It's hard to believe that it's been three years since Marvel's Avengers opened in theaters, breaking box office records and forever changing the way Hollywood plans and builds blockbuster film franchises. Its highly anticipated sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is now beginning to open in theaters in international markets where moviegoers can finally see what writer and director Joss Whedon has put together as his farewell to Marvel Studios.
And it's important to note that this is what this is. Joss Whedon is done and it's been a long time coming. After he finishes his press tour for Age of Ultron, he's no longer the guy in charge of The Avengers and he's no longer going to be an overseer for the direction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Joss Whedon is tired and needs a break and that couldn't be more evident from his demeanor every time we've chatted with him over the last year (here and here). Directing a film as big as The Avengers, let aloneits even bigger followup, is no easy task, especially with so many cooks in the kitchen, such large expectations and such strict deadlines. Whedon overcame the odds and delivered the first time around, but that wasn't good enough for the creator who came up through the TV ranks with cult hits Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, even writing on occasion for Marvel Comics (Astonishing X-Men, Runaways).
With Age of Ultron, Whedon (mostly) had the chance to make what he wanted to make the first time around. He was now familiar with the system and the people, knew how to handle the massive scale and scope, and he got to do more of what he loves most: play with the characters, including a few new personal faves of his from the books who he introduces in the sequel. But it was a drain, and as you can see from our latest convo with him in the video up top, he just doesn't have the energy to continue any longer, and if he did, he would still be around for another four years paving the path to Avengers: Infinity War, a two-part movie event that builds off of the foundation Whedon helped lay.
"If I had the energy it'd be The Avengers..."
Whedon's decision to step away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more than just a need for a break. The Marvel movie machine is a crushing system that's pushed out other directors before him. Jon Favreau had troubles signing on for and then making Iron Man 2 and passed on directing Iron Man 3; Patty Jenkins couldn't direct Thor: The Dark World over creative differences and her replacement, Alan Taylor, had a stressful time making the Asgardian sequel; Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnson both left the franchise after their first entries; Edgar Wright infamously parted ways with Marvel after spending years developing Ant-Man (a script, by the way, that Whedon said was Marvel's best), and Whedon didn't have the best of times either.
Part of that had to do with his interest in television. When Whedon re-upped with Marvel to return for the Avengers sequel, it was a much more comprehensive deal than just writing and directing another film. The deal involved Whedon working as part of Marvel's family for three years where he would consult on all of the other movies coming after Avengers and leading up to Age of Ultron, and it also involved developing Marvel's first in-canon television series for ABC: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. That actually became a bit of sticking point it seems from Whedon's words to Buzzfeed where he explains that he was pulled away from showrunning the series.
"They didn’t actually want me to make it. It’s like, 'Uh, Joss, we really wanted you to do [Age of Ultron]. Instead you created a TV show, you moron.' 'I thought you wanted me to!' 'No, we just wanted you to make a movie.' 'Oh. My bad.' … It went from being absolutely 100 percent the driving force and totally hands-on to 'That sounds great, Jed! You should do that!'"
Was there some sort of epic miscommunication there or is this a case of Kevin Feige and the other movie execs wanting to distance themselves from ABC programming?
"I haven't had a blank slate in 25 years. It's pretty exciting."
The core reasons why Whedon is leaving however, is simply the work. It's not always fun and it definitely is always a burden, one that Whedon can happily relieve himself of since he finally has the career recognition and financial stability to do so, knowing he got to play with his creativity in this massive sandbox. Whedon tells Buzzfeed last summer from the set:
"I gotta say, it’s been dark. 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."
"I’m now coming out the other side, realizing that once again, for all its many varied and soon to be heralded flaws, it’s my movie. It’s the movie I set out to make. And I have the honor of saying, it’s fucking bonkers. So there’s that."
Whedon was equally exhausted, frequently dropping obvious hints of frustration when we sat down with him on set last summer as well. He was even pulled away twice, called to set, so our 30 minute group conversation was parsed into three 10-minute segments, each beginning or ending with a quip about sleep or putting on clean clothes. He even told us how he almost didn't come back for Age of Ultron after being beat down from the first Avengers movie and not really wanting to do a second... at least, at first.
"But then I didn’t actually want to make the film necessarily. I was ragged from the first one, and so I just turned off my brain. I was like, 'do not think of cool ideas for the next one. Just get through this.' But after a few months when, you know, they talked about, um… 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 forty-five minutes later, my notebook was filled. [laughs] 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."