I think as time goes on, we’ll become kinder towards Avengers: Age of Ultron. The expectations will fall away, and audiences will accept what Joss Whedon was trying to do on his wildly ambitious sequel. It’s a film that doesn’t always work, but it has some absolutely beautiful sentiments and insights about humanity, and in some senses, it feels like Whedon got away with something.
However, that’s not the current narrative about the film and Joss Whedon knows it. At a Q&A with Mark Ruffalo at the Tribeca Film Festival, Whedon addressed the current perception of Age of Ultron and his feelings on making the film [via Vulture]:
“Ultron, I’m very proud of,” Whedon told the audience. “There are things that did not meet my expectations of myself, and I was so beaten down by the process. Some of that was conflict with Marvel, which is inevitable, but a lot of that was about my own work. And I was also exhausted, and we went right away and did publicity, and I sort of created the narrative, wherein I’m not quite accomplished at it, and people just ran with that: ‘Well, it’s okay, it could be better, but it’s not Joss’s fault.’ And I think that did a disservice to the movie and to the studio and to myself, ultimately. It was not the right way to be, because I am very proud of it.”
He goes on to say:
“The things that are wrong frustrate me enormously, and I probably had more of those than I had on other movies I made,” Whedon continued. “But I also got to make, for the second time, an absurdly personal movie where I got to talk about how I felt about humanity and what it means in very esoteric and bizarre ways for hundreds of millions of dollars. The fact that Marvel gave me that opportunity twice is so bonkers and so beautiful, and the fact that I come off of it feeling like a miserable failure is also bonkers, but not in a cute way. It becomes problematic.”
And he’s right. There are definitely points of Age of Ultron that don’t work (Ultron could be a more compelling antagonist; Thor’s vision quest is handled in a ham-handed manner), but it’s a film where two characters agree that humanity is doomed and reflect upon such a melancholy position. It’s rare to see any film that has such a level of pessimism and optimism wrapped up in one scene, and it’s shocking to see it in a summer blockbuster, but Whedon got it there and did so in a movie where characters still joke around with one another.
Whedon has no intention to return to Marvel, but when it comes to his next project, which he terms “a departure” from his previous work, he seems particularly pleased with it, although it sounds like it emotionally wrecked him:
“I wrote all the way through to the end of the movie and was crying, in public,” Whedon said. “The restaurant closed. The valet guy came to me and then just turned around and went the other way. And I don’t like to make a spectacle of myself, but I had to take off my shirt and blow my nose into it because they had taken away all the napkins. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t stop crying, and then I got in a car – luckily somebody else was driving – and kept crying for about 20 more minutes.”
That’s some heavy stuff and a far cry from the humor Whedon is known for, but then again, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Body” had me weeping, so he can certainly write stuff that gets the tears flowing.
We don’t know what kind of movie this will be, but don’t expect it to be showing up as Sundance fare. Whedon says that he can do any kind of story except that one:
“I’m always doing something large and dire in my scripts and in my ideas,” Whedon told the audience. “It’s always genre. There’s always some big concept I can build off of. The world is often threatened or the lives of people. It’s not very Sundance-y. Nobody’s going to go on a road trip and talk about family. Unless it’s an evil road trip.”
I would love to see an evil road trip movie by Joss Whedon, but I’m sure what he’s working on right now is good too.