After Iron Man opened successfully in theaters in 2008, it didn't take long for then independent Marvel Studios to happily announce plans for a sequel to their first fully self-financed production alongside a Captain America movie, a Thor movie and a team-up in The Avengers. Initially, The Avengers was aimed for 2011 but the schedule wasn't realistic and it instead opened in 2012.
The Avengers was essentially rushed. It began production before Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor had even opened in theaters, and like many things Marvel Studios has done to date, it was an expensive risk. Writer and director Joss Whedon even had to submit action sequences for the Hulk to the animators and special effects department long before he had a ready-to-shoot script. In the end, it worked. But that's not enough for Whedon or franchise star Robert Downey Jr. when it comes to The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Empire Magazine has finally posted online their full interview conducted with Robert Downey Jr. in January where the actor talks about working with fellow Marvel heroes once again in Avengers: Age of Ultron and about returning the following year in Captain America: Civil War. For Age of Ultron, RDJ explains that this time around, there was more time to plan. That means reducing logistical nightmares with such a large cast and such and complex sequences and it means Joss Whedon is demanding more of himself while also having more fun. For fans, as we've heard before, it means more screentime with all of the characters together unlike the first movie where some actors barely saw the others.
"How do you do it? How did you ever do it? How did you do it before, and how are you going to do it next time? I think, ultimately, it comes down to the very self-deprecating Mr. Whedon, who is more exacting on himself than he could ever be on anyone else. But he’s specific and in charge and I found him enjoying himself a bit more this time while simultaneously holding himself to a higher standard. You can’t do the same thing, only smaller, not as cool. There’s that other trap - where it’s, 'Everything is bigger! Better! Do you know how many gigabytes we used in the opening sequence? How many terabytes?' Ultimately it comes down to that. I’ve never seen a call sheet that left less to the imagination. It was an 82-page call sheet. I’m sure this comes from every dropped ball over the course of these dozen or so movies so far. I’m sure they were incorporated into ‘never again’. And so there were very few quote-unquote logistical mistakes made, and I think it creates a safer environment to do something that’s really hard. But anyway, I could see Joss was having more fun and letting go a little bit more while simultaneously putting himself through one flaming hoop after another."
We previously looked what Downey Jr. had to say about Marvel Studios convincing him to re-sign for another film (before joining Civil War, RDJ had only one more Avengers movie on his contract) and that he likes to feel "needed" in that his role as Tony Stark can remain important - and fresh - to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At the time, he stressed that while is character in the third Captain America will be at odds with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) just like in the comics, that doesn't mean he's necessarily going to become a "villain."
And for those wondering why Captain America: Civil War is titled "Captain America" if it also stars Robert Downey Jr. and is about so much more, RDJ would tell you that it's simply still a story about Steve Rogers. Rogers is the star and the through-point for audiences in this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - the opening act of Phase 3.
"Ultimately it’s Steve’s story; it doesn't say 'Iron Man 4: Civil War'. I think that's great too. I think Chris [Evans] has been hungry to bring even more of an underside and some shadow to that. I remember the comics - on the surface you got the sense that Cap was baseball and apple pie, but underneath there was all this churning stuff of being a man out of time. Now we know he’s made his peace with that. What's the bigger issue? It can have a little something to do with the past, but it can be about someone becoming more modernized in their own conflict."
What happens in Age of Ultron does change Stark and launch the Civil War conflict.
"Yeah. Again, it’s natural to change your views. The main thing to me is, and this is where I think the Russos are quite brilliant and where Kevin backed the play, is what sort of incident could occur and what sort of framework could we find Tony in? The clues are in Ultron about where we might find him next. But what would it take for Tony to completely turn around everything he’s stood for, quote-unquote, because he was the right-wing guy who could still do his own thing. When the first Iron Man came out the liberals and conservatives were both like, ‘You’re our guy’. Yes! Score! But the idea of Tony being able to march into Washington and say, ‘I’ll sign up’, wouldn't have made sense if the political climate in the real world hadn't shifted the way it has. It’s a little bit of things following a real world continuum in, ‘What would you do?’ There’s always the bigger overarching question, that Joss brings up all the time - it’s kind of weird that these guys would have all these throw downs all over planet Earth and it looked like a little collateral damage happened over there, and yet when the movie’s over, it’s like nobody minds. You have to figure, ‘Were you to ask the question, what would the American government do if this were real? Wouldn't it be interesting to see Tony doing something you wouldn't imagine?’
