If Joss Whedon echoes Ultron in saying, “Everyone creates the thing they dread,” it’s because he bit off more than he could creatively chew with his “Avengers” sequel. Apart from extraordinarily high expectations and financial pressure that inevitably pushed back, he ambitiously attempted a better movie.
And the director arguably succeeded: “Age of Ultron” is more emotionally resonant than its predecessor despite the enormous difficulty juggling so many characters and subplots. Whedon not only adds Ultron (James Spader), the Vision (Paul Bettany), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) to the mix but also gives more screen time to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
“Because of the way I shot this, it was very different. I had a lot of cameras going, it was a lot less deliberate in its framing. I wanted to do something that was more haphazard, odd and almost off-hand in a way. Chaotic. But that meant four times as much footage. So I fell into this sea of doubt and terror and exhaustion. The process was grueling at best and this was not best.”
It was even more important for Whedon to ground his superheroes in a humanity that we could relate to because, ultimately, “Ultron” explores the dark side of power. “There’s a lot of children, sibling, family stuff in this movie and everyone’s responsible for everyone else because the movie’s about power and the way that power dehumanizes you to an extent. And nobody has more power than a parent. The one time that we all get to feel what people who run companies or countries feel is when we have a small child who believes everything we say. And eventually that relationship [with power] becomes toxic if you don’t grow through it.”
But there was no over reaching with the cool struttin’ Ultron, who just doesn’t get humanity. “I’ve always loved Ultron but now I might be in love with Ultron because they animated him so beautifully [at Industrial Light & Magic]. James did such a great job and they used his motion capture, his face capture and nailed every little mouth movement. They left his mouth open slightly, which robots don’t usually do. Just for a moment, he looks kinda dumb, like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ One of my favorite things ever is when James goes, ‘Ooh!,’ after committing an act of horrible violence. He said, ‘I added an ooh — I hope that’s all right.’ I was ready to kiss him — I was so happy.”
Even though Whedon the perfectionist was far from satisfied with the results (“There were some minor things I think I punted on”), he conceded a favorite moment: “The ‘Rio Bravo’ fight finally felt like I put a comic book on the screen. That was important to me and I was very excited.”