The superheroes of Marvel's cinematic universe have collectively saved the world nine times, and as a 10th threat looms in Avengers: Age of Ultron
they're feeling more than a little burned-out. As the team-up sequel (due May 1, 2015) opens, everyone wants a breakand that's exactly how they're about to be broken, explains Joss Whedon, who returns as writer-director. ''For me, the biggest thing is, when we're given the opportunity to change, or transform, or confront where we are, and be mature, do we do that? Do we move on?'' he says. ''Do we go through the pain and actually get better and become another person? Or do we just fall back on our damage and become less than the sum of our parts?''
Expect even bigger threats for our heroes to face, beginning with the mysterious Ultron himself (performed and voiced by Downey's Less Than Zero
costar James Spader). The Avengers
sequel begins with Stark's latest plan to fix the world: Ultron will be an all-seeing, all-knowing captain of the Iron Legion, a planetary force of robotic beat cops that resemble blue-and-white versions of the Iron Man suit but have no human coreand less soul than a Carpenters album. If it all works out, the superheroes can just sit back. Instead, Ultron announces his new plan to bring peace to the planetby eradicating the most destructive things that walk on it: humans.
Ultron may get top billing in the title, but several other major new characters will be vying for screen time, including the twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth. ''They're on Team Ultron, which makes things really hard for the Avengers because all of a sudden they're dealing with powers that they're not used to,'' Whedon says. Quicksilver can move at lightning speed, and Scarlet Witch can harness magic and telekinesis. ''It's a darker, weirder, tougher world that they're living in.''
There's also a fourth member of Team Ultron: the Vision, a synthetic, superpowered human designed by Ultron to show he has the power to create life, too. (Did we mention that Ultron has major daddy issues?) The Vision will be portrayed by Paul Bettany, who has already been a part of the Marvel movie universe as J.A.R.V.I.S., the Siri-like artificial intelligence who serves as Tony Stark's laboratory sidekick. Is that casting coincidental, or can we assume that Ultron uses J.A.R.V.I.S.' consciousness for spare parts in his Vision-ary experiment? Whedon takes a deep breath. We're in spoiler territory. ''It's not coincidence,'' he says, then declines to elaborate.
If there's a common theme to all of Whedon's projects, it's that they're all about found families. ''There's a depth to [Whedon's work] that's Shakespearean,'' says Ruffalo. ''It's epic, it's sweeping. You have the groundlings humor, you have the deep, philosophical thing going on. You have the action, you have the comic relief, and then you have the drama of families and giant families.'' Whedon says the challenge is not giving each character a chance to shine, but giving them a chance to stumble. ''I'm trying to tap into a bunch of things,'' says the director. Anthony Breznican Dive deeper into Anthony's Age of Ultron cover story
, check out our exclusive sneak-peek photos
and Marvel's new concept art
, get more details on Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch
, find out what it took to hide Scarlett Johansson's pregnancy
, hear Ruffalo's case for a standalone Hulk movie
, and get Downey's thoughts on Iron Man 4