The Avengersfranchise is surely the jewel in Marvel’s franchise crown, yet when Age Of Ultron finally landed earlier this year, it’s fair to say that nobody was entirely happy with the result, not least director Joss Whedon, who has been notably vocal about the final cut not being representative of the movie he wanted to release.
The film didn’t resonate as perfectly as its predecessor with audiences either; perhaps because its construction wasn’t as cleanly delineated as the precise three-act structure of Avengers, or possibly because it was always going to be impossible to match the thrill of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes together for the very first time. Whatever the reason, it’s generally recognised that the sequel didn’t quite work as well as the original.
We’d argue, thought, that the film benefits from numerous rewatchings and should be lauded for the efforts of Whedon and co. to fit so much in; Age Of Ultron boasts a level of density that even the Vision’s powers would struggle to match. Whilst the movie may have been ultimately hamstrung by its need to further the Marvel cinematic metaplot, its brave attempt to blur the lines between good and evil, or perhaps simply by the responsibilities that come with being a tentpole action blockbuster – it still gave us an awful lot.
Whedon, however, had more. The film’s eventual running time came in at a shade under two and a half hours so it’s no surprise that he was eventually forced to leave more on the cutting-room floor. With the recent release of Age Of Ultron onto home formats, (and with the man himself giving some surprisingly candid interviews) we can begin to piece together an idea of what Whedon’s final cut would have looked like, and hunt for further clues as to the fate of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you haven’t seen the deleted scenes yet you can get up to speed below…
Quicksilver’s heart is made of gold
The first deleted scene to make its way onto the Blu-ray fleshes out the characters of the twins in greater detail, with Pietro Maximoff in particular gaining from a little extra screen time. We see him using his powers solely for the sake of good, speeding all over the planet to bring much-needed supplies back to the seemingly-impoverished citizens of Zerkovia. Whilst by no means essential, this scene would have helped to establish the twins as inherently good characters, showing that their alliance with Ultron develops not because they are ‘evil’ as such, but rather because their tragic backstory and bitter outlook is exploited by the titular antagonist to serve his own ends.
A residual effect of this scene is the humanisation of the Zerkovian citizens. The boy who Pietro sacrifices himself to save in the movie’s climax is introduced here (alongside his sister who also appears later). As with most movies of this ilk, Marvel are still struggling with how to effectively produce a third act without having to resort to the tired ‘the-whole-world-is-in-peril-and-there’s-untold-destruction’ sequence. Adding this moment back into the film’s final cut would have at least helped audiences to care a smidgeon more about the fate of these faceless citizens of a fictional nation.
Oh, and before a neat little hook involving the possible presence of their enemy Iron Man (which instead turns out to be Ultron of course), you get to see Quicksilver flirt with a girl and then ask his sister if she’s jealous. On reflection, perhaps Whedon left the scene out as it was just a little too Luke ‘n’ Leia for its own good…
An interesting one this. The briefest of scenes, riffing on one of the series’ most popular bonds while subtly hinting at the darkest of possible conclusions for the MCU… and all of it ultimately derailed by a rogue wig.
Maybe we should elaborate. It’s the morning after the night before and a post-party Ultron has freaked out and escaped a wrecked Avengers Tower through the internet. In the aftermath, Stark and Banner are hanging out in the lab (presumably because they’ve been barred from attending any more Avengers planning sessions) and find themselves hypothesising as to how things went so wrong.
Apart from being a fun little scene where we get to see the science dudes once again doing their thing, Whedon wrote this reshoot in partly because it helps to re-establish Banner’s connection to Ultron’s genesis (you’ll recall that it all gets a little Tony-centric the night before), but also to underline the idea that Ultron is not insane.
In the director’s own words this scene “posits the idea that the world has made him nuts, not a glitch.” We briefly referenced the film’s more nuanced approach to good and evil in this article’s opening and this scene expands upon that idea, with Banner wondering aloud if Ultron’s mission to destroy humanity is simply a logical consequence of his remit to protect the world. Couple this rather negative worldview with The Vision’s simple yet unequivocal agreement in the film’s denouement that humanity is doomed, and you suddenly have the Marvel Universe headed to a very dark place.
