When Marvel Studios unleashed the first Iron Man film on an unsuspecting public, it had a hit on its hands almost immediately. After a couple of good films with respectable box office numbers led by the Hulk, Thor and Captain America, all the pieces were in place to introduce general audiences to the team that comic book fans knew all too well as the "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." A strong ensemble cast, a solid story, and great directing made the original Avengers film soar to heights rarely seen for comic book films, and it still stands as an experience that illustrates Marvel's willingness to reward its audience with a big payoff after investing in a multi-film story like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With Captain America: The Winter Soldier just under two months away from bowing in theaters worldwide, that film will represent the Marvel Universe's last superheroic stop (Guardians of the Galaxy will be doing its own thing) before we get back to the blockbuster super-team consisting of Cap, the incomparable Iron Man, the God of Thunder, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk: the sequel to the biggest comic book film ever is 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron
Yesterday, Age of Ultron began principal photography. So, in celebration of the fact that film is finally rolling on one of the most anticipated comic book films ever, Comics on Film is going to go over the facts that we know about the forthcoming sequel. There's always a lot of speculation, but even the released information we've managed to see still gives fans and moviegoers plenty to get excited about.
So, here are some of the facts you may be interested in knowing about Avengers: Age of Ultron:
Pretty Much Everybody from Part One Is Back
If you were worried about some kind of recasting situation for the Avengers sequel, you can rest easy. Main players Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlet Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson are all covered by their multi-picture deal with Marvel Studios, and will be returning in the new film. The only possible conflict was with Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., since his original deal with Marvel expired after Iron Man 3. Thankfully, both parties were able to come to an understanding, and the Armored Avenger will again be played by the actor that made him famous.
Cobie Smulders will also be reprising her role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill from the first Avengers film and Winter Soldier. The only major cast member from the first film that won't be returning this time is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who seems to be up to his own shenanigans if the ending to Thor: The Dark World was any indication. And of course, Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson is quite busy with his own team in the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
More importantly, Joss Whedon is returning as both writer and director (with the sole writing credit going to him for this outing), which may raise some questions, such as:
Is It Going to Borrow Elements from the First Film?
Whedon himself seemed all too enthusiastic to answer whether or not his sequel would be similar in style and tone to the first film, and the answer would seem to be a resounding "no." Whedon apparently has little to no interest in replicating the structure or tone of his first effort with the characters, saying that the sequel can find it's own voice, "...by being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work the first time. By having a theme that is completely fresh and organic to itself."
According to the creative team, the biggest contributor to the change in tone will be in the film's villain, the eponymous Ultron. A rich character with decades of publication history facing off against the Avengers, the inclusion of Ultron is said to drastically affect the dire situations the characters have to contend with, in addition to creating a very personal challenge for many of the individual Avengers.
Perhaps the biggest hint at which character will be one of the most affected came from Whedon's description of the difference between the film's Ultron and the character in the comics, when he said, "We're doing our own version of the origin story of Ultron....We were crafting our own version of it where [Ultron's] own origin comes more directly from the Avengers we already know about. The other thing is in the origin story there was Hank Pym, so a lot of people assumed he was going to be in the mix, but he's not. We're basically taking the things from the comics for the movies that we need and can use. A lot of stuff has to fall by the wayside."
Given Ultron's status as an artificial intelligence, and the exploration of Hank Pym's legacy in other areas of the Marvel Universe, it seems a likely scenario that Ultron's origin will be tied into the existing Avengers' own technological tinkerer, Mr. Tony Stark. Previous stories wanted to attempt to portray Stark as an Oppenheimer-esque "Destroyer of Worlds," and if Stark does in fact create Ultron, they may have found a way to explore that theme after all on a much larger scale. That's just an educated guess, though, as Whedon may have decided to do something entirely different. He's pretty crafty like that.
What New Marvel Characters Will Appear in the Sequel?
While it seems likely that we are far from knowing all of the surprises that await us in May of 2015, a few new characters from the Marvel catalog have been confirmed and publicly cast for appearance in Age of Ultron. The most unsurprising (or most surprising, depending on how you look at it) is actor James Spader as Ultron himself. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige specified that Spader's performance would not simply be his voice, but that the actor is crafting an entire performance which will be motion-captured and digitized into the terrifying artificial intelligence.
Of Ultron, Whedon said, "He’s always trying to destroy the Avengers, g*****n it, he’s got a bee in his bonnet. He’s not a happy guy, which means he’s an interesting guy. He’s got pain. And the way that manifests is not going to be standard robot stuff."
In addition to the new villain, comic book Avengers mainstays Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver will also be appearing in the film, played by Elizabeth Olson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively. Oddly enough, Quicksilver will also be appearing in the non-Marvel Studios-related X-Men: Days of Future Past, since in the comics, both the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are the children of ultimate X-Men baddie Eric Lehnsherr, aka Magneto.
Due to the separation of X-Men and Avengers film rights between 20th Centruy Fox and Disney, it's likely that each character's appearance will make little to no mention of previous history involving Magneto in Age of Ultron, or the Avengers in Days of Future Past
Don Cheadle is also apparently going to be reprising his role as Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, aka War Machine/Iron Patriot from his work in Iron Man 2 and 3.
Another Iron Man alumnus also managed to surprise fans when it was announced that Paul Bettany, previously the voice of the artificial intelligence J.A.R.V.I.S. in all three Iron Man films and The Avengers, would be portraying Marvel mainstay android Vision in the Avengers sequel. This would be an interesting and effective way to bring Vision to the screen if he began his existence as Stark's A.I., and may further supplant the possibility that Tony Stark is very busy with such endeavors like Vision, and perhaps Ultron, by the time the film hits theaters.
Where Will This Film Lead To?
Avengers: Age of Ultron will be the final film in "Phase Two" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Phase Three already firmly in development. Already confirmed for Phase Three are third installments in both the Captain America and Thor franchises, as well as Edgar Wright's Ant-Man film and a rumored Dr. Strange film, with the expectation of more solid Phase Three news coming later this year.
With another "phase" of Marvel Cinematic Universe films comes the fact that it will need another high note to go out on, and it's probably relatively safe to say that like the first two before it, number three will culminate in a third Avengers film barring some unforeseen circumstance.
All in all, the wait for May 1, 2015 will likely be painful, but it's really not all that far away, especially now that footage for the new film is now being created. Be sure to keep your eyes affixed to Movies.com and pieces like Comics on Film and John Gholson's Marvel Studios Countdown over the next year and a half as we chronicle the news and events culminating with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. It'll probably be a pretty wild ride, but hopefully like the last one, it should be well worth it.
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
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