With Avengers: Infinity War about to get all up in our faces in mere days, now may be a good time to look back at how this all happened and what might have been. In an oral history on making the first Avengers movie from 2012, writer-director Joss Whedon told Thrillist that earlier versions of the film swapped out Black Widow for The Wasp (due to potential scheduling concerns) and featured Ezekiel Stane, son of Iron Man’s original baddie, Obadiah (Jeff Bridges), as an extra antagonist.
Even though screenwriter Zak Penn explains that he “was officially attached to The Avengers in 2006,” when Whedon was bought on board to direct, Whedon was not feeling Penn’s screenplay and completely scrapped it in favor of his own.
“I started at square one on the script. I mean, straight up,” Whedon said, explaining that he read Penn’s original script “one time,” and never read it since. “I was like, ‘Nope. There's nothing here.’ There was no character connection,” he explained. “There was a line in the stage directions that said, apropos of nothing, ‘And then they all walk towards the camera in slow motion because you have to have that.’ Yeah, well, no: You have to earn that.”
So, if they weren’t going with Penn’s script, what was Whedon’s version going to be? Well, the Avengers director said that they “went through a lot of insane iterations of what might be.”
Whedon tells Thrillist: “At the very beginning, I wrote entire drafts that had no bearing on what I would eventually film. There was a moment where we thought we weren’t gonna have Scarlett [Johansson], and so I wrote a huge bunch of pages starring The Wasp. That was not useful. I also worried that one British character actor was not enough to take on Earth’s mightiest heroes, and that we’d feel like we were rooting for the overdog. So I wrote a huge draft with Ezekiel Stane, Obadiah Stane’s son, in it. Kevin looked at it and said, ‘Yeah, no.’ [Marvel Studios co-president] Louis D’Esposito actually at that point said, ‘Yeah, Kevin, it’s all wrong, but look how good it is. Like this is really good wrong.’ That was a nice boost.”
Whedon’s main problem, it seemed, was that the superheroes in The Avengers didn’t “belong in the same movie.” But once he realized that that was the main conflict of the film, it started coming together.
“I used to read The Avengers and love it, but I didn't have the emotional connection to it that I did to certain books,” he said. “It was just grand sci-fi spectacle and had all the heroes I liked. But my thought was these guys just don't belong together. Then I was like, Wait a minute, that's the movie. It's The Dirty Dozen.”
And what did Penn – who had already spent a considerable amount of time working to tie all the previous Marvel movies together and, y'know, write the original script – think of all this? Apparently, he’s taking it all in stride (at least publicly).
“We could have collaborated more, but that was not his choice. He wanted to do it his way, and I respect that,” said Penn. “I mean, it's not like on the [Incredible] Hulk, where I got replaced by the lead actor.”
Fair point, Zak. Fair point.
Avengers: Infinity War assembles into theaters on April 27.