It seems unthinkable that one so pure and worthy as the Vision could possibly be wrong, but would Marvel really dare to bring the MCU to a climactic Phase Three finish by irreversibly burning it all to the ground? Whilst it could conceivably transcend the faux-pathos usually generated by the final acts of most comic book movies and allow some seriously heavy social commentary about the effect humanity is having on this planet (whilst presumably paving the way for an all-new (Ultimate?) reboot), such a gambit would require some serious stones on the part of Marvel. Still, we wouldn’t put it past them…
Anyway, the Banner/Stark scene was eventually cut because the wig Ruffalo was wearing for the reshoot was deemed to be sub-par so sadly, the moment was left on the cutting-room floor.
Incidentally, we have another theory: the wig claim is merely an irreverent Whedon smokescreen to throw fans off the trail. In reality, the scene was canned because it would have resulted in an undeniable audience clamour for Marvel’s Phase Three to now include Banner & Stark: Adventures In Science. Instead we’re sadly going to have to settle for Thor: Ragnarok which will reunite Hulk and Thor in something more akin to Adventures In Testosterone. Damn it to Nilfgaard, we know which one we’d rather see.
Being civil before the war
We like this one.
Whilst briefing Cap on Ultron’s murderous rampage, Maria Hill raises the possibility of Ultron creating the oft-quoted utopian ideal of peace in our time. Cap wistfully remarks that if it were only so he could finally “hang up his shield.” Eyeing him carefully, Hill openly questions this statement and in doing so hones in on one of the recurring themes of Steve Rogers’ character – that even without a war, he cannot cease being a soldier: that war is in his blood. This motif has regularly recurred throughout the Marvel movies and Whedon visits that particular well once more – from the discordant war imagery present in his supposedly idealised dream to his Ultron arc concluding with him being the only Avenger truly happy to stay on the team and fight, Steve Rogers isn’t a man unless he has a mission.
Although Whedon has since claimed that he regrets the choice, the stirring First Avenger score that punctuates Cap’s closing affirmation to Tony (to the effect that the militarised Avengers facility is his home) reaffirms that the character will always be seeking war. This of course throws Hill’s skeptical reaction to Cap’s simple yearning for peace into sharp relief whilst also foreshadowing the events of next year’s Civil War; during the hero versus hero conflict Hill finds herself very much on Stark’s side, believing that Rodgers is only fighting against superhero registration because it’s another cause for him to cling onto.
In this sense, this scene is both a nice nod to the source material and a herald of the conflict yet to escalate between the pair and it’s a shame it had to go.
A War Machine story?
Poor Rhodey. No wonder the guy’s party tales can’t compare with the likes of Thor and Iron Man – this scene shows that he’s stuck in his military duds trying to deal with the planet-wide cyber-attacks unleashed by Ultron, whilst Earth’s Mightiest Heroes get to do all the cool stuff that goes down well during revels.
That said, this short encounter is telling in a few ways. It establishes why War Machine isn’t present throughout the entire movie (he is after all present during Ultron’s first and final appearances and yet not in between) but it also has an interesting moment where Cap asks Thor if Asgard have been in touch.
The God of Thunder replies that he’s been unable to contact Heimdall: whilst this could simply be a throwaway line to explain why a horde of Asgardian forces haven’t yet descended upon to Midgard in its hour of need (especially Lady Sif; she’s been in so many episodes of Agents Of SHIELD that she’s rivalling Stan Lee for Marvel screen appearances) but it could hint that the events of Phase Three’s Ragnarokhappen sooner than we think. With Heimdall beyond Thor’s reach, one wonders what the God of Thunder will find upon his return to Asgard in the moments following Age Of Ultron‘s conclusion.
The penultimate deleted scene is a particularly interesting one – it comes from the farm that Hawkeye has brought (literally rather than metaphorically, Whedon be praised). It features the encounter between Banner and Romanov where they come to the wrenching conclusion that stay or go, they can’t be together. Interestingly, the scene from the final cut is a truncated version and doesn’t include the conversation’s resolution where Banner, torn by guilt following his Wakandan rampage, asks Natasha about the deaths that they have caused. Her reply, simply that they are “dead”, is met by a (terrifically acted) visible display of discomfiture by Banner and he rejects Widow’s attempted appeasements, telling her “not for me. Never.”
