THE AVENGERS director Joss Whedon Exposed in GQ's May Issue
Much of the succesful geeky pop-culture goodness that dominates our culture today all started with one man: Joss Whedon. So how come Whedon isn't as famous as the properties he's either created or inspired? GQ talks with Whedon and those close to him to answer this very question, as well as ask an even greater one: Now that the The Avengers is a HUGE hit, isn’t this the part of the story where the overlooked hero rises to meet his big moment?
GQ’s profile of Joss Whedon, entitled “The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth” finds out...
How Joss Whedon's past failures and cancellations inspire his work:
“That moment, where you stand up and say, ‘I have the right to exist.’ I’ve written a lot of times, and I never get tired of writing it. And if I could just believe it about myself, I think I could stop writing it.”
...on why it took so long for somebody to let him make The Avengers:
“I always think of myself as, like, the most commercial guy. You look into my heart of darkness and, wow, it’s Star Wars peeking back at you. Yet everything I’ve done has been a hard sell for somebody running a studio.”
...on bringing preexisting characters together in The Avengers:
“They’re a mash-up; they’re insane. But the beauty of that is as exciting as the problem of that is daunting.”
...on once pitching a morbid Batman storyline that was rejected: “…The executive was looking at me like I was Agent Smith made of numbers. He wasn’t seeing me at all. And I was driving back to work, and I was like, ‘Why did I do that? Why did I get so invested in that Batman story? How much more evidence do I need that the machine doesn’t care about my vision? And I got back to work and got a phone call that Firefly was cancelled. And I was like, ‘It was a rhetorical question! It was not actually a request! Come on!’”
Here's the last bit where he talks about the super hero franchises he's been involved with. Be sure to follow the link below for the full interview...
Most recently there was Wonder Woman. He was going to write and direct it for Joel Silver. The archetypal female-hero-worshipping auteur and the ultimate female superhero—perfect, right? Didn't happen. There were others, before that. A pre-Robert Downey Iron Man. And there was Batman. Don't even ask him about Batman.
Okay, fine: It was a while ago, between the day-glo Joel Schumacher sequels and the Chris Nolan reboot (which Whedon loves, don't get him wrong.) There was a lot more, in Whedon's take, about the orphaned Bruce Wayne as a morbid, death-obsessed kid. There was a scene—Whedon used to well up, just thinking about it—where young Bruce tries to protect this girl from being bullied in an alley, an alley like the one his parents were murdered in.
"And he's like this tiny 12-year-old who's about to get the shit kicked out of him. And then it cuts to Wayne Manor, and Alfred is running like something terrible has happened, and he finds Bruce, and he's back from the fight, and he's completely fine. And Bruce is like, 'I stopped them. I can stop them.' That was the moment for me. When he goes 'Oh, wait a minute; I can actually do something about this.' The moment he gets that purpose, instead of just sort of being overwhelmed by the grief of his parents' death."
So he goes in and pitches this. He's on fire, practically shaking. "And the executive was looking at me like I was Agent Smith made of numbers. He wasn't seeing me at all. And I was driving back to work, and I was like, 'Why did I do that? Why did I get so invested in that Batman story? How much more evidence do I need that the machine doesn't care about my visision? And I got back to work and got a phone call that Firefly was cancelled. And I was like, 'It was a rhetorical question! It was not actually a request! Come on!'"
When The Avengers came around, Whedon was coming off two canceled TV shows and a direct-to-the-Internet musical. I ask him if, given recent history, he would have hired himself to do the job. "Hell yeah," he says. "I'm a writer-director, and I adore comic books, and I tend to work fast—which, given their schedule and the fact that they didn't have a script, is useful."
In fact, there was a script, by veteran superhero-movie scribe Zak Penn, whose association with Marvel's movie-verse goes back to 2006; he'll share a "story by" credit with Whedon on The Avengers. I gently bring this up.
"There was a script," Whedon acknowledges. "There just wasn't a script I was going to film a word of." (Reached for comment, Penn says he was a little disappointed by Whedon's decision to take over. "We could have collaborated more, but that was not his choice. He wanted to do it his way, and I respect that. I mean, it's not like on the Hulk, where I got replaced by the lead actor," he says, referring to Edward Norton's infamous decision to install himself as lead screenwriter on that film. "That was an unusual one. This was more normal.")
Whedon says he realized pretty quickly that if he was going to direct this thing, and the movie-star-heavy cast that came with it, he'd have to write it himself, too. "I needed that bedrock of certainty, so that when they asked me why something was [in the script], I could tell them exactly."
The thing about the Avengers: They don't have a compelling, mythic, archetypal origin story. There's no radioactive spider, no dead parents, and nothing in particular to avenge. In their first comics appearance—September 1963's Avengers #1—a group of preexisting Marvel characters (Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp) join forces to fight the Hulk. Then they realize they've been manipulated to do so by Thor's nemesis, Loki, so they fight Loki. Then, in the space of four panels on the last page, they decide to be a team, even though they don't seem to have much in common.
"They're a mash-up; they're insane," Whedon says. "But the beauty of that is as exciting as the problem of that is daunting."
The movie plays up that unlikely-supergroup angle instead of trying to work around it. Whedon's Avengers bring divergent and sometimes conflicting worldviews and agendas to the table. Occasionally they throw giant hammers at one another, or at bad guys, and those scenes work—when Whedon pitched his take to Marvel, his touchstones included The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch, and Black Hawk Down, and the big battle sequences in The Avengers capture that sense of escalating, worst-day-ever mayhem. CGI-driven superhero movies, Whedon says, "are always a little clean. When it comes down to it, they're about 'All I gotta do is beat up that guy who's a little bit stronger than me but looks a lot like me, and then case closed.' I was just like, 'You don't get these people together and then have a little duke-'em-out. You get these people together and then you put them through hell.' "
The most obvious reference point for the movie in Whedon's previous work is probably his two-year run on Marvel's Astonishing X-Men comic book, which reestablished Marvel's merry mutants (a group of characters rendered inaccessible by decades of metastasizing backstory) as a squabbling surrogate family. But really, he's been writing this story forever. Buffy, despite its horror-genre roots, was really about a superheroine and the high school weirdos who made up her support system; Angel and Firefly and even Dollhouse were team-of-misfits stories, too. "Everything I write," he says, "tends to turn into a superhero team, even if I didn't mean for it to. I always start off wanting to be solitary, because a) it's simpler, and b) that isolation is something that I relate to as a storyteller. And then no matter what, I always end up with a team."
He's drawn back to that dynamic, he says, because every character gets a moment where they say I matter to this story.
"That moment," Whedon says, "where you stand up and say, 'I have the right to exist.' I've written it a lot of times, and I never get tired of writing it. And if I could just believe it about myself, I think I could stop writing it."
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