Warning: the post below will contain some serious fangirl geeking out over Joss Whedon and all of his works. If you don’t know who Joss Whedon is, or are not a fan, you are kindly asked to leave this blog immediately and go watch all the Buffy and Firefly episodes you can get your hands on. It is in your best interest, believe me.
When I first heard that The Avengers was to be developed, written and directed by Joss Whedon, I had real mixed emotions. On one side, I was happy to see Whedon get a seemingly unlimited budget with which to tell his stories. On the other side, the idea of one of my creative hero’s using his time to make a big business blockbuster action flick with mega explosions, mainstream superheros, huge stars, international red carpets, and 100s of millions of dollars at stake left me worried that I would no longer be able to connect to his vision. It just seemed too big. Was he to become the hack he had joked about being in the commentary from Dollhouse season 1?
Now Whedon was never exactly a struggling artist. He has been working for the big film and TV studios since the mid-90s. He had been nominated for awards. He had worked on Toy Story… But still Whedon always had a bit of an underdog status as a series and film creator. Starting with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he made series after series that were brilliant and genre bending but often overlooked by the masses.
Don’t believe me? Take the 4 main TV series that he crafted – Buffy, Angel, Firefly, & Dollhouse. These have all spawned huge numbers of fan websites (biggest being Whedonesque.com), university courses, art exhibits, packed panels at comicon and SXSW, stage productions of some of the scripts, and tons of books and papers. When the series ended or were booted off the air, each moved into comic book form. Now all these characters exist within successful comic book series which are still being overseen by Whedon himself.
The Whedonverse lives on…
Whedon has also flirted with webseries (with the fantastic “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”), started a small production company and has recently made a micro-budget version of Much Ado About Nothing in his house. For Fun. He may have been competing to be known as the most productive man in the world, but none of these projects have the markings of a big mainstream Hollywood super action film director…
SO back to The Avengers: as a longstanding fan of Whedon, I was worried that The Avengers would kill my admiration. I really was.
For one, The Avengers is not Whedon’s creation, but rather the culmination of a number of other Marvel superhero film franchises: Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk & Thor …(yawn)
And unlike his previous projects, which took some time to find their audience, with The Avengers, Whedon needed to immediately and simultaneously satisfy a lot of distinct groups. He needed Marvel comic fans, mainstream action fans, regular movie-goers with no prior knowledge of the Marvel universe, the sci-fi community, the fantasy community, and his very engaged and demanding fan base to understand and like this film.
Tough challenge. And yet, it seems as though he has done just this. Last weekend, the Avengers had the highest grossing opening weekend in film history, with $ 200.5 million in the US and $ 650 million worldwide. In one weekend! The critics are raving about the movie. And the funniest part, it was actually really good!
I usually hate action films (especially the big loud blockbusters) yet this one left me with a huge smile on my face. Whedon figured out a way to speak many different languages simultaneously within this film. He spoke to mainstream audiences with the flashing lights, explosions, snappy dialog, plenty of quips from Iron Man and big 3D effects. He spoke to the fans of Marvel with his adherence to spirit of the Avengers canon. Sci-fy fans liked the spaceships, fantasy fans liked that the spaceships were actually alive and looked kinda-like dragons!
But Whedon also spoke extensively to his fan base by including tons of visual and verbal references to his past work. For example, the huge cave-in at the beginning of the movie is reminiscent of Buffy’s big battle in the series finale. He references Dollhouse with some of the slickness and design of the interior spaces, costumes, & tech. Within the big battle scene, he repeatedly used the Firefly “handheld camera in space” technique, as well as similar pace of action & spacial perspectives. Plus the alien ships have an eerie similarity to the Reever ships (except that they wiggle).
One of the early Black Widow fight scenes, where she fights off 3 guys while tied to a chair, reminded me a bit of River’s battle choreography in Serenity, Eliza Dushku fight scenes as both Faith and Echo and Buffy’s smashy battle moves (I almost thought at one point that Black Widow would pick up a stake!).
Most obviously, The Avengers larger theme, that of “the group is greater than sum of its parts”, is a theme that dominate many of Whedon’s projects.
And was it just me or was there even a little gift to the fans of Angel who never got to actually see the big battle at the very end of the show, in the series finale. I totally pictured Iron Man as Angel, Black Widow as Fred/Illiria, Hawkeye as Gunn, Captain America as Wesley, The Hulk as a mix of Lorne (who is green and went nuts in season 5) and Spike(a wild-card and a counter-balance to Angel/Iron Man). Although you could argue that Spike is Iron Man due to their sharp-witted over-confident comments and Angel is the Hulk, since he goes all ‘evil Angelus’ sometimes and destroys stuff… but I digress.
Either way Angel finally got to “slay the dragon”.
To conclude: That Whedon could satisfy all of these different groups of movie goers, to break financial film records and still come up with a product that was actually good is… well… amazing.
I will never doubt you again, Joss Whedon!
For his take on the hoopla, here is a response from the man himself.