As heard on the Avengers: Age Of Ultron spoiler podcast, writer-director Joss Whedon was fantastically forthcoming about the inner workings of his superhero sequel. Here are ten of the biggest secrets let slip during that chat. Needless to say, there are SPOILERS throughout, so if you haven't seen the film, click away now.
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Did you know that Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner would get together when you asked her to pick him up at the beginning of the first movie?
"I didn’t. But when we shot that scene together, when she goes to recruit him, we did go, 'They’re awfully good together'. But you can really trace the evolution of that storyline. Somebody put a crib in that set without my knowing. They dressed the set, I walked in to prep the scene and I had already written the line - I don’t get what I want every time. I said to Mark [Ruffalo], 'How would you feel about giving that little cradle a push when you say that? It’ll give it a slightly different resonance.' And he was cool with it. I thought, 'A lot of people won’t even notice', and I wasn’t thinking of that when I devised what happens in the second one. But I look back and think, 'Christ, we were really just barreling right towards it all along.'
In terms of the relationship in the movie, it’s been going on off-screen for a while together. Was it easy to write that longing?
"Longing is always fun to write. I felt that they both have this outsider thing. They’re really the two who cannot refer to themselves as heroes, even if they are. Neither of them has powers. When the Hulk shows up, Bruce is gone. Natasha is extraordinarily well-trained, but she doesn’t actually have superpowers. They’re ordinary Joes in a way. Yet they’ve both lived completely outside of normal society for most of their adult lives, and in her case her whole life. It made a lot of sense to me. I know a lot of people are quite angry about it. Mostly because of Clint, I guess, and sometimes Steve. Everybody wants what they want. The Steve thing, I’m sort of like, 'I don’t think that was ever going to happen.' That was never their intent. Certainly Marvel never said boo about me putting the two of them together. I thought it made perfect sense. The Clint thing, I have a strong opinion about. I think they’re wrong. I think it’s wrong to assume a romance. It’s much more not only interesting and useful but actually romantic that there are these two people who would die for each other, who are not sleeping together.
Why should there be the presumption that there’s a relationship there?
"Exactly. I think men and women can be best friends. What? Did I just blow your mind? But I really believe it. I’m living it. And for me, just to go to the sexy romance place is, I think, the obvious choice and not as interesting a message."
"A lot got changed. In the bedroom scene - and this is going to be on the DVD - when we first shot it the question was answered and he rejected her. It’s some of the most beautiful stuff and I hated to cut it. But when they suggested it, the reasoning was that you shouldn’t answer the question until the end of the movie. I thought that was interesting. But it’s difficult because Scarlett [Johansson] had been playing that this happened, so we had to reshoot some stuff.
And then there was another moment later that didn’t work. I’m not going to tell you about it because we might use it in another film, because it’s pretty cool, but it wasn’t working. And that’s when I came up with the scene where she pushes him down the well. For me, that was a better resolve between the two of them. I didn’t really have a resolve with them until the Hulk went away at the end. For me, that’s a better resolve because it’s his decision, Bruce’s decision, but it’s her decision to throw him down a fucking well! And what I love about that is that she has laid herself bare and said, 'I want to be with you and have a life and a romance with you', and when push comes to shove, she has to be a hero, and the way she is a hero is by being duplicitous, by being a spy. And that, for me, is really exciting; that’s a pure character moment. That the only time we only use the phrase 'the other guy' because he was only called 'the Hulk' in the first movie.
"I leaned so hard into that. It was a joy. I would cackle with delight. I would say, 'Let’s have a shot of him looking at a picture of his family!' Then, 'Tony should say, "One of us is definitely going to die!"' And I’d laugh and laugh.
He tells his wife, 'I’m going to fix this when I get home...'. I shot that scene two ways. I had written as, 'Go save the world, honey, and come back home to me!' Then I thought, 'Oh! I hate this.' But the studio quite liked it, and it wasn’t bad and Linda Cardellini is the secret weapon of this movie. I thought they shouldn’t say any of those things, they should just know she doesn’t want him to go. I’d shot some footage of him fixing something, a little bit on the railing... So it’s the old 'I can’t say goodbye' and she says, 'You’ll find something else to tear apart', and he goes, 'Last project, I promise.' He’s basically saying, 'I won’t do this again, I’ll come home to you darling.' You know, 'One more job, it’s perfectly safe, and then I’ll retire!' I really couldn’t have had more fun with that.
