WARNING: Big-time Avengers spoilers in video above and text below.
Joss Whedon knew somebody had to die in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He just didn’t want us to guess who it would be.
“My whole job during the movie was just to set up the obvious fact that Hawkeye [Jeremy Renner] was going to die,” Whedon told us in our interview, which you can watch above. “[I wanted to] just really lay it in there. Just [make] Hawkeye a dead man.”
If you’ve seen the movie (and hopefully you have, which is why you’re continuing to read this spoilerific post), you might’ve taken the bait. The seeds are planted early on, when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) says, “There’s no way we all make it.” It’s why Whedon took us on a surprising detour to Hawkeye’s rural home for a look the hero’s home life, and why those moments with his concerned pregnant wife (Linda Cardellini) and the promise of “one last mission” seemed like they could act as tragic foreshadowing. Hawkeye was being set up as our analog, the closest thing to an Average Joe in a team of supers.
Even more faux-foreshadowing occurs during the Avengers’ climactic showdown against Ultron, where Hawkeye goes out of his way to save the life of a young boy. With Ultron spraying bullets at them, Hawkeye acts as the child’s human shield, and it appears this will be his heroic last moment. That is until Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) — who had become Hawkeye’s verbal jousting partner throughout the film — dives in front of them and sacrifices his own life.
Whedon, who had Taylor-Johnson in mind for the role from the onset, said he discussed Pietro’s one-and-done arc with him right off the bat. “I said, 'This is the plan.’ There’s an outside chance that somebody may make us change the plan [to kill Pietro], because we’re making a big franchise movie… but everybody understood how well that was going to work.”
As for Taylor-Johnson, it’s clear his character’s demise is disappointing: “The sad thing is, it’s the only sort of franchise I wish I wasn’t being killed off on,” he said, before co-star Elizabeth Olsen (who plays his twin sister, Scarlet Witch) reminds him that her character has the power to bring people (like Hawkeye) back to life. So maybe there’s some home for a Pietro return, after all.
Whedon, though, explained why such a key character’s death is necessary: “I think of these movies, as much as anything, as war movies. And if there’s no cost to us for all the damage we’ve done, if we say, 'Oh, we can just get through this, and walk away arm-in-arm and it’s all good’ — that’s disingenuous, and it doesn’t feel like real storytelling.”
Avengers: Age of Ultron is now in theaters. Watch Whedon and the cast talk about their Avenger-themed work dreams: