Avengers: Age of Ultron and Why I Fell Out of Love with Joss Whedon

My relationship with Joss Whedon came to a sudden end in 2015 after 20 years, but I felt like I had to clear the air and present my side in this article. Warning, there will be Whedonesque spoilers.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles © April 12, 2012

AP Photo/Matt Sayles © April 12, 2012

In 2015, I walked out of Avengers: Age of Ultron feeling depleted, confused, sad, and disappointed. It was the complete opposite of how I felt when I watched the first movie The Avengers three years ago. After seeing that movie, I ate up everything Marvel and Avengers (I even dressed up as Captain America that Halloween). I was so sure that director and writer Joss Whedon would once again thrill me with the sequel; instead, I realized I had been watching the same thing over and over during my longtime love affair with all things Joss. I had put too much trust in this man, but after Age of Ultron, the veil had finally been lifted. And here is what I saw.

avengers-age-of-ultron-quicsilver-posterDeath, death, and more death. After Tara, Fred, Cordelia, Penny, Wash, Book, and Coulson, I thought I might have learned my lesson when it came to getting attached to characters written and/or directed by Joss Whedon. Most likely, he’s already plotting their death scene. In Age of Ultron, that death scene belonged to Pietro/Quicksilver. I though surely after killing of Coulson in the first movie, he wouldn’t kill another main character, but I was wrong. In fact, I felt numb when it happened because I had seen it so many other times in his works. When Tara was killed suddenly in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, everyone was stunned and surprised. This was a world before internet spoilers weren’t as accessible as they were now, so when Whedon killed off a beloved character that had we had grown up with, it was shocking. I cried for the characters on Buffy, especially Willow for losing Tara, and I cried over losing a character as a fan. Quiksilver’s death — which yes, it was shocking — did not pay off me for me emotionally because I felt like it was Whedon “beat.” A reminder that guess what? You’re watching a Joss Whedon movie, and you bet he’s going to kill a main character off. Whenever I watch a Whedon movie or TV show, I can no longer enjoy characters when I know one of them will get killed, and I watch cringing, knowing SOMETHING is going to happen. It takes me out of the world, and I simply cannot enjoy the story or the characters anymore.

Farm family. Disclosure: I wanted Clint/Natasha. But when Whedon introduced Clint’s secret farm and that he was actually married with kids, I was flabbergasted. He had done such a wonderful job hinting at a possible Clint/Natasha relationship in the first movie, I was sure he was going to do something with it. Even the actors were confused at the sudden pivot of potential spy lovers to just friends and Aunt Natasha. Instead, Whedon wrote a Bruce/Natasha romance for Age of Ultron that made no sense. I’ve read other critiques that he was once again channeling the “beauty and the beast” motif as seen in Buffy/Angel and Buffy/Spike, and I agree with those comments. Instead of giving us something new and complex with Clint and Natasha (the two humans in a team with a superhuman, a Hulk, an Ironman, and a god), he went with a safe and familiar route already explored in his other material. I’m aware that Marvel probably has some control over the storyline, but Whedon was still the director and screenwriter and had a lot of say in the plot. This “out of the blue” moment reminded me of the Buffy and Riley relationship when Riley — feeling insecure when it came to Buffy and Angel — decided to let vampires feed off him. It didn’t make sense for their characters and what we had seen previously on their relationship, much like what happened to Clint/Natasha and Bruce/Natasha.

The tragic female heroine. Whedon has created some awesome strong, female characters, but I simply could not handle how he wrote Natasha in Age of Ultron. We have this hardcore spy and assassin who saw herself as a “monster” not for the people she killed over the years, but because she could not have children. I get it; there’s something ironic in that. Natasha can take lives, but she cannot give life. For someone who advocates on making his male and female characters play on equal level, Whedon chose to focus on the fact that Natasha was barren while her male counterparts were given much more complex and layered backstories. In Age of Ultron, the Hulk needed a “lullaby” to return to Bruce, and Natasha was tasked with that responsibility. To me, it signaled that Natasha — the only female Avenger — was playing the role of a mother. Is it because she’s a woman that only Natasha could do the “lullaby?” Why not Tony, who was much closer to Bruce and who previously spent more time with him in the first movie ? The greatest Natasha sin for me in Age of Ultron was when she was captured and held prisoner for the movie’s third act. Bruce had to come and rescue her. The Black Widow does not need to be rescued ever. It goes back to how the farm family plot removed Clint as a potential love interest. If this was how Whedon was making us root for Bruce/Natasha, it wasn’t working. He took an active, strong character, and made her helpless and passive in order to prop up the man. It did not ring true to what we had seen from her character previously, and it felt like this sudden 180 on Natasha’s characterization was to force the Bruce/Natasha romance on us.

