Apr 14 2010

CIVIL WAR!!!!…..TO WHEDON or NOT TO WHEDON!?

It has recently been announced that Joss Whedon is currently in talks to direct the upcoming Avengers film.  LS2FG writers James Goux and B.S. Hadland disagree with one another on whether or not this is ideal.  Place your bets, choose your sides….        

James says:

It’s been rumored since around April 1st (but really, who trusts anything announced on April Fool’s Day?), and finally it’s been announced in somewhat certain terms that geek king Joss Whedon may be directing The Avengers.  For those who don’t know: the Avengers is the super-team that combines some of the greatest heroes of the Marvel universe, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and others.  The movie is set to star the actors who played these characters in their respective films: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury who will most likely take some sort of government liaison capacity, and even a slight chance that Edward Norton will show up to reprise Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  There’s a variety of other great characters we may see in the Avengers, Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson reprising perhaps?), Hawkeye, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and many more, but none have been confirmed for sure.  This movie could possibly be the peak of fanboy dream fulfillment, as it will finally be the fulfillment of a shared superhero universe in movies, one that the comics have shared for over 40 years.

Also for those who don’t know: Joss Whedon is the creator of shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel (also a shared universe, hmm), Firefly (one of the greatest shows ever to air on television and cancelled far before its time), and Dollhouse (also an early end, but more rightfully so).  Of course he wrote and directed various episodes from all of these series.  He’s also a relatively accomplished screenwriter, having been nominated for an Oscar for his work on Toy Story, and also written the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer film (a reportedly fantastic screenplay which was ruined by the production itself) and Alien: Ressurrection.  Recently he’s experimented with bringing his work straight to the internet with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a project that I felt was extremely successful for its format.  In terms of directing feature films, all we’ve gotten from him so far is Serenity, a movie that serves both as the finale for Firefly the television series and works as a film on its own as well.   The Cabin in the Woods, written by him, should be released next January after it was decided that it was good enough to get the 3D upconversion treatment (is this really a blessing?), and he has a few more projects in the pipe as well.  Finally, he’s written the best run of X-Men comics ever, in the form of Astonishing X-Men 1-24.

Phew, now that that’s done I can actually say a thing or two.  Look, it’s well known that Joss is more proven as a writer than a director.  I’m not going to argue this point.  But the man knows story, he knows comics, and most of all, he knows character.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone better at creating and maintaining ensembles casts of characters than Joss, especially when it comes to this number of characters, around 5-8.  Every single one of his shows features a cast like this by the time it’s done, and it usually doesn’t get truly good till the cast has fully taken form.  For something like Firefly this was instantaneous, for Angel it took some building.  What we have here are a set of extremely iconic superheroes who all have to maintain distinct personalities, and more so, we have to see how each one of them bounces off every other character on the team in turn.  Joss Whedon knows how to do this really well.

Joss has also got a very unique ear for dialogue.  The dialogue in his shows is consistently fresh and witty, and most of all its funny.  I think The Avengers should be an adventurous, fun, romp and a little bit of that type of dialogue can go a long way.  Certainly the stakes should be extremely high, and Joss knows stakes.  Hell, basically every season of Buffy and Angel is a threat of the end of the world, and features a “big bad” that’s strung through most of the season.  Some of these villains are better than others, but many of them are the “amiable villain” that I myself find so appealing.

Finally there’s the action.  Joss has been at action for years now, so he’s got the experience.  It’s true that much of the action in his television shows is slightly limited due to budget and the medium, but we did get to see him stretch his legs a little with Serenity.  I was really pleasantly surprised by how well the action works in this film.  There are some extremely badass moments.  Think River jumping into the airlocked room to do battle with axes, or the space escape utilizing the Reaver forces.  Thinking of these scenes takes away any of my worry, and the money and experience of the Marvel Studios helps as well.

Listen, it’s fun to talk and speculate about these things, but I’ve got to be honest here.  My true reaction is this: I love Joss Whedon and I love The Avengers, to me these are two great things that I hope go well together.  I can see all these reasons why they will, and a few why they might not.  But as with any casting or other newsworthy decision, for me I just have to sit back and say, “That’s great.  I’m really excited to see if that will work.”  It’s a wait and see situation, we don’t know what will be good and what won’t until we see it for ourselves.  So let’s keep from judging any sort of casting or directing decisions too harshly one way or another.

Benn says:

It has recently been announced that Joss Whedon is next in line to direct The Avengers, in which Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and the Hulk (possibly Edward Norton), as well as a number of other Marvel heroes will join forces on the big screen.  Whedonites may be dancing in the streets to this news, but there are those who are skeptical, if not outraged, at hearing the news that the Ocean’s 11 of superhero films is going to “the Buffy guy.”

Joss Whedon is hardly the worst choice to direct such a film (Renny Harlin, keep your distance).  Whedon has created four television shows with varying degrees of success, written for various other television programs, films and comic book series, and launched the popular Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, an online three-act musical during the WGA writer’s strike.  Furthermore, Whedon has amassed one of the most powerful cult followings since George Lucas.

