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.

Emmet 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.


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