avengers: age of ul­tron

will the Avengers se­quel match the crazy suc­cess of the first film? Nick Setch­field talks tough ex­pec­ta­tions with Joss Whe­don

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

Direc­tor, writer and all- round leg­end Joss Whe­don opens his mouth!

It’s not only Avengers who need to as­sem­ble. Just now Joss Whe­don is crav­ing some ur­gent re­assem­bly him­self.

“I’m to­tally bro­ken,” he laughs down the line from Los An­ge­les. It’s early Fe­bru­ary and Whe­don’s days – and, no doubt, his ev­ery surge of noc­tur­nal brain ac­tiv­ity – are con­sumed by fi­ness­ing the fi­nal cut of Avengers: Age Of Ul­tron, an on­com­ing mul­ti­plex jug­ger­naut whose spit- and- pol­ish bud­get could con­ceiv­ably bankroll a fist­ful of indie films. He’s bushed be­yond be­lief but more than happy to spare time for SFX. “It means I don’t have to work for five sec­onds,” he says, his knack­ered drawl be­tray­ing a man who clearly has images of su­per­heroic spec­ta­cle seared upon his eye­balls.

“We’re at the in­sane- o- stage. I think we’re just about to come out of the in­sa­neo- stage and into the ‘ Hey, this looks like a movie!’ stage. I be­lieve that it’s start­ing to come to­gether.”

“it is a lit­tle grit­tier. we tried to dig a lit­tle deeper”

Need a work­ing def­i­ni­tion of the word pres­sure? Try this. Age Of Ul­tron is the se­quel to a film that not only made a tow­er­ing $ 1.5 bil­lion at the global box of­fice – the kind of haul that only top- tier su­pervil­lains would climb out of bed for – but also rewrote Hol­ly­wood’s rules of en­gage­ment. It was the pay- off to the bold, fran­chise- mash­ing mas­ter­plan that Marvel launched with 2008’ s Iron Man and its suc­cess forged new laws of box of­fice physics. Now ev­ery stu­dio wants a shared uni­verse to call its own. And the world, in­evitably, wants an­other Avengers movie, even big­ger and bet­ter than the last. Once the king of cult TV fare like Fire­fly and Buffy The Vam­pire Slayer, Whe­don is now the man who has to give the world Ti­tanic 2. Only, you know, Hulkier.

“It’s lib­er­at­ing in the sense that there’s a cer­tain amount of trust,” says the New York- born writer/ direc­tor, all too aware he’s fol­low­ing a phe­nom­e­non, let alone try­ing to top it. “And it’s ab­so­lutely paralysing if I ever think about it. And usu­ally I don’t. Ev­ery now and then I think about how suc­cess­ful the first one was and then I have to lie down for a month. So it gets me in a way that it usu­ally doesn’t. But I’d be kind of in­sane if it didn’t.

“You know, I’m not try­ing to make the same movie. Ob­vi­ously I want it to be suc­cess­ful. I want peo­ple to like it. I want them to have the same kind of fun they had the first time around. But I’m def­i­nitely not try­ing to recre­ate the ex­act same thing. I feel re­ally good about where we’re go­ing with it. Let’s just hope that I’m not to­tally wrong!”

Set in an edgier, post- SHIELD land­scape, the fifth film in Marvel’s Phase Two cam­paign finds Earth’s might­i­est he­roes con­fronting per­sonal chal­lenges as much as the oblig­a­tory high stakes, globe- threat­en­ing vil­lainy.

“What drives this story is the idea of power and con­nec­tion, and how the more you have of one the less you have of an­other,” says Whe­don, “and the idea of he­roes and whether or not that’s a use­ful con­cept. I know it seems like we’ve heard that be­fore but I feel that this movie makes an ar­gu­ment that is worth lis­ten­ing to.

“It’s about dam­aged peo­ple, be­cause [ singsong voice] guess what I like to write about! And it’s about try­ing to find some kind of con­nec­tion, be­cause the Avengers are the most iso­lated peo­ple in the world. They’re dif­fer­ent to ev­ery­one else. They’re richer, or stranger,

or they’re mon­sters or they’re gods. Not one of them is re­ally a part of the world. And this movie kind of drags them back down to Earth a lit­tle bit, which is both painful and ex­cit­ing.”

longer, darker, deeper

The movie’s trailer – which won an in­ter­net­melt­ing 34.3 mil­lion views in 24 hours – sold the se­quel as an al­to­gether darker propo­si­tion to its bright- eyed pre­de­ces­sor, pack­ing an apoc­a­lyp­tic chill that promised a dis­tinctly new flavour for Marvel.

