- Published: Sunday, 19 April 2015 19:48
- Written by coolshades
SURREY, England — Being Earth's mightiest heroes is a sloppy business, which is the main reason for the huge mess currently inside Avengers Tower.
Housed in a large soundstage at Shepperton Studios near London, the spacious, high-end New York headquarters of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his powerful crew in the Marvel Studios sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron (in theaters May 1) is like a super-man cave: A couch-filled hangout area is surrounded by a library, full drum set, Yamaha grand piano and a bar filled with spirits.
However, broken glass and dust are everywhere. An afterparty for a successful mission went very wrong when the Avengers are attacked by Ultron (voiced by James Spader), an antagonistic artificial intelligence in an imposing metal body. Ultron was created by Stark and his genius buddy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), aka the Hulk, but its peace-keeping programming has backfired and it has turned itself into a machine bent on global destruction.
Saving the world from certain doom, mechanical or otherwise, is pretty much a regular Tuesday for the Avengers, the Beatles of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The supergroup brings together comic-book heroes Iron Man (Downey), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Hulk from their own solo movies and aligns them with skilled agents such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
The new sequel brings debuting cast members — witchy Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her super-speedy bro Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a different take on the character seen in last year's X-Men: Days of Future Past — as well as changing team dynamics and interpersonal drama.
On this warm June day, things are heating up in the souped-up science lab. Stark and Banner work on jumpstarting a last-resort scenario to take down Ultron but face an unlikely foe in Captain America, teaming with the Maximoffs. Thankfully Thor (Chris Hemsworth) makes a grand entrance — via lightning, no less — to keep everybody from dismantling each other.
Jeremy Renner gets direction from Joss Whedon on the set "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Photo: Jay Maidment, Marvel)
In between takes, director Joss Whedon hurries around fighting filmmaking fires, Olsen stretches out and Ruffalo pretty much sums up the Avengers' feelings at the moment: "Whatever happened to us drinking margaritas on the beach?"
Believe it or not, things were less crazy with the alien invasion on New York City in the first Avengers movie, a blockbuster behemoth that made $1.5 billion worldwide in 2012. In addition to killer robots, Age of Ultron has become an international affair as our heroes travel from the fictional Eastern European land of Sokovia to South Africa to South Korea.
Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in a scene from "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Photo: Marvel)
Everything's more expansive intellectually speaking when the law is taken into the hands of "this motley group of oddballs who all just started getting along five minutes ago. Ish," says Downey, clad in a DJ Bruce Lee T-shirt and wearing special-effects tracking markers on his right arm where an Iron Man gauntlet will be added in post-production.
But saving humanity isn't as easy as telling Hulk to smash a building, according to director Whedon.
"Their relationship to the world is complicated," he says. "In some ways it's like America in foreign policy: In some places we're beloved liberators, and some places it's like, 'Get out of our city.'
"Heroes make us feel better about ourselves, but they also make us feel smaller. And believe me, I've spent enough time around Chris Hemsworth to say with deadly accuracy that is the case."
When it comes to Ultron, Hemsworth appreciates having a villain who isn't bad just for the sake of being bad. "This round, what we're fighting has been orchestrated from, if you trail it back, each of our actions in one way or another. Even if we're criticizing one another for why this is happening, we're involved and we're all responsible for it."
Also a joy for the Australian actor: The sequel ups the action as well as the humor of the first Avengers.
When Hemsworth walked on set for the party scene where his Asgardian thunder god trades in his armor for something more dress casual, "the first thing I said was, 'When the hell did Thor go shopping? I want to see the scene where Thor's trying on this jacket.' "
Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, left,) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Photo: Jay Maidment, Marvel)
Age of Ultron gives the actors new chances to branch out with their characters. Considering Banner's strong, possibly romantic feelings for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), his and the Hulk's story "is more varied and more nuanced than the last time," says Ruffalo. He's also finding new ways into playing the Hulk, with advances in motion-capture technology.
"He's a whole enigma to me, this whole mystery that I'm really working my way into and excited about," Ruffalo says.
Jeremy Renner's secret-agent archer Hawkeye spent much of the first Avengers flick mind-controlled and away from the rest of the team. He gets some secrets of his own, great lines and a boosted overall role in Ultron, though he says he just loves playing a normal guy amid peers with mystical hammers and Iron Man suits.
"I get that. I could never do what Hemsworth does," Renner says. "There's an everyman human quality to Hawkeye, even though he's a total badass you wouldn't want to screw with."
The heroes enjoy some downtime in Avengers Tower before all heck breaks loose in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." (Photo: Marvel)
However, Renner figures the whole Avengers team is "a nightmare for Joss. It's like wrangling fourth-grade ADD kids without Ritalin — it's full chaos when you get all of us in a room together."
This weekday actually finds Whedon on a good day — after finishing a scene, the fedora-clad filmmaker does a little dance like no one (except for a reporter) is watching. That on-set confidence "breeds an allegiance," Evans says. "What Joss says goes, and I just trust the guy."
It's important that he doesn't want "to lose the mission" in capturing the same team camaraderie and huge action scenes from Whedon's first Avengers, yet the pressure he feels isn't from meeting box-office or studio expectations.
Instead, he says, "I have a contract with my audience — that I will do better, that I will give them a reason to come in again that is more than the reason we gave them last time.
"I had that contract with every episode of television I produced and when I didn't come through, I still feel it," adds the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. "And this is on a much bigger scale."
Because Thor, Captain American and Iron Man's solo movies have been such big hits, Downey says, "there's something about coming into the Ultron of it all where we're unifying the title — except no one is really wearing all the belts."
What put the Avengers phenomenon into perspective for executive producer Jeremy Latcham was a little boy who visited the English set of Ultron a few weeks earlier with Iron Man, Cap and Thor costume changes in tow.
The new film may be a little more mature and slightly edgier, "but you don't want to make it dark," Latcham says. "You don't want to turn that kid off because that kid had the best time ever (at the first film). That's the one that keeps you up at night."
In the epic scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Age of Ultron puts the finishing touches on "Phase 2." It continues the mythology of the six Infinity Stones, a bunch of legendary cosmically powerful rocks that are an underlying connective tissue of the Marvel films — and sow seeds of discontent among its greatest heroes.
About that scene with Stark aiming his Iron Man gauntlet blaster and Cap beating him to the punch with his shield, Downey says, "that's an interesting point of entry for any day of shooting. You go, 'Well, what is that about…?' "
Audiences will get that answer next year. Captain America: Civil War begins filming this week and will pit Downey's Stark and Evans' Cap against each other, on different ideological sides of the issue of superheroes and their role in saving the world.
And sure, for Downey, being a good guy also means tackling evil technological antagonists unleashed on mankind. But by the looks of his wide smile, the actor — now 50 — wants to stick around as Iron Man for much of the long haul. In fact, he may be looking forward to the two-part Avengers: Infinity War event in 2018 and '19 more than his fan base.
"Good luck getting me to retire my jersey," he says, laughing. "I'll be like Jordan playing at 60."
Source: USA Today