"I am trying to remember the 'why' of [Quicksilver's death]. I think, ultimately, of Seven Samurai. The old guys make it through; it’s the young guys that tend to miss the mark. I also wasn’t going to kill the only other woman in the series! (Laughs) But I knew right away that this was what I wanted to do. I know I’ve got this reputation, and some people were going to say, 'There he goes, again with the killing!' But I play on that reputation with Hawkeye. And you can’t control the publicity. I wanted them to announce Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s nine picture deal, and for them not to announce Jeremy was going to be in the next movie, and all that good stuff.
But it felt very disingenuous for me, especially the second time around, to make what I refer to as 'a war movie' and say that there is no price and everybody walks away. In this movie, we’re saying, 'Prove to me that you guys are heroes.' And he’s the guy that does it. The most arrogant, the most annoying one. If you want the DVD extras, [you’ll see that] he’s the biggest pussy hound. Hawkeye genuinely hates this guy, and that’s the guy who saves him. I knew it would be resonant, and make everything else work better and matter more. The city in the air, that’s just an explosion – Wanda’s grief, that’s extraordinary. When the Vision comes to save her... that’s the part that matters to me. I said to Aaron, 'The only way you’ll stay alive is if the Disney executives say, "Hey idiot, this is a franchise, and we need all these people and you’re not allowed to kill them off!"' We did actually shoot him in the last scene, in an outfit, with his sister. We also shot him, waking up, saying, 'Ah, I didn’t really die from these 47 bullet wounds!' Actually, we shot something else with that, but... maybe I’ll let you know about that later. But the intent was to earn this, and then you have to stand by it.
Even though, at the time, I thought, 'It’s TV, away from The Avengers, so if you see the movies, Coulson’s dead and he stays dead.' But when I rewatched the first one I thought, 'Yeah, he gets a TV show.' It did take some of the truth out of it, and I’m responsible for having done that. I’m as guilty of bringing people back to life as I am of killing them. I was even going to bring Tara back to life [in Buffy The Vampire Slayer], but they couldn’t make a deal.
"There was a 195-minute cut of this movie. [As concerns the Thor / Erik subplot], the original scene was that Thor went to speak to the Norn [Ed's note: weird sister-like characters in the Marvel universe] and how it would work was that he’d go in the pool and the Norn possess him, basically, and Erik Selvig asks all the questions, and the Norn, speaking through Thor, give the answers. So Chris [Hemsworth] got to do something different, and he really threw himself into it, and he did a beautiful job, but it wasn’t well regarded by the test audiences and I feel it’s probably largely because it was a rough cut with no effects, but also because it’s something that in a Thor movie would work brilliantly, but in this movie is just a little too left of centre.
Thor is the hardest guy to integrate. Originally it was Thor looking through library books; I really didn’t have anything visceral. Then I came up with what I felt was a huge win: it’s about Thor getting answers without having to answer the questions, and Chris gets to do something exciting as an actor and he’s got his fucking shirt off, so everybody wins! It’s amazing how many people had to be on set that day. I do feel like they threw out the baby with the pond water, because I tried to set it up so people would accept it when it happens. Instead, we split the dream up, and then we had Loki in the second part of the dream, but then they were like, 'That doesn’t work, do we want to introduce Loki now, this late?'
The dreams were not an executive favourite. The dreams, the farmhouse, these were things I fought [for]. With the cave, they pointed a gun at the farm’s head and 'Give us the cave'. They got the farm. In a civilised way – I respect these guys, but that’s when it got really unpleasant. There was a point when there was going to be no cave, and Thor was going to leave and come back and say, 'I figured some stuff out.' And at that point I was so beaten down, I was like, 'Sure, okay... what movie is this?' The editors were like, 'No no, you have to show the thing, you just can’t say it.' I was like, 'Okay, thank you, we can figure this out!' You can tell it was beaten down, but it was hard won.
Would Loki being in the film make Thor think the Avengers mission was the second most important thing going on?
