The South by Southwest (SXSW) 2012 Film Festival is ongoing right now (at the time of writing this) and The Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon is in attendance, in part to promote the world premiere of The Cabin in the Woods - a long-delayed, post-modern variation on the classic horror genre that Whedon co-scripted with Drew Goddard (a writing alum of Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series).
Whedon participated in a fairly-lengthy panel, which covered his upcoming film slate (including his surprise Much Ado About Nothing adaptation) and went into a fair amount of detail about his creative process for The Avengers. He also confirmed Kevin Feige’s previous claims that the extraterrestrial race featured in the Marvel superhero juggernaut are neither the Skrull nor the Kree, as has long been heavily speculated.
On the (extreme?) off-chance you’re a newcomer to this Avengers phenomena, here is our own unofficial synopsis for Whedon’s film:
‘The Avengers’ sees such iconic comic book heroes as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) unite in order to defend Earth against Thor’s megalomaniacal brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his mysterious alien armada. Joining those warriors for the battle are the capable agents of the international peacekeeping organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., which is headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and includes such combat-trained warriors as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), among others.
We’ve singled out the Avengers bits included in Whedon’s SXSW panel, touching on topics ranging from how the filmmaker ended up landing the coveted Avengers writing AND directing jobs, how Whedon is attempting to keep things grounded in a production overflowing with CGI and digital effects (to say nothing of the subject matter and characters) – and a brief explanation for why the Skrull and Kree aren’t going to be featured in the movie.
From Leaky News, regarding the issue of being hired on to bring The Avengers to the big screen, Whedon said:
“It unfolded slowly for me but I think that might use be because I’m slow. … I’ve been circling around with Marvel for a long time. … It felt to me like it was a favor which I sometimes do; I read the script, give my opinion. I said [with regards to Zak Penn's earlier script draft for 'The Avengers'] well, this doesn’t work, but if I was going to do an Avengers movie, here’s what I’d do. Then gradually we started meeting again and I was like, is this a job interview? What’s happening here? Because I suddenly started thinking the more I was thinking about it the more I wanted to do it, and this was a courtship process the entire time and I was just a little thick.”
On how it felt to be working with such a massive budget (estimated to be around $300 million):
“Limitations are something I latch onto. A novelist…has a blank page. A genre writer never has a blank page. … That’s useful to me. By the same token the restriction of budget or set or location, anything like that, can be really useful. When you can have everything, everybody wants to give you everything and then it’s very hard to make things feel real, to make things feel lived in… We had these amazing sets, really beautifully designed, and epic, and great, but I found that once we got off the sets and started shooting on location…my camera work got a lot more interesting. Because I had to work around these things.
“Trying sometimes to pull the ‘big budget out of the movie has been part of the creative process… As a producer, it convinced me to just, too much Scrooge is not a good thing… I got a guy in a cape, I got a guy with an A on his head, I got a green guy – it’s a delicate balance. And anything your and to make it feel real, like real filmmaking, even when there are CGI shots and they say, that looks like a bit of a mismatch, I was like keep it. Say it’s from different takes… If everything matches perfectly there’s going to be a disconnect, it’s going to feel too clean. It’s not going to feel like what I’m used to in film, which is a slight dirtiness.”
Whedon also talked about his longtime adoration of The Avengers in comic book form and how that affected his approach to the cinematic adaptation:
“I’m a fanboy. I want to see what’s up with Thor and Captain America and what he can do with that shield. All of those things have been in my DNA since I was a tiny child. I love all of that. In terms of how I make it mine, I think that obviously I look at the Avengers and go, this team doesn’t make any sense at all, but I can work with that, because it doesn’t make sense to them either. They’re extraordinarily dysfunctional people. And they’re in their own way very isolated. So just being able to tell that very basic story, isolated people who come together and become more than their parts, is a meaningful story to me.
“I’m not ready to be post-modern about superheroes yet… The first thing I said to the people at Marvel was, I want to make a war movie… A lot of these movies do a beautiful setup and the hero fights a slightly larger version of himself, and it’s clean. I just wanted to dirty it up, I wanted to really put them through their paces. The feeling you get from a good movie like – oh my god it’s still coming, we’re not going to get out of this alive – that’s the feeling I wanted to make.”
As to who exactly are the non-Earthlings whom Loki recruits to help him conquer humanity in The Avengers:
“It’s the Vulcans. I don’t know a lot about the Marvel universe, and I thought there were Vulcans.”
After the expected big laugh that got from the SXSW audience died down, Whedon said:
“I will say only this: It is not the Kree or the Skrulls… Those two aliens are Marvel mainstays and have enormous backstories. They have a big life of their own that just could not be contained in a film where I already had seven movie stars… What’s probably happening is that I just said something that Marvel didn’t want me to. It’s weird to be fired so late!
“The Skrulls — they can shape change. That’s a whole thing. I’ve already got Loki. He’s got magic. Once you got magic along with your Iron Man and your Black Widow — it’s a real juggling act.”
So, in case the mix of big, well, everything (action, set pieces, emotions, personal drama, etc.) teased in the second Avengers trailer wasn’t enough to sell you on Whedon’s film: are you now convinced he is the right man for the job after all? And what do you think about his statement regrading the Skrulls and Kree? Let us know in the comments section.
The Avengers opens in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters around the U.S. on May 4th, 2012.