Before Marvel’s The Avengers hit theaters in May of 2012, Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, had already begun laying the groundwork for what would be coming after, establishing that Iron Man 3 (which was due in May 2013) would be the first of the Phase Two films which would ultimately culminate in Avengers 2. While director Joss Whedon expressed interest in writing and directing the sequel, he wasn’t actually signed for it at the time, although Marvel did have an option for his return. In interviews, he made it clear that directing a film like The Avengers was backbreaking work and if he did come back for the sequel, he wanted to make it a smaller, more intimate film. At the same time Whedon’s return was in flux, Robert Downey Jr.’s contract was expiring (Iron Man 3 was the fourth and final film he was signed for), although everyone else from the first film was still a lock. By August, however, Whedon was not only signed to write and direct the next Avengers film, he was the creative consultant for all of the Phase Two films, and was given the greenlight to develop Marvel’s first foray into television, developing and directing the pilot for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Before the month was out a release date of May 1, 2015 was set for Avengers 2 and Whedon began work on the script. By the time Iron Man 3 premiered, a draft of the script was done, storyboarding had started, and Whedon had begun meeting with the actors, revealing during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon that a “brother/sister act” from the comics would be playing a part in the new film. It was pretty clear that he was referring to Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, which was not only exciting for longtime fans, but confusing for anyone paying attention to the rights rodeo that had been going on with Marvel’s properties over the decades. 20th Century Fox had the rights to the entire Mutant catalog, and by 2013 had produced six films in their franchise (if we pretend X-Men Origins: Wolverine actually existed), with a new film on the immediate horizon, X-Men: Days of Future Past. And rumor had it Quicksilver played a small, but pivotal role. As it turns out, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were part of a strange clause in the contracts, as they played just as important (if not moreso) roles in the Avengers comics franchise as they did the X-Men. Given their slippery status, both studios could use the characters, however they would be entirely separate entities and Marvel Studios’ versions couldn’t be Mutants. And forget about mentioning that their dad was Magneto. While Whedon was working out how to incorporate these characters into the MCU, Downey had entered negotiations to return to the role of Tony Stark for at least two more films, finally signing back on officially in June (after the dump truck of money backed up to his mansion, I presume). At the San Diego Comic-Con the following month, to the surprise of the vast majority of fans who had expected Thanos to take center stage as the film’s Big Bad, Whedon revealed that the film’s subtitle would be Age of Ultron (which was not to be confused with the recent Marvel Comics mini-series of the same name — the film would have no connection to that story). This was only slightly less controversial than including Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch seeing as how Ultron’s origin in the comics is tied intimately with his creator, Hank Pym (Ant-Man, Giant Man, Yellowjacket). Ant-Man was a project that Marvel Studios had been developing before there was officially a Marvel Studios. In May 2000, Artisan Entertainment struck a deal with Marvel to co-produce Ant-Man, but it was three years later before a treatment was even written (and then dismissed). But that treatment was written by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). After then pitching their idea to Marvel Studios directly in 2004, they were hired officially in 2006 for the initial slate of films Marvel Studios produced. The production then went into a holding pattern for years as Wright and Cornish worked on revising the script and planning the visual style of the film. In the meantime Wright went on to make the brilliant buddy-cop film Hot Fuzz, the brilliant comic book adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the mostly brilliant alien-robot apocalypse film The World’s End, while Cornish wrote and directed the brilliant alien invasion film Attack the Block and then co-wrote the entertaining screenplay for The Adventures of Tintin. By this time, Ant-Man had been excised from Avengers history, playing no role at all in the Phase One films, and it was looking like working him into Phase Two would be problematic at best by now. The main problem was that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a very different place than it had been just a few short years ago. If Marvel Studios hadn’t been so successful in laying out a master plan and then being fabulously rewarded for doing so, Ant-Man might have made it to the screen sooner and Hank Pym may have been involved in the world before the second Avengers movie went into production. Instead, Wright and Cornish eventually walked away from the project rather than rework their script and concept any more to fit into the now much more intricately connected Marvel Cinematic Universe. So Ultron had a new origin and Pym was nowhere in sight. And in August 2013 Ultron had a voice: James Spader. By the end of the year, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were cast