“The tone has changed some­what,” agrees Whe­don, who’s cited The Em­pire Strikes Back and The God­fa­ther 2 as tonal touch­stones for this movie. “It is a lit­tle grit­tier. We get to dig a lit­tle deeper. In­tro­duc­tions have been made. Now we re­ally get to spend time not just with but in­side th­ese char­ac­ters. But at the same time – am I not gonna make jokes? I don’t think so! Hope­fully it’s still got that same light­ness that the other one had. Ob­vi­ously you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath­wa­ter and be like ‘ I hate the Avengers!’ in the sec­ond one. But you can’t do an­other shawarma tag. You just don’t go there. You have to find a new way to make the au­di­ence come out amazed and dy­ing to go back in.”

Age Of Ul­tron steals its name from a re­cent comic book se­ries but takes its in­spi­ra­tion from over 40 years of Marvel lore. Ul­tron, its de­ranged AI an­tag­o­nist, was first un­leashed in the pages of The Avengers in 1968, the cre­ation of Henry Pym, alias mi­cro­nau­ti­cal cru­sader Ant­Man. Age Of Ul­tron rewires the ori­gin tale to make Tony Stark and Bruce Ban­ner the hi- tech Franken­steins re­spon­si­ble for the crea­ture’s birth.

Whe­don al­ways wanted the crazed ma­chine mes­siah for the Avengers se­quel. “You know, he’s re­ally been a main­stay of The Avengers, but for me it’s a robot who’s an­gry. And that was a gate­way for me to a robot who’s com­pletely ir­ra­tional. I wanted to write a robot that we re­ally haven’t seen in this kind of movie, who can ba­si­cally talk all the log­i­cal robot things, but then

has hissy fits! He also has a real per­spec­tive on who the Avengers are, and a real beef with them. He’s not a straw man. The thing that worked about Loki was that he was able to get in­side every­body’s head a lit­tle bit, and Ul­tron, he’s got the same thing. He knows pretty much ev­ery­thing there is to know about th­ese guys. The only way you can attack Earth’s might­i­est he­roes is from within.”

Whe­don re­sisted the urge to re­turn to the orig­i­nal comics dur­ing the screen­writ­ing process. “I didn’t go back to them at all,” he tells SFX. “You know, he was an an­gry robot [ laughs]. An­gry all the time! That’s one of the things that drew me to him – this guy’s an­gry! An­gry for like 50 years! You know, they rein­vented him in Ul­ti­mates and stuff. At one point he was a beau­ti­ful woman… I’m not do­ing that one! I loved him when I read the comics as a kid, be­cause of the scope and the sci- fi and what the team was go­ing through, but I never looked to Ul­tron

him­self in the comics

for why I love Ul­tron. I had an idea that I sort of ex­trap­o­lated from that, so in that way he’s sort of a new guy.

“But he’s been a tricky one to nail down. Not be­cause the voice eluded me, but just in terms of ‘ How much of his agenda is he re­veal­ing? How much of his agenda does he even un­der­stand?’ And then of course there’s the in­evitable over- ex­plain­ing that we do in th­ese things, where you’re watch­ing and you’re like ‘ Okay, he said it enough, peo­ple know!’”

get­ting emo­tional

This Ul­tron is con­jured with the kind of bigscreen dig­i­tal fire­power that would fry the cir­cuits of his comic book an­ces­tor. James Spader mo- capped the per­for­mance and lends the crea­ture a voice that os­cil­lates be­tween silky ma­lig­nancy and rant­ing insanity.

“Ev­ery­thing I’ve ever given to Spader he’s just knocked out of the park,” en­thuses Whe­don. “But – and James and I talked about this – ev­ery now and then he’ll have to do a non sequitur. And James is like ‘ I have to pull out this emo­tion from some­thing that’s not hap­pen­ing in this scene!’ But that’s who Ul­tron is. He’s click­ing on all th­ese dif­fer­ent cylin­ders. And James re­ally took to it. It means that you can pretty much say any­thing some­times! He’s very much en scene, but at the same time, if he doesn’t have a lit­tle bit of free as­so­cia­tive lat­eral now and again, he’s not go­ing to be as much fun.”

Age Of Ul­tron ex­pands the al­ready crowded en­sem­ble cast of the first film, adding El­iz­a­beth Olsen as hex- hurl­ing sor­cer­ess the Scar­let Witch and Aaron Tay­lor- John­son as her su­per­speed­ster sib­ling, Quick­sil­ver. Whe­don has the chal­lenge of ser­vic­ing ev­ery char­ac­ter in the fast- mul­ti­ply­ing ranks of Avengers.

