Wed
Apr 25 2012 11:30am

Why Joss Whedon Might Make the Haters Love Superhero Movies

The Cabin in the Woods has everyone’s attention for the moment, but what the movie-going world is really waiting for is Marvel’s The Avengers. With a meticulously woven continuity that began with 2008’s Iron Man, the team up of four superfriends who already have their own film series’ (and three or four more who don’t) has been closely eyed since its inception.

Early reviews are in, and many are edging toward the positive, but only time will tell. Can this film actually live up to all the hype? And what about those who haven’t been enjoying this deluge of super-powered box office gold over the past decade or so? Is there anyone who might change their mind?

Sure there is. His name is Joss Whedon.

Joss Whedon has a pretty excellent track record. The man who brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog is well known for snappy dialogue, colorful characters, and plots with real repercussions. I was fortunate enough to be in Hall H at San Diego Comic Con 2010 when it was announced that he would write and direct the film, and the massive ovation could not have been more clear: we were happy to have him in the driver’s seat.

There are many who are likely wondering why. Whedon has a very specific fanbase, and there are plenty (especially your average mainstream moviegoer) who have no idea what to expect from him. So why don’t we take a look at the Whedon modus operandi, and see what we might look forward to in several days’ time:

If nothing else, it’s bound to be humorous. Joss Whedon’s comedic flare is part of what made his name. This is a man who was born to write Tony Stark dialogue (which is half-to-most of the reason you’re going to see the movie, don’t lie). In fact, Whedon’s dialogue contains a certain self-awareness that might remind viewers of golden age Hollywood comedies like His Girl Friday or It Happened One Night, but with a more modern affectation. It makes certain that his stories move quickly, but keeps most viewers thoroughly engaged throughout.

Whedon prefers smart characters, and characters who transcend their tropes. So that whiny high school social queen? She’s not as vapid as she seems. The humorless, reserved city doctor? He’s got a bit more fight in him than you’d expect. And superheroes are typically nothing but character tropes — they could use the livening up, especially in a film that would traditionally encourage them to step back into their cardboard cutouts for the sake of servicing action sequence upon action sequence. There’s very little chance that we will forget these characters are people with Joss Whedon at the helm.

Being a woman, I’m even more excited on that count. After all, none of these superhero films have starred a lady yet. And though they made an effort to give Black Widow her moment to shine in Iron Man 2, the use of her character was depressing in her best scenes and downright insulting in her worst. (Who takes their hair down before an epic fight?) Whedon has created a slew of strong, well-developed female characters in his career: Buffy, Willow, River, Zoe, et al. And he’s done it for a very specific reason: he cares about having them in the projects he’s a part of, at every turn. So it’s more probable that Black Widow will have something interesting to portray this time around. (Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that ScarJo’s acting has gotten any better... I live in hope?) And we have another female added to the roster: Agent Maria Hill.

For those who are worried that the film might descend into two hours of action schlock, that’s not quite Whedon’s style either. The film will have its fair share of explosions and shoot-outs, of course, but they will likely be tempered with enough story to make that action significant. His idea for the sequel is one that I like even better: scaling it down and making it a smaller, purely character-driven story. That would take some guts, but he has them in spades.

Team dynamics are part of the Whedon Textbook. He knows how to bring people together, when to drag them apart, and how working and living in the same space can grate on even the closest relationships. His Scooby gang, the Serenity crew, the dollhouse. It would be easy to take the first Avengers film and simply pair it down to group Odd Couple syndrome — a god and a scientist in the same room? Haha, you don’t say! — but I doubt we’ll get anything as tired as that.

Social commentary? You can count on it. Beloved figures making honest mistakes? He’s all over it. Learning experiences for everyone involved? A must-have.

As for favored personal moves, the old Whedon one-two punch is a high probability for The Avengers. Studio execs like to take the risk out of entertainment, but risk is exactly what Whedon likes best. He excels at making you think you’re safe, and then pulling the rug out. Usually someone dies. Usually someone you love. Usually, you never saw it coming.

And you know what? In a genre that is famous for lacking permanent consequences (which isn’t surprising when your canon spans decades), that sensibility might be exactly what pushes The Avengers over the line into quality territory.