as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver with Don Cheadle on-board as James Rhodes (War Machine from the Iron Man films), Thomas Kretschmann was Hydra boss Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, and Paul Bettany — the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. — was cast as Vision. The confirmation that Vision was appearing in the film set off an enthusiastic round of fan excitement as rumors began spreading that Ultron may possibly find his origins in Stark’s A.I. software. Or at least, Vision would develop from it in response. On February 11, 2014 filming got underway in Johannesburg, South Africa, sparking rumors that the film might actually feature a cameo by Black Panther or at least take place in Wakanda. However, despite Chadwick Boseman being cast as Black Panther later in the year, he wasn’t scheduled to debut until 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Instead, Johannesburg was substituting for the fictional European country Sokovia. The film also shot in South Korea, Hampshire England, Norwich, Kent, Bangladesh, and New York. Industrial Light & Magic announced in February 2014 that they were opening a new facility in London, with their work on Avengers: Age of Ultron as the reason. They also developed a new motion capture system called Muse, which gives the performers much more latitude in combining the face and motion captures. In addition to ILM, another seven to twelve visual effects companies would be contributing to the more than 3000 visual effects shots. Through the end of 2014 and the start of 2015, more cast members were revealed, including Idris Elba as Heimdall, Tom Hiddleston as Loki (although his part would eventually be cut), Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue (Klaw), and Anthony Mackie as Falcon. Klaw’s inclusion was intriguing, as it also hinted at a Wakanda connection and would hopefully provide some groundwork for the eventual introduction of Black Panther. While the US release was still set for May 1, 2015, Avengers: Age of Ultron opened in 11 countries around the world on April 22, earning $9.5 million, then moved to 15 more countries the next day, bringing in another $35.3 million. By Sunday, April 26, the film had already grossed $200.2 million from 44 countries, setting opening-weekend records in Russia, Hong Kong and the Philippines and had the second biggest opening weekends in South Korea, India, Singapore, and Vietnam. The film also had the highest opening weekend ever for a superhero film in the UK, Ireland and Malta, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. So far, at the time of this writing, the film is garnering a 72% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, with most reviewers finding it enjoyable, if overstuffed. Although to be honest, overstuffed isn’t really an accurate representation of what all’s going on in the film. There’s definitely a lot in there, but it rarely feels forced, and the two hour and twenty-two minute runtime moves so smoothly that it doesn’t feel quite as long as it actually is. Each of the characters is highlighted with even the supporting players getting a few nice moments here and there. A couple of major character moments don’t quite feel earned, however, but slot comfortably into the emotional machine that is the script. Because that’s what this film really is: an emotional machine — much like the titular Ultron. The plot runs like clockwork and every performance nails its mark, so when certain sacrifices are made, the only real surprise is which of the expendable characters will end up in front of the barrel of Whedon’s gun. At the same time, it is extremely thoughtful, focusing mainly on the emotional needs and desires of the characters while allowing them to play out in a way that feels natural in the world Marvel has crafted over the past seven years. Things have changed; not all for the better. And these characters are at least maintaining the illusion of growth without really fostering too much real change. That’s a difficult line to balance, but its central to the way Marvel has structured their comic universe over the past fifty years, so I’m not surprised that they’re making it work in their films as well. We’ll see what happens once contracts really do expire and no amount of cash will bring certain actors back. Regardless of that though, before the film had even been finished, Marvel Studios announced a two-part sequel entitled Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2, with the first part scheduled for a May 4, 2018 release with Part 2 following a year later on May 3, 2019. In April 2015 directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the creative team behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier, were announced to be in charge of both Avengers sequels. And while many fans were sad that Whedon wouldn’t be back for another go, there was a near-universal sigh heard around the world and a general sense that the films — along with Marvel’s future — were in good hands. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses The Avengers: Age of Ultron Blu-ray - Psycho Drive-In October 4, 2015 […] Age of Ultron even more the second and third time I watched it. I’ve said it before (here, in particular), but the complaints of the film being overstuffed don’t really hold up for […] Log in to Reply The Psycho Drive-In Captain America & Iron Man Primer - Psycho Drive-In May 4, 2016 […] Marvel at the Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) by Paul Brian McCoy […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.