“Shoot me in the face,” he sighs. “It is a night­mare. I long for the sim­ple movies like

Seren­ity! This is the hard­est jug­gling act I have ever, ever tried to pull off. But every­body is re­ally dif­fer­ent, and the way in which you ser­vice every­body is there­fore dif­fer­ent. It’s not like well, here’s this juicy line – who gets it? That’s not how it works. Ev­ery­thing has to come from char­ac­ter. And they’re very dis­parate char­ac­ters. The joy of the Avengers is they re­ally don’t be­long in the same room. It’s not like the X- Men, who are all tor­tured by the same thing and have sim­i­lar cos­tumes. Th­ese guys are just all over the place. And so it’s tough. Hon­estly, this is as tough as any­thing I’ve ever done, and I haven’t worked this hard since I had three shows on the air.”

“this is as tough as any­thing i’ve ever done”

“there is more hulk in this movie than in the last one”

Also added to the ros­ter is Paul Bet­tany, pro­moted from the voice of Tony Stark’s on­line aide de camp JARVIS to the role of in­scrutable an­droid the Vi­sion, an enig­matic new player spawned by Ul­tron him­self.

“Once again he’s some­one who’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent than any­body else in terms of his pow­ers, his look, but also his per­spec­tive. He’s ar­ti­fi­cial life and he’s not caught up in the in- house bickering and the pain and self­doubt. He shows up and he’s very cer­tain. But we’re not cer­tain what he’s cer­tain of ! And Paul’s great, be­cause he’s so gen­tle, so com­pelling, but at the same time you’re like ‘[ scaredy- cat voice] He’s nice but… what if he mur­dered me?’”

Of course Whe­don knows that a cer­tain “enor­mous green rage mon­ster” stole 2012’ s The Avengers. Is the Hulk a char­ac­ter you have to use spar­ingly? Or is there a temp­ta­tion to go crazy with him as a sure­fire crowd­pleaser?

“There is more Hulk in this movie than there was in the last one. But what I’m ex­cited about is we shot this movie very dif­fer­ently. I was run­ning a lot of cam­eras, I was shoot­ing long lenses, which I don’t usu­ally do. I ba­si­cally went in say­ing we’re go­ing to shoot it just a lit­tle bit like a doc­u­men­tary about the Avengers. And ob­vi­ously there are splash frames and hero shots – those are the rea­sons you go to a su­per­hero movie. But at the same time I wanted to get a more lived in – and what turned out to be a more gor­geous – feel to the thing. What I love is we have the op­por­tu­nity, be­cause we went in with this mission state­ment, to shoot the Hulk like a char­ac­ter in a movie, and not like a ‘ Look what we’ve got!’ We have ‘ overs’ – blurry ‘ Hulk’s over there!’ bits, very quick shots. Ev­ery­thing isn’t ‘ We built this Hulk so for god’s sake you’re go­ing to watch him in this long take, full frame, the whole time!’ We re­ally got to make him one of the char­ac­ters in the movie. And that was a gift.”

peo­ple power

From its open­ing as­sault on the cas­tle lair of Hy­dra’s Baron von Strucker to a city- bruis­ing show­down be­tween the Hulk and Tony Stark, rigged out in mecha- steroidal Hulk­buster ar­mour, you won­der if there’s a mo­ment in Avengers: Age Of Ul­tron where Joss Whe­don, life­long comics junkie, can ever tune out the world’s ex­pec­ta­tions and wal­low in the pure fan joy of the vi­sions he’s bring­ing to the screen.

“Oh, there’s more than one!” he says, with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “Hon­estly. We screened the movie last night, and just to sit down and watch it, which is not some­thing you re­ally get to do at this stage… I was like okay, some of this is the bomb. Some of this is re­ally, re­ally lovely. The ac­tors are killing it, the se­quences are ex­cit­ing, the ed­i­tors are amaz­ing and Ben Davis, who shot it, has made it a work of art. There are some hard­core ac­tion se­quences in this but what’s re­ally grand is how the char­ac­ters play through those. It’s al­ways got to be about the peo­ple. Not just the smaller mo­ments, where they’re talk­ing alone, but the way they’re in­ter­act­ing dur­ing the ac­tion is re­ally ex­cit­ing for me.

“I’m a peo­ple per­son,” dead­pans Whe­don. “Un­less I’m in an ac­tual room with peo­ple…”

Fight­ing a metal su­pervil­lain… won­der if her dad’s around? Thor had to ad­mit that Cap was much bet­ter dressed for the lo­cal weather con­di­tions.

Some peo­ple re­ally get mad when the trains are de­layed.

It’s go­ing to take more than a cute kid to fix this one.

Some­one get that man a pair of pur­ple trousers. XXL.

“Trust me, this will look bet­ter with a bow.”

“Ooh, my back is killing me.”

Time had not been kind to Daniel Jack­son.

“My se­cret… I’m al­ways an­gry.” Longer- length jack­ets are in this year.

Avengers: Age Of Ul­tron opens on Thurs­day 23 April. Aaron Tay­lor- John­son plays Quick­sil­ver. No, not the one from the X- Men films. Well, kind of.

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