powered characters, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the Vision (Paul Bettany) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
Oh yeah, then there’s the villain Ultron (voiced by James Spader), a robot built to protect Earth, but who decides humans are our planet’s biggest threat, so must be destroyed.
Before the film hit theatres, we travelled to the U.K.’s Shepperton Studios to find out how the man at the centre of the chaos was managing.
CINEPLEX: A couple of years ago you said you wanted Avengers 2 to be smaller, more personal, more painful.
JOSS WHEDON: Well, I won on two fronts. It is not smaller. I failed at small.
CINEPLEX: You have a dream cast. What’s it like working with them?
JW: It’s actually a dream, you know? People are so angry at me because I have no dish, but they get along, they work hard, they’re very trusting. You know, we have a wonderful collaboration. It’s really just — nothing stands between us and getting the best performances and shots that we can.
CINEPLEX: So the Avengers. Where are they now? What’s going on?
JW: They’re all over the place, actually, but they’re together. They’re all over the world trying to sort of control the chaos that the Marvel universe has sort of become.
CINEPLEX: There are a lot of characters in this movie. Ultron — who is this guy?
JW: Ultron is a robot. He’s a classic Marvel character, the Avengers — one of their biggest villains for decades. He’s artificial intelligence created by the Avengers, [and he] hates them madly. It’s funny, because you don’t often get to write a really unhinged robot. But when you have somebody that has that all-powerful, that logical "Man must…" you know... It’s trouble. Then they say you can have James Spader, and everything works.
CINEPLEX: Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, the Vision. Can you tell us a bit about them?
JW: All three of them are mainstays. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in particular have been with the Avengers since I’ve been reading it. And they’re interesting because they have this kind of villainous past, which allows me to bring them to the Avengers not to help them, but to make their lives unbearable. And so watching them play really terrifying, and yet also kind of sympathetic, is really fun. Watching them thread the needle between villain and hero, and that grey area in between.
CINEPLEX: What do you think it is about the Avengers universe that audiences find so appealing? Not just comic book fans, but moviegoers as a whole?
JW: Well, people love these desperate heroes, but there’s no way that this should work. There’s no way these people should be together. When you put these things together, and watch how they should clash, and they mesh, and the unexpected ways in which they get along, and the hilarious ways in which they don’t, not just as characters, but stylistically... All these things have to come together in the service of something much stranger. It’s exciting, it feels bigger than just two movies coming together, or three movies, or a bunch of franchises or a bunch of characters. It feels like something — an event.
CINEPLEX: We’ve heard about something called the Hulkbuster. What can you tell us about that?
JW: That’s another mainstay of the comics. The Hulkbuster is armour designed by Iron Man — in this case designed by Iron Man and Banner — just in case the Hulk becomes a problem. It’s basically Iron Man over an Iron Man suit. It’s enormous. It’s from…probably after I was reading the comics, but even I was always aware that it was something that really excited people because nobody can really work on the Hulk’s level. Inside of that is the weakest member of the Avengers, it’s Tony Stark, who’s just smart. It looks really cool, but it’s also really funny because when these guys go at each other, they’re best friends, and they’ve also become two giant monsters. One metal, one green.
CINEPLEX: You started in television with "Firefly" and "Buffy". Did you picture yourself so involved in something like this?
JW: Yes! [Laughs.] I’ve always wanted to do everything except work. But, you know, the big summer movies, the Indiana Joneses, you know, I was 11 when Star Wars came out, that stuff stays with you.
CINEPLEX: If you could sum up Avengers: Age of Ultron in one sentence, what would it be?
JW: "Dear God, let me finish shooting this." No. In one, I would say, "This party just got weird."
CINEPLEX: So, “Dear God, let me finish shooting this” — this seems like controlled chaos. What’s a day on the set like for you?
JW: Controlled chaos without so much of that pesky control. You know, every day I come in, and there’s so much going on, there’s so many characters, there’s so many countries. There are so many concepts and visual styles, it’s almost like I’m shooting a different movie. I come in, and I’m basically like, "What am I doing today?" But I’m surrounded by the most talented people I know, this entire crew is phenomenal. So if I ever drop the ball, they’re right there, "Here’s the ball." "Thank you. Sorry."
CINEPLEX: Twenty years from now, when you look back on this experience, what will be the first image that comes to mind?
JW: When I look back, the image… um, it will probably be an old, beat-up church. More I will not say right now.