Joss Whedon has had a cult fanbase for years, thanks to his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly (and to a lesser extent, the comic book Astonishing X-Men), but writing and directing Marvel's The Avengers was undoubtedly his most mainstream success to date.
The movie was so successful - with a 92% Rotten Tomatoes rating and nearly $1.5 billion in the bank - that Marvel signed a three-year deal with him that includes directing The Avengers 2 and writing/directing the pilot for a new S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. In a recent interview, Whedon talked about all of the above and more.
"[The three-year contract and being able to help on other Marvel projects] was part of what made [working on 'The Avengers 2'] attractive to me. I loved the idea of being a consigliere. Every writer loves the idea of being able to go in and fix a problem and then leave without obligation. It's fun! I also love these characters and the Marvel universe, and I grew up reading the books, and I've been going back and reading the old books and realizing that they shaped my storytelling way more than I give them credit for.
"Now I'm starting up a TV show, which is something I really wanted to do, but I thought it wasn't going to be a part of my life for the next several years. It's like a tapas menus of projects that excite me, in addition to the 'Avengers' sequel, which I'm excited for because I'm incredibly excited about the next story that I'm going to tell. For me, it's a huge win. […] What's great is that the deal with Marvel is nonspecific, so I will give all I can, but the moment I can't [help with projects other than 'The Avengers 2'], I just walk away. The moment I say, 'You know, I'd like to help more on this project, but I need this time for "The Avengers."' There's no obligation."
One imagines that whatever deal he received from Marvel gave him far more creative flexibility and authority with The Avengers 2 - and the other Marvel projects - than he ever had on The Avengers, which, by Whedon's own admission, had a number of studio stipulations.
Speaking of creative flexibility, Whedon talked about the sort of control and leeway he'll have with the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, and how that compares to his past TV shows that had conflicts from the networks:
"The important thing to me is that we know what the show is. We love what it is. It came together very organically, so when we went in to pitch [to Marvel], it wasn't like, 'We're trying to find this because you want a TV show,' it was, 'Check this out.' And that's a good way to walk in a room. […]What I do know is that it's the show it should be, and we've got some really dope notions. It's going to work very well for people who either love the Marvel universe or for people who've never dipped a toe in the Marvel universe."
Although Joss Whedon is not the showrunner for the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series - that role will be handled by his brother, Jed Whedon, and Jed's wife, Maurissa Tancharoen - he is, as previously stated, going to write and direct the pilot and will almost definitely continue to have a role with its development.
On why he cut the recently released opening scene that depicted Maria Hill being interrogated about the battle for New York at the end of The Avengers:
"Two factors. One: The movie was three hours long. Two: Audiences didn't respond to it as well in the movie as I think they would as a DVD extra. Most of them didn't know who this character was or what the context was, and they were like, Uhhh, I don't know why I'm supposed to be personally involved in this character I don't know. The rollout to the Avengers getting to Loki was so gradual that people were getting restless. I thought Cobie nailed it, and the reason I thought it was necessary is because I was trying to make a war movie and I wanted to give context that something bad had happened in the past. In a war movie, you don't know who's going to live or die, but you do know that this war happened and that [the characters] are going to be in a dire circumstance, and I wanted to create that atmosphere."
The Internet response to the deleted scene was decidedly mixed. Some felt the somberness of the clip gave the film a seriousness - and gravity - that may have been missing from the overall story in the theatrical release. And yet others felt that the somberness totally undermined the point of the superhero team-up, and ultimately clashed with the overall tone.
As for the gargantuan success of The Avengers, Whedon said:
"You know, at some point, the numbers become meaningless. They're large, and you can't really count that high. I felt like I had a particular mission in making what I felt was a slightly old-fashioned movie, because I grew up wanting to make summer movies and wanting to make superhero movies, and I got to do both at once. I felt like summer movies haven't been what I remember them to be, so I felt like I would love to evoke something that's less hip and ironic and more heartfelt and character-driven, and apparently, other people cared about that in a large way. I don't think it's a perfect movie. I don't even think it's a great movie. I think it's a great time, and I'm proud of it, but for me, what was exciting is that people don't go to see a movie that many times unless it's pulling on something from within, unless there's a need there. That's very gratifying."
It's refreshing to see a filmmaker like Joss Whedon talk about his work so candidly - and, more importantly, with humility. While I'm sure there are plenty of fans who would argue with the man about how great The Avengers was, some would agree that there were maybe one or two areas where the film could've improved. (Personally, I could've done with a more interesting threat than the Chitauri.)
Regardless, the movie was a smash success in every measurable sense, one that smartly embraced its comic book and old adventure movie roots in a way that almost seemed (young) Spielbergian. It's hard to recall the last live-action film that managed all that.
Head over to Vulture to read the full interview.
The Avengers 2 - which will probably be called something else - hits theaters May 1st, 2015. There's no word yet as to when S.H.I.E.L.D. will begin production.
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.
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