As impressive as Whedon’s resume is, there are several criticisms concerning Whedon’s experience as a filmmaker.  While Whedon’s work in television is impressive, film is an entirely different animal.  That aside, Whedon’s experience in film, while diverse, doesn’t match his reputation or skill in the world of T.V.

While Whedon has done a considerable amount of screenwriting, most of it was done alongside a number of other writers.  Although it is common for a film to have multiple writers, I find it hard to give a majority, or even a healthy minority of credit to Whedon for something like Toy Story, which had at least seven credited writers.  Whedon has also gone “uncredited” for being involved in re-writing scripts; the details of what Whedon added or took away from these films is somewhat esoteric.  The fact that Whedon has “re-written” most of the scripts on his film resume suggests that he has acted more as a creative editor than anything else.  Also, the films he has re-written include Waterworld, the remake of The Getaway, Speed, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and X-Men.  Not the strongest body of work, re-written or not.

In fact, the only films Whedon has written himself is the film version of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Alien Resurrection, the latter of which has caused a bit of controversy due to how poorly it was received, and how much of it was Whedon’s (the writer) fault.  According to Whedon, his story was grossly misinterpreted by the powers that be, and the final project, directed by Jean Pierre-Jeunet, didn’t resemble his vision in the least.  This justification, or excuse, is more than plausible, as this kind of struggle between creative control, vision, and the Hollywood chain of command is commonplace.

Whedon also expressed similar displeasure towrads the Buffy movie, directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui.  Although Whedon later brought his version of Buffy to television (which received more critical and commercial success), one has to step back and question Whedon’s professional mudslinging, in which all the negative elements of his stories are someone else’s fault.  Although Whedon’s complaints surely have merit, one has to be skeptical, or at the very least annoyed, that Whedon takes zero responsibility for anything negative said about the his films, particularly his horrendous sequel to Alien.  Visions and intents may have been crisscrossed and canceled out, but to point the finger in Pierre-Jeunet’s direction seems immature and irresponsible.  Pierre-Jeunet, by the way, has written and directed films like Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and Amelie, to name but a few.  Between Pierre-Jeunet and Whedon’s respective body of works, I’m inclined to say that, either equal blame be placed on both, or all of it placed on the weaker filmmaker (hint: it’s not the Frenchman).

Whedon’s only successful screenplay also happens to be his cinematic directorial debut, Serenity, which was nothing short of fantastic, proving that he can write and direct for the big screen.  However, Serenity was a big screen-continuation of his successful, yet short-lived television series, Firefly.  Although this doesn’t take away from Whedon’s achievement as a writer or director, it must be pointed out that Whedon’s best film script and single outing as a film director came from television, which has proven to be his best domain.

Like most cult icons or auteurs in the entertainment world, Whedon’s name isn’t just a name, but a description.  Everything about Whedon’s stories, characters, dialogue (especially the dialogue) all explicitly bear his signature.  This is far from a negative criticism, as many of our most beloved filmmakers work the same way.  Tarantino, Scorsese, Leone, Smith, Lynch, Coen, Coen…. you can tell instantly which one of these directors are behind the camera just by watching a few minutes of any scene.  Granted, by this logic, The Avengers will bear someone’s signature, but is Whedon’s vision of The Avengers best suited to the project itself?

Whedon has proven that he can balance humor and action quite efficiently, if not perfectly, and Firefly, one of his latest series, is his most mature work to date.  Doctor Horrible, as well as his experience with comic books, proves that he has a firm grasp on the superhero mythos.  The Avengers will also feature an ensemble cast, which Whedon has a considerable experience with since all of his programs feature a large cast of characters that share equal story time.  However, many of Whedon’s characters show a real lack of range; they are, more or less, a limited number of archetypes that share the same few quirks.  Of course, no one is expecting lush character portraits in this action-epic, but they are a cast of very different individuals, most of which don’t share Whedon’s penchant for abandoned outcast sensibilities and Whedony idiosyncratic diction.

The Avengers is going to be a huge project; it needs a strong director who has proven him or herself a few times over.  Whether or not you love Firefly or Dollhouse, Whedon has not yet proven that he can direct a film that isn’t exclusively his.  And The Avengers isn’t his; it really belongs to those who previously established the characters cinematically: Downey Jr., Favreau, Branagh, Hemsworth, etc.  Furthermore, the director of such a film needs to be able to maintain several different character and story arcs at once, and Whedon’s greatest flaw is that, no matter how much promise his creations are, he tends to drop the ball in the end (see: last few seasons of Buffy and Angel).  Who should direct The Avengers?  In short, someone with a solid track record, experience, and a vision that is, both, commanding and unobtrusive.  And someone who doesn’t blame everyone else involved if and when the movie goes to pot.

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