It might also be what elevates a predictable popcorn movie to a level that has comic nay-sayers coming back for seconds.

Bring it on, Joss.


Emily Asher-Perrin hopes Black Widow can kill someone with her brain. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

8 comments
Plan R
1. Plan R
I plan to actually go to see this movie just because of Joss, I have not been to the movies since the Dark Knight. I cant wait to see howJoss handles the same old tired comic book movie tropes. Anyone who can heartlessly kill off the adorable Falicia Day, would have no problem killing off one of the Avengers. I hope its the Hulk, I have never liked the Hulk.
James Whitehead
2. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Everyone I know is excited to see this movie; my boys especially. Hope Whedon is able to bring his particular talents to this movie. While I know he'll make them more 'real,' if you will, he won't make them gritty for the sake of grittiness. Which, to me, is a good thing. He makes a character's foibles make sense for that character.

As for Johansson, she was very good in the Girl with the Pearl Earing so I'm optimistic she'll flourish under a good direction who will ensure a good part for her.

Kato
Plan R
3. TheDoctor
I'm one of the ones that are tired of Superhero movies, mostly because they seem to just rehash the origin stories over and over and over again.

If one guy could pull off a good Superhero movie, it's probably Joss. Maybe I'll catch it on DVD.

I'm much more interested in seeing that movie Looper that Tor posted a trailer for a few weeks back.
Plan R
4. Tesh
All in all, I'm looking forward to it, but I'm always wary of Hollywood "social commentary" that all too often has the subtlety of a Hulk to the face, and usually embodies the social mores of Hollywood which aren't universal. Here's hoping he can rein that impulse in.
Chris
5. hzfreelancer
Having now seen the movie (Australia for the win) I would say that I enjoyed it. Very much. It is a tight movie. The action sequences are well thought out and well shot. The characters do get a chance to grow and mostly because of a very well done scene in the middle of the movie. Another thing that Joss likes to do is play off some sort of removed organisation (not always on the badies team) against the people that you are chearing for. He does it in this movie and it leads to a some what predictable end (well I saw it coming which means that is must be pretty predictable) but I didn't care. Yep the movie has no shortage of one liners, which in someways is my only real critism. The execution of them, while realistic, mean that the audience is laughin while they miss the line line or two of dialog. Some of them are a bit jarring as well. But if that is the only thing that I saw as wrong with the movie I will finish by saying this. In the previous movies (Thor, Iron Man 1&2, Cap Am, and the Hulk 1&2) there was just something that seemed to be missing. Thor had a character arc that was unbelieveable in its speed and resolution (a few days?) and the climax was a bit weak. I don't really need to saying anything about the Hulk movies nor Iron man 2. Iron man 1 was a good movie. The thing about it was that the villian was to unbelieveable in the end. And Cap Am while a solid movie was just missing something. Maybe it was the sad endding or once again the way the villian was protrayed. But there are no villian problems here. Loki is a very good villian. Much better than he was in Thor. The movie is strong all round and well worth seeing.
Plan R
6. Captain Starlight
What's wrong with having the subheroes starring for once? You know, Superman's hairdresser, the guy with the diamond-bladed scissors, who keeps his hair imaculate? Wonder Woman's manicurist? The Hulk's dermatologist?
Plan R
7. DarrenJL
Just watched this (Korea is also in the running, hzfreelancer...). It's a lot of fun for sure. Sorry to say, though, Emily, that the only character who didn't work for me was Black Widow. Maybe it's that I really wanted Ms. Marvel in there instead of her, because I'm still bitter at how Civil War ruined her reboot... like, a decade later .... Maybe it was all the reviews I read talking about Whedon and strong women overhyping it. More likely though, it's just that Johansson's performance was so... lackluster. Really I think that's the only word for it. Even her beatdowns felt phoned in. It was nice to see Hill in there, but she's really got very little screen time.

Everyone else shines, though. Even Renner as Hawkeye. I mean, Hawkeye. (!) God, do I hate that character. And somehow he works, here. Trick arrows and all.
Andrew Danielson
8. wonderandy
I was already very excited for this movie, but this gave me goose bumps and made my nipples hard. even more excited.

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