"No, because it was the dream, and so it would be no problem. First of all, I always make these movies as if the audience hasn’t seen anything else, so nobody should even know that Loki is dead. That’s why I don’t mention that anywhere, but in his dream, who’s going to walk him through his dream? It’s going to be Tom [Hiddleston] as Loki. He’s so important to the mythos, and they’re like, 'We can’t get Tom. We can’t make a deal. You can have Idris!' I was like, 'Oh, I love Idris! This is great!' And then I talked to Tom, saying, 'Just so you know, I feel bad not telling you, and I would never pressure you, but... I really feel like it would be great if you could do this...' And they’re like, 'But we already have Idris!' And again, I had no problem there. Everybody’s in!
We even had a little reference to the fact that he’s taken the throne, which was Tom doing his Anthony Hopkins impression when Thor says, 'Oh, what would father say?' Then Tom does his Hopkins impression, and Thor’s like, 'That is uncanny!' It’s sort of like his subconscious is telling him that Loki was imitating his father. But he would never make that connection. Anyway, the dreams were awfully long, even though I only got a day to shoot each one, because I made the most out of them. There’s a lot of fun stuff that fell.
I think the film, at the end of the day, maybe should have been two minutes longer, just to let a few things breathe a bit more. I think it was about where it should have been in terms of running time, and the events. I do think I stuffed it a bit full.
"That came from a 'Do you know what would be cool?' moment. It’s the cheer moment of the film. And what’s great is that, like the Hawkeye thing, we’d set it up – we’d unknowingly set it up, just by having that ['Who is worthy enough to Mjolnir?'] sequence, then with Quicksilver as well, trying to grab it and it throws him off. Both of those things were in the script before I came up with the idea of [the Vision lifting Mjolnir].
I had done something similar in an episode of Angel, where I needed you to know someone was telling the truth. It was, very simply, Angel saying, 'He hates it if you ask questions, he can’t lie.' So, you just accept that.
So on the one hand, I want them all to trust each other and go into battle not as a coherent group, but when they finally all show up at the church, they really do come together for the first time. On the other hand, I need them to take this guy with them, and I need something to say, 'All right, we’re off!' And that really does answer a lot of questions. It was so much fun and so cute. Chris added the 'Nice work!' as he walked by Tony, by the way.
"I made sure that we never shot Chris Evans saying [the 'assemble!' of 'Avengers assemble!'] I was positive that some executive was gonna go, 'You forgot to put in the last word!' I was like, 'With my dying breath...' I don’t have to say that a lot, but sometimes I’ll turn to [Marvel head honcho] Kevin [Feige] and say, 'With my dying breath...'
As much as I was like, 'We didn’t get this, we didn’t get this, this is sloppy, and I’m not happy with that music cue...' With all my complaints, it was in the script exactly as you see it. 'He draws breath to say the next word. Blackout.' So to know that we landed exactly where I wanted to go, however many stumbles along the way, was extremely gratifying. As was Chris Evans’ reaction when I told him what we were going to do in the second movie, at the MTV movie awards, when we won for the first movie – he lost his shit. (Laughs) It was great.
"I said, 'It would be great if we could add a few more. If we could have a Captain Marvel there...' And they talked about it. And Spider-Man, because Sony had approached us during the first movie about integration, so I would have put both of them in, but neither of the deals were made, and then it’s, 'We’re making a Captain Marvel movie, and we’ve got Spider-Man as a property!' I was like, 'I’ve already locked my film, you fucks. Thanks for nothing!'
"I specifically put in the line, 'Where in the world am I not a threat?' I wanted to leave people with the idea that if this is the last movie, that he may have left the world behind. Because I think there’s something enormously poetic about that, but there’s also something enormously misleading about that. We don’t plan to make Planet Hulk, as far as I know, so they were like, 'Just sky, no stars!' which was less poetic, but very beautiful and there’s no better way to express the beauty of it than when Scarlett came in to do some ADR and saw the sequence shot together for the first time. She saw that last shot when he’s sitting [in the Quinjet], and the camera’s drifting away from him, and she just goes, 'Oh! It’s so sad! Fat man in a little car...' And that’s the only thing I call that sequence now.