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Corporate drone Joss Whedon fought the pure artistic impulses of Marvel executives

Chris Hemsworth in Age Of Ultron, pleading to know why this scene was necessary
Chris Hemsworth in Age Of Ultron, pleading to know why this scene was necessary

Without getting into any spoilers (in case you’re one of the three remaining Americans who has yet to see Avengers: Age Of Ultron), a scene that has generated much debate involves Chris Hemsworth’s Thor entering a cave with Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). With only the briefest of explanations, Thor strips down to his skivvies, enters the cave lake, and then has some sort of vision and endures a whole electrical light show. To put it charitably, the response of most people watching the scene has been: “The fuck?”

Well, it turns out that was Joss Whedon’s response, too. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a new interview with the writer-director of Marvel’s two biggest films suggests that Avengers: Age Of Ultron was the studio-meddling straw that broke the superhero-rejuvenating artist’s back. Which simply means that neither Whedon nor audiences are as smart as studio executives, clearly.

The cave sequence, it turns out, was demanded by the studio brass, who bravely kept it in long after most of the footage was cut by dint of test audiences wondering what the hell it was doing in the movie. Whedon had the same impulses, but was forced to keep it after the executives threatened to axe two of his key story beats: a stopover at a “safe house” that involves Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, and dream sequences for each of the Avengers. The final film is a result of contentious negotiations between the person who wrote, directed, and was the primary creative force behind the film, and a bunch of tangentially associated dudes who definitely know better.

Marvel executives, who—like all corporate executives—are famous for their visionary creative and artistic instincts, were dead-set on carrying out their synergistic franchise obligations. Unfortunately, they were stymied by Whedon, who again pissed all over the noble instinct to maximize profit via corporate groupthink by insisting that his film retain some semblance of personality. Referring to dream sequences he included in the film, Whedon says, “The dreams were not an executive favorite either—the dreams, the farmhouse, these were things I fought to keep. With the cave, it really turned into: they pointed a gun at the farm’s head and said, ‘Give us the cave, or we’ll take out the farm,’—in a civilized way. I respect these guys, they’re artists, but that’s when it got really, really unpleasant.”

Because threatening the writer and director of your film is always the best way to get results, Whedon says he eventually caved, even when—in a confusing turn—other studio notes temporarily led to the cave sequence being cut altogether, before of course being re-inserted. “I was so beaten down at that point that I was like, ‘Sure, OK—what movie is this?’,” says that man whose resume teems with bland, carbon-copy Hollywood product like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly. “And the editors were like, ‘No. You have to show the [events in the cave]. You can’t just say it.’” Thank God for those brave editors and executives, because now we have a movie that is less the result of one man’s megalomaniacal vision, and more the surefire formula for success that comes from the old saying, “Too many cooks always improve a meal.”

Whedon had also hoped to include Spider-Man and Captain Marvel in the film, but was prevented from doing so by Marvel and Sony not agreeing on character-sharing terms until February (for Spidey), and by not casting anyone yet (for Captain Marvel). If you’d like to hear more stories from the man who almost ruined Marvel’s brave attempt at excising any artistic impulses from their 20-year marketing plan, the entire interview is up at Empire Film Podcast.

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