With Avengers: Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon hoped to create something beautiful; his own unique, idealistic 'Vision.' But what he brought to life has proven to be a surprisingly divisive, immensely entertaining, and hotly-debated monster of both comic book and Hollywood studio proportions. Hardly a failure (read our review), Ultron - like its genocidal robot counterpart - was as equally misunderstood and deluded in its purpose to either stand alone and make a change, or simply move things forward while keeping the status quo.
Ultimately, though, the film struggled not because it lacked any strings, but a perception that the expanding Marvel universe, and not one, but two world-altering events on the way placed far too many strings on its own story. Strings including studio priorities, fan expectations, and insurmountable hype. And it hasn't left Whedon unscathed.
So far, Age of Ultron has made its impact known: it's grossed over $560 million internationally (that excludes key markets China and Japan); it's promotional campaign gained attention when Jeremy Renner called Black Widow a "slut" (twice), and star Robert Downey Jr. walked out of an interview - not to mention divided existing fans on whether or not the film is, in fact, a success.
But above all else, it has broken Joss Whedon, driving him to repeatedly admit his exhaustion, quit Twitter altogether, and take a much needed break from filmmaking. We wouldn't be surprised if he's still trying to catch his breath.
Before the opening of Age of Ultron, Whedon spoke to Hero Complex regarding the enormity of the project and the pressures that came with it. So, what most took its toll on the writer/director?
"The weight of the thing, the weight of the last thing, of this not just being the next thing that happens — I wanted this film to be its own movie. I wanted it to be better, if possible, than the first one — not that the first one was the best movie ever made, but I wanted to do better, just be better at shooting. I wanted to work harder on the script. I wanted to spend more time just really working every aspect of it, because why go again if you’re not doing something new?"
Indeed, that desire to do something new and unique has not always gelled with Marvel execs - just ask Edgar Wright. But even more so than Marvel's head honchos, the main voice pressuring Whedon was apparently his own:
"I heard that voice in my head every time, 'But is this a great idea?' And suddenly I had doubt that I don’t usually suffer from. And meanwhile, the studio’s gonna have some too, because everything’s riding on this all of a sudden. And it became a problem in a way that nothing else has. And it was a hard movie to make on top of that. So being paralyzed by either indecision or the weight of responsibility? Not useful, don’t have time for your paralysis, son, snap out of it. This was the hardest work I’ve ever done... it a little bit broke me.
Not many filmmakers, let alone people in general, can say they've experienced that same level of stress and pressure to do right by such an enormous, opinionated audience. Yet often with creative endeavors - no matter the size or scope - it's not so much the viewer you wish to please as it is yourself.
Could anyone really blame Whedon for breaking? Age of Ultron was arguably the most anticipated film, financially speaking, in cinematic history. What made the 'weight of responsibility' even worse was the critical and commercial success of its behemoth predecessor. Garnering a 92% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (read our review) and a global box office haul of over $1.5 billion, The Avengers became the quintessential superhero tentpole with shinier bells and whistles - or suits and shields - than any comic book film to come before it.
It's easy to top a failure; it's easy to climb higher. But it's nearly impossible to top (near) perfection. Following Avengers, Joss Whedon was standing on the peak of success - the only way to rise any higher was to jump, and hope he could somehow fly. Unfortunately, in his world - in our very real, very blue world - flying is not as easy as putting on an iron suit (and not even that looks easy).
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now in theaters, followed by Ant-Man on July 12, 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.
Sources: Hero Complex