Why Joss Whedon Didn’t Want To Make ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ But Then Did Anyway

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I had no idea that Joss Whedon didn’t want to make Avengers: Age of Ultron. Seems like after you make the highest-grossing movie ever, you’d want to make its sequel, because $$$$$, right?

But after making The Avengers, Whedon says he was just spent. “The first one, I was a raggedy man when I made that film,” he told Screenrant. “It did take a lot out of me.”

So when Marvel came calling about Age of Ultron, Whedon said, “I didn’t actually want to make the film … I just turned off my brain.”

Of course, he did end up making the movie — details below — and the result was a movie that Whedon calls extraordinarily personal. “Is it perfect? It is not,” Whedon told Vulture. “Is it me? It’s so baldly, nakedly me.”

Bold and naked and him as Age of Ultron is, Whedon said he still hasn’t been able to watch it all the way through yet. “I tried, and I had a terrible time,” he told Vulture. He said, “When I watch it, I just see ‘flaw, flaw, flaw, compromise, laziness, mistake.'”

Whedon hinted to Vulture at some sort of deep pain that drove him, saying, “Ultron’s pain is very, very real to me. He can’t control the way his pain makes him behave. And I can relate to that.”

Whedon hasn’t gotten into any specific details about said pain — and he nor his representatives returned my/Behind the Drive’s inquiries — but you can make some pretty clear assumptions from what he recently told Buzzfeed about the final weeks of production. I gotta say, it’s been dark,” he said. “It’s been weird. It’s been horrible. About a month and a half ago, I said goodbye to my kids, and I’ve been living in Burbank next to the studio. I feel every day like, I didn’t do enough, I didn’t do enough, I didn’t do enough. I wasn’t ready. Here’s failure. Here’s failure. Here’s compromise. Here’s compromise.”

Play that back: He spent a month and a half away from his family, from his kids, to make this movie.

Making the movie seems to have flattened Whedon. He infamously just quit Twitter, and, at one point in its Whedon profile, Vulture reports, “The 50-year-old Whedon is usually a genial presence, his mind whirring and low voice purring, but he seemed exhausted … barely able to speak above a whisper after months of postproduction and late-night editing had taken their toll.”

“This was the hardest work I’ve ever done,” Whedon told Vulture. “And at some point, when it’s that hard, you just feel like you’ve lost.”

Whedon doesn’t get into specifics, but with Screenrant he goes so far as to compare making this movie to what Christians suffered in ancient Rome, when they were fed to lions for entertainment. “Going in this time, I just had to sort of re-calibrate my entire existence and throw myself into it more wholeheartedly and say, okay, actually make it harder to make than the last one, and I’m gonna just invest myself in every part of it — in every production meeting, every location scout, and every question about a prop that I’d like to avoid, and every – I might even work harder on the script… There’s nothing in it that I’m not going to be a part of – I’m gonna give myself up to it, like a Christian to a lion.”

Along the way, he had just ceaseless headaches as he tried to square his artistic vision with what Marvel’s corporate suits expected out of the movie. “With so much at stake, there’s gonna be friction,” Whedon told Vulture. “It’s the Marvel way to sort of question everything. Sometimes, that’s amazing. And sometimes” — Vulture says “here Whedon growled his compliment through gritted teeth, the meaning clear” — “that’s amazing.”

Even still, he knew what he had in his hands, and he appreciated it. He told Vulture, “To do something that is as personal as this movie is, on that budget, for a studio that needs a summer tentpole, is an extraordinary privilege.” And he told Screenrant, “Sometimes the enormity hits you and sometimes it’s terrifying, and sometimes it’s absolutely delightful.”

As he worked on the movie, Whedon inevitably had to remember his motivation: “The reason I set out to make another film is because I wanted to make one that was better,” he told Vulture. “And I wanted to up my game as a shooter and work harder on every aspect of it and sort of give myself up to it in a way that’s hard for me, because I have a family. I started as a writer in low-budget TV, and there was always this element of, ‘This is good enough.’ And with this movie, I never wanted to say, ‘This is good enough.’”

And that motivation came from what first inspired him to take on the project in the first place — remember, he didn’t want to at first. But then, he told Screenrant, “After a few months when they talked about actually paying me, I was like, All right, this is now something that, you know, makes sense in my life. Do I have anything to say? 

“And so my agent called, I was in London, and he called me and said, ‘Um, you know, there’s a deal that’s worth talking about – time to start to thinking about whether there’s a movie,’ and I’m going, ‘All right,’ and I went to a pub, and sat down with my notebook, and about 45 minutes later, my notebook was filled.

“And I texted my agent ‘yup’ and ‘I have so many things to say’ and I was kind of surprised. It took me unawares. It was very beautiful.”

2 Responses
  1. Lou Mindar

    I have mixed emotions about what Whedon has to say. On the one hand, as an artist, you want your project (movie, book, play, etc.) to be as good as it can possibly be. You have a vision for the project and it’s painful to see it fall short of that vision. Even really great works of art fall short of the original vision.

    On the other hand, I wonder if Whedon isn’t taking himself too seriously, and being too precious about his work. He crafted a terrific film that is making money and garnering rave reviews. Why can’t that be enough? Why does it have to be perfect for Whedon to be happy about it?

    I’ll put this in different terms: One of the reasons I love baseball is because of the fun the players have during the game. If you watch basketball and football players, they seem to play angry, with a chip on their shoulders. Baseball players tend to play with a joy that isn’t seen in other sports. Even so, I cringed at the Yankees team of a few years back that had the attitude that the only way they could consider their season a success was if they won the World Series. They seemed to be joyless when they won games during the season (because the only thing that mattered was winning the World Series), and they were devastated at the end of the year when they didn’t win the series. It was an exercise in futility for the team to set their goal as perfection, and then naturally fail to reach it.

    Shooting for perfection is admirable, but expecting perfection is folly. I appreciate the fact that Whedon (and the Yankees) set out to do something great, but I think they set themselves up for failure when the adopted the “perfection or bust” attitude. I think it makes much more sense to shoot for perfection, but be satisfied with mere greatness.

    1. Brandon

      That’s a great, thoughtful comment, Lou. And I agree. I struggle with this all the time, too, in work and in life. I take myself way too seriously sometimes, and really expect my work to be perfect, and you’re right – it just sort of stunts everything else, and really, I’m pretty sure it’s not all that worth it. Just trying to make something great is way more fun, and we’re probably going to perform better when that’s the goal and not perfection.

      Thanks Lou.