Like most of you who saw The Avengers this past weekend, I found the comic book team-up picture to be an overwhelming experience. I couldn’t believe that Marvel had pulled together all of these different superheroes on-screen, but more than that, I couldn’t believe they’d actually built a fantastic and fun movie out of it.
So much of that credit has to go to Joss Whedon, who performs a magnificent balancing act with his rich cast of characters – no-one got short-changed in the film’s running time, and I’d attribute that to his skill in ensemble characterisation, which Whedon had honed with Serenity years before. In that picture, he gave every member of his cast their moment; The Avengers was very much the same deal, with Black Widow given the depth she lacked in Iron Man 2, Hawkeye making the most of his badass archer status and the Hulk, of course, transforming from his previous mopey iteration into the audience’s favourite character.
The Avengers is so a Joss Whedon movie. The style of dialogue is pure Whedon, and all of the actors I suspected would be good candidates for the director’s entertaining back-and-forths – particularly Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man and Chris Hemsworth as Thor – were. It’s the type of film that Whedon was born to make, and it’s a passionate, worthy tribute to these Marvel icons.
I’ve always seen Whedon as a creator who occupies a very specific space in the pop culture landscape, only taking on projects that seem to genuinely appeal to him. Whedon did a six-issue run on the excellent Marvel book Runaways because he loves the characters and the world they inhabit. He built Dollhouse specifically around actress Eliza Dushku. He challenged the foundations of Hollywood production culture with Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Anything Whedon does, on any platform, is infused with a real creative identity that fans feel strongly about.
In the time I’ve been following his work, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse were all taken off the air by their respective TV networks due to low ratings (usually combined with arbitrary scheduling factors), while Whedon has had mixed success in film – Serenity was well-received yet didn’t do great numbers at the box office (though it sold well on DVD), and Alien Resurrection ended up being a sobering experience for Whedon as a screenwriter. Meanwhile, various projects, like Wonder Woman and Goners, never got past the script stage, and Cabin In The Woods was massively delayed by MGM’s collapse.
After this weekend, though, Whedon has become a commercially successful Hollywood director, and he accomplished this with an exceptionally well-crafted superhero movie that shows us something we’ve never seen before in live-action. Whedon’s TV shows always proved that he’s one of the very best when it comes to storytelling and characterisation of any description, but The Avengers finally put those skills on a stage where they could be appreciated by a mammoth-sized audience.