Not only does this conclusion to their conversation draw a more definitive close to their relationship (and therefore casts both party’s later attempts to reconcile in an even more tragic light) but it also (in Whedon’s words) allows the Hulk “the final decision – that Banner and the Hulk have resolved themselves enough that the Hulk makes a very cogent and intelligent decision.” Both characters, argue the director, “give up the dream of being a regular person.”’
This is of course particularly hard on Natasha as following her tortured reflections on her nightmarish past. Of all the Avengers, she seems the most keen to run, and yet when the film draws to a close and she is left to stand alone in an symbolically empty space, there is a bitter irony that she, (to quote Whedon) “is literally the only one who stays with Cap” to form the team’s second generation. Banner’s rejection of her moral standpoint really is the beginning of the end for their relationship as (in Whedon’s words) “he basically tells her, morally you are a monster.”
It’s interesting to speculate as to why this didn’t make the final cut. Whedon has publically said that by this point of the movie he was fighting tooth and nail to keep every second of the farm sequence that he could, and it’s more than possible that it was taken out due to time constraints; perhaps however, Kevin Feige and those who will remain at Marvel long beyond Whedon’s tenure didn’t want to draw such a definitive line under Bruce and Natasha’s fledgling relationship. We can only hope.
Ah, the cave sequence. As sequel-based supernatural cave visits go, The Empire Strikes Back cave scene need not worry itself about a rival here.
Clearly the biggest victim of Whedon’s battle with the studio to create the film that he wanted, this odd aside saw Thor leave the team during their time of crisis to briefly (and without much explanation) pop up in a cave to speak in a funny voice and essentially set up both Thor: Ragnarok and the Phase Three focus on Infinity War.
In fairness to Whedon though, he was essentially forced to include the scene by Marvel. “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… that’s when it got really, really unpleasant.” He thus added one more ball to what had already become a terribly overwrought juggling act.
The end result is horribly unbalanced: after rejecting ideas to simply have Thor find the answers that he sought in a library (“Thor… rockin’ the Dewey Decimal system’ – not very exciting” stated Whedon) the eventual way forward was deemed to be the supernatural cave sequence. Unfortunately, it tested badly with audiences, again and again, meaning that ultimately, we were left with a subplot that was so edited it really did seem tacked on as an afterthought. The extended deleted scene is considerably better, even without the presumed layers of CG that would have further given it credibility in the eyes of a sceptical audience. It sees Thor possessed by the supernatural Norns to resolve his quest for answers. The longer version of the scene also adds a further layer of drama by revealing that Thor is sacrificing his life force by entering the pool.
Does it add much to the movie or tell us more about the future of the MCU? Not particularly. But it does help the whole sup-plot to make more sense and for that reason alone, (if the entire sequence had to feature at all) it’s a shame it got cut.
There are a few other scenes that didn’t even make it onto the bonus features, let alone the movie’s final cut, simply because they weren’t included or in a couple of cases because they weren’t even shot. Loki’s appearance during Thor’s dream sequence was cut because audiences were becoming confused, somehow believing that the mischievous trickster was pulling Ultron’s strings – testament of course to the high regard in which fans hold the character.
Finally, Whedon has since stated that he wanted Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man to feature in the shots of the team’s second iteration at the movie’s close, but wasn’t able to do this because the actors simply hadn’t been cast at that point. Whedon wanting to change the team so completely not only draws a conclusive line underneath his Marvel tenure, but in his own words also draws a definitive conclusion to the arguments that have raged online about the team’s construction going forwards.
On their Fatman on Batman podcast, co-hosts Kevin Smith and Marc Benardin were recently arguing about whether the outgoing heroes such as Hawkeye and Iron Man were leaving the team permanently or simply taking a hiatus. Whedon seems to confirm the former on the film’s audio commentary when he states “we’ve lost something. Camelot is over. And yet there are exciting adventures yet to come.” He goes on to say that the Avengers are themselves defined by change; in the comics the team changed their roster in only the second issue. Subsequently, that’s why Cap never finishes his sentence in the film’s final shot – Whedon is telling us that there’s always more to come.
Sadly it just won’t be from him.