Marvel movie fans’ relationship with Joss Whedon has been a series of ups and downs, to say the least. When he was first announced as the director behind Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, there were plenty who felt it was a bad idea. Whedon’s passion for the material was never in question, but as a filmmaker? Well he hadn’t really proved himself to be very cinematic in nature, so some were wary of seeing him take on Marvel’s biggest movie to date in the wake of directors like Kenneth Branagh and Jon Favreau. Everyone changed their tune in May 2012, though, as The Avengers turned out to be one of the best Marvel films yet, with Whedon doing an admirable job behind the camera while crafting a delightful, joy-filled screenplay. So when it was announced that Whedon was further signing on to write and direct The Avengers 2 as well as act as a chief creative consultant on Marvel’s entire Phase Two slate, fans were elated.
And then came the lowpoint once more. With the release of this past May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron—an undervalued sequel that I found to be a far more ambitious, more interesting film than Whedon’s first Marvel entry—Whedon announced that he was leaving Marvel Studios for good. The experience of developing and making Age of Ultron was a herculean task as Whedon pushed himself to change up his filmmaking style significantly, resulting in a much stranger but also much more difficult film.
At the time of Age of Ultron’s release, Whedon wasn’t shy about admitting the battles he fought with Marvel over the film’s development, production, and post-production, and there seemed to be some unresolved tension when he departed the studio for good. Now Whedon is speaking about his exit once more, taking part in a Q&A at the Oxford Union (via Cosmic Book News) where he elaborated on his hot-and-cold relationship with Marvel Studios:
“…I was their sort of consigliere for a while… We do not discuss our thing… [audience laughter] But, I sort of had my finger in all of the films in the second phase, but then I just had to concentrate only on Ultron, and sort of know when it was done I was just going to stop. So I made a completely clean break – not because we had a falling out – just because I was like, ‘I can’t…’ If I was still there going, ‘Well, here are my thoughts on this film,’ I’d be there every day. I wouldn’t do anything else because there are a lot of films, and it is a lot of fun. It’s very seductive. When you can put your little fairy dust on things and just improve them slighty, and they actually listen to you… I was a script doctor for a long time, and the part where they listen to you was very rare; so it was very important for my own self to go ‘we can still be friends,’ but…”
That’s actually quite easy to understand, and Whedon doesn’t sound like he holds any grudges towards the mega-studio. But when it comes to Age of Ultron, it sounds like the sting of the reception still irks the filmmaker to some degree. It’s no secret that the film was very personal for Whedon, and he equated his vision for the sequel to turning a giant blockbuster into an art film:
“When people [were asking], ‘What little art movie are you secretly holding in your heart?’ when I was making Ultron, I’m like, ‘Trust me when I say, when you see this, you’ll see, I was trying to make a little art movie.’ Which is actually, a pretty shitty thing to do to a studio that gives you a lot of money,”
He continued by admitting that the response to the film is one of the most difficult he’s had to deal with:
“Ultron has been the most complicated response I’ve gotten, and the way I deal with it is becoming fetal for about eight months [audience laughter]. I fucking have no spine or self-identity or anything, and it’s horrifying. It sucks… But I’ll be okay… Later…”
As I said before, I think Ultron is ultimately a better movie than The Avengers. It’s not as joyful or fun-filled as The Avengers, nor should it be, and I admire the boldness of Whedon to put something like the farm sequence or some really comic book-y stuff when it comes to Vision in the sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time. More often than not when it comes to franchises, studios play it safe and give audiences more of the same. With Ultron, Whedon tried something completely different, and I’d argue he succeeded wildly. Here’s hoping the filmmaker keeps things interesting with whatever movie he does next, though God knows he’s earned some serious time off.
You can watch the full Q&A below, via The Playlist.