Seeing Tony change begins with Ultron, the artificial intelligence he helps creates as a way to fill the void left behind by the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Stark funds and houses The Avengers while also developing this robotic police force.
"Tony’s Ultron defense system is supposed to let everybody retire and for a guy who’s still got a lot of piss and vinegar - in Iron Man 3, when we left him he was basically saying, 'You know what, I don’t even need the suit. I’m just a badass.' Then what I feel happened is he went back east and he does the responsible thing for all these other people and puts a roof over their head and has an idea."
RDJ's views on the business side of this movie franchise and being a team player have all changed over the years. The actor is approaching 50 and is enjoying seeing the injection of youth into The Avengers. He's okay seeing Marvel take Stark in a vastly different direction, including with how the Ultron story arc plays out and how it affects Stark going forward.
"It’s so funny. My old material, those 15 minutes don’t hold up anymore. And yet it was such a strong 15. You have to grow up and say I don’t need to tap-dance and have the room turn upside-down anymore. I need to be true to the character and I need to be true to what the filmmakers and the studio are doing with the trajectory of this whole big juggernaut. As far as Tony’s guilt, I think it’s always tougher when you had a pure heart going in. I think that’s the rough part. ‘I don’t operate like I used to. This is a really good idea, don’t you see?’ But he missed something. I think it’s the guilt of recognizing that my best thinking can still bring me back to a place where I wish I’d just kept my mouth shut."
"At this point it ceases about being about announcements of contracts and deal points and Forbes and all that. And to see Chadwick being announced for Black Panther, I go, ‘Wow, man, Marvel is making all the right moves and they’re not doing it because it’s PC, they’re doing it because it’s exciting’. So why would I be the one to go, ‘I’m not going on the road. I don’t get along with the keyboardist’. Who cares? Who cares? And look, I also recognize that I’ll be turning 50 by the time I promote this movie. The clock is ticking down on the amount of memories and participation that I would allow myself and not embarrass the medium with. And when they pitched it to me and when I had a couple of ideas and when they said we like those ideas, let’s do those. Then there’s all this competition too. I don’t do this because I look at it as a competition, but I look at the marketplace and go, ‘Maybe if these two franchises teamed up and I can take even a lesser position in support, with people I like and directors I respect, maybe we can keep things bumping along here a little longer than they might have’."
Downey also spoke again about Paul Bettany joining the family (in person) and going beyond voicing Tony Stark's AI assistant J.A.R.V.I.S.. He jokingly reiterates the enjoyment he and the cast have seeing Bettany endure the process of suiting up as The Vision which is very prosthetic-heavy and says fans have a lot to look forward to in see this future Avenger on screen.
"But when - and I won’t give much of anything away - Vision gets to express and enter and find his place in earnest respect on the playing field, it was like an exceptionally well-executed, poetic, badass, “Aha!” moment for all of us. Joss was very particular about that in a different way than he was with Jimmy [Spader]. I think people are going to get a kick out of the creative decisions about how Vision fits in."
As for Joss Whedon announcing he won't direct The Avengers 3 or 4, RDJ says, "It’s funny, nobody really ever goes away entirely from the Marvel universe."
Happy to see Robert Downey Jr. take on a larger role in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Should The Avengers: Infinity War serve as the end of Stark's story or should Robert Downey Jr. stick around for Phase 4 (or be recast?). Want to see Iron Man 4 or would Stark be better served as a supporting player in other character movies and team-ups? Share your thoughts and hopes in the comments!
The Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in theaters on May 1 2015, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Spider-Man on July 28, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 on May 4 2018, Black Panther on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on November 2 2018, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2 on May 3 2019 and Inhumans on July 12, 2019.