hulk-blackwidow

As I mentioned, Age of Ultron made me realize that I had been in a long, tired cycle with Joss Whedon, and I was ready to get off the carousal. I was sixteen when I first started Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I followed his career blindly. Now my eyes are open. I’m older and have more life experiences now. I’m a writer and I understand when things like plot and characterization just don’t work. I rather spend time watching TV shows and movies that are challenging the status quo, not following a formula. I’ll always be grateful for the good times like Buffy and the first Avengers movie, but my infatuation with Joss Whedon has come to an end.

5 Comments

  • Betsy Whitt September 15, 2016 at 9:12 am

    I completely agree with all these things. I felt like Natasha got completely shortchanged. Argh, I’m typing on my phone, which is wicked annoying. I’ll come back later when I can use my laptop. But basically, I agree with you. I hadn’t necessarily pinpointed it as a Joss issue, but I don’t think you’re wrong there either.
    …And apparently I can’t get gravatar to log in, either. I swear it’s me!

    Reply
  • Lane Robins September 15, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    I agree with 100% of those things about Ultron. I could maybe wrap my head around Natasha/Bruce just because she strikes me as the type of character who runs toward the things she fears and tries to understand them top to toe, but… not as presented. I’m torn too. I have always loved Joss’s shows (even and maybe especially Dollhouse which was immensely problematic) because I used to come out of them energized and thinking. But he has definite motifs, some of which end up feeling like a checklist, and a lot of his romances are deeply messed up in ways that made me really uncomfortable. And not in the good, thinky, chewy kind of way. I loathed Mal/Inara.
    That said, I’ll probably still keep watching what he puts out, just with increasing skepticism.

    Reply
  • davidbrawley September 15, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Agreed. It’s weird with Natasha, they’ve made her such a chameleon. In every movie, there’s someone else she seems to be attached to, and it’s never the same person twice.

    Reply
  • Carey Ballard September 16, 2016 at 12:29 am

    [deep breath] I *hated* this movie. The humor was the best thing about it; the rest was not well-thought out, and the pacing was a mess. Exactly the opposite of what I’d come to expect from Joss Whedon (and I went in with the same expectations as Nu; I watched the first Avengers film 3x in the movie theater when I rarely repeat-watch anything [next repeat: Mad Max: Fury Road, 4x]). Quiksilver’s death didn’t resonate with me because the whole back half of Age of Ultron is such a mess. Nothing felt distinct–not the characters or the fights. Ultron turned out to be really terrible as a supervillain. Hawkeye’s family *was* a cheat on the Natasha/Hawkeye relationship–but Hawkeye’s such a nice guy, I wanted that family for him. Otherwise I agree with everyone else here–the Whedon Motif Checklist is a thing.

    Reply
  • Shara White September 16, 2016 at 7:13 am

    So I haven’t seen this movie since it came out: I will, because the husband and I are doing a Marvel re-watch, but we’re doing it VERY SLOWLY, and the last movie we watched was The Avengers. My thoughts are based on sketchy memory, but: I remember thinking Quicksilver’s death was a waste but a bit of a surprise (note I am NOT a Joss Whedon fangirl; I’m no where near as familiar with his material), because the movie had choreographed the death of Hawkeye so freaking plainly. Farm family who’ll miss him if he’s gone? Check. Natasha suddenly realizing she’d picked the wrong guy? Check. Needing to lose a CORE MEMBER OF THE TEAM that we know and love (and not just some guy we’d just met in this movie)? Check.

    So yes, it was a surprise for me, but only because I expected Hawkeye to bite the dust, not Quicksilver. I don’t know how anyone would’ve felt if that had been the case: with only a stinger and a movie, I didn’t have any attachment to Quicksilver, though I bought Scarlet Witch’s pain at losing him (and then there’s the sticky fact that the same character is in the X-Men franchise, and I really liked that different but fun portrayal, but yeah, how did THAT happen?). His death worked at first (OMG! He saved Clint!), but then over time it has become a cheat for me, not because of any Whedon “beats” (though Nu, you are SO RIGHT) but because I kept expecting a different, bigger character to go (OMG! What if Quicksilver hadn’t been fast enough to save Clint?).

    Did anyone else have these same thoughts?

    Reply

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