From the moment rumors began to surface that Joss Whedon would be helming The Avengers, fans have matched their anticipation with a healthy dose of skepticism.
The notion of combining four superhero franchises into one film is definitely uncharted water and there are a great number of people who feel Whedon's sensibilities as a filmmaker are at odds with what they expect from an Avengers movie.
SFX recently spoke with the quirky writer/director and he addressed those concerns head on. After reports that Jon Favreau clashed with Marvel during the production of Iron Man 2 (specifically in regards to how much screen time they should devote to future Marvel movies), there was speculation that perhaps Whedon was not only a cheaper alternative to direct The Avengers, but also someone who would be more compliant with the studio's demands.
Whedon is adamant that this is not the case and the film will be unmistakably his:
There are definitely stipulations and restrictions, but Kevin Feige is very active as a producer and worked with me a lot on the story, but they are absolutely honouring the fact that this is my film.
He also reveals what he believes separates Marvel from other studios, acknowledges their less-than-perfect track record, and expresses his gratitude over the freedom to cast actors like Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner in his film:
What I kind of think ultimately defines Marvel Studios was the first thing they did and that was cast Robert Downey Jr. They said, ‘What if we got great actors and let them have some time to be the people they’re supposed to be instead of going through the paces of hitting this mark and that mark?’ They don’t always get it right, but nobody does. But if you look at who they already had, and who they allowed me to add to the cast, they are thinking about the integrity of the characters.
That may be the case, but even Whedon's supporters have voiced concern over how many characters are in The Avengers and the challenge of giving each of them a meaningful part in the story. Let's face it - no one wants to see their favorite member relegated to a glorified cameo.
Whedon (who is still working on the outline for the film) admits that it has been a challenge, but that each character will be properly utilized in The Avengers:
What I will struggle with, in the outline and throughout, is that I would like to put these actors in a room and just make Glengarry Glen Ross ... We’re talking about really exciting people and at the same time I have to keep the momentum of the thing going. I can’t let it turn into a lull fest. Knowing that I have enough time to do both of those things – that by the end of the movie you will feel ‘in’ with these guys – is the trick. It’s not an easy one but one that Marvel absolutely honours. They don’t hire Mark Ruffalo to say one iconic line and strike a pose.
When Favreau's name was still being tossed around as a potential director he revealed that he wasn't quite sure how to incorporate all of the Marvel characters into the same story (particularly Thor). Whedon is in the middle of trying to solve that exact conundrum, but remains optimistic that it can be done:
It’s finding out how to introduce people to all of these people in this world ... Finding the tone and plots that are coherent is what I go to bed thinking about and wake up thinking about, but it’s doable.
I haven't been shy about my feelings towards The Avengers in the past, but apprehensions aside - I really am rooting for Whedon. I'm not a fan of everything he's done, but he certainly has a unique style and I love that they made an unexpected choice (let's not forget that Favreau was relatively untested when he made the first Iron Man). Furthermore, he's no stranger to these characters:
I’m feeling that everything that I have done before has prepared me for this, besides the fact that I’ve been reading The Avengers since I was 11.
While familiarity with the source material may not be a prerequisite for a successful comic book movie, it's a big advantage when trying to navigate through something as complicated and crowded as The Avengers. Whedon gets these characters, he knows how to balance an ensemble, and he's incredibly skilled at injecting stakes (sorry for the bad pun, Buffy fans) into action scenes - something that's pretty rare these days.
At the very least, we know that Whedon is approaching the film with good intentions and large ambitions. We'll see if it pays off when The Avengers assemble on May 4, 2012.