I went into my opening night screening of The Avengers convinced that I was going to love it. And it wasn’t just because I let the hype and positive reviews raise my expectations. My mind was made a long time ago, when it was announced that geek demigod Joss Whedon had been hired as writer/director. (Though, I did harbour conspiratorial concerns that somehow the project was going to get taken away from him, or that the studio and other stakeholders would interfere with his vision and ruin everything. See: Dollhouse.)
After all, who else could direct an ensemble of scrappy, squabbling (anti-)heroes with such finesse, or combine well-paced tensity and humour that really respects its characters and their relationships without sacrificing badass action sequences? Few others, if any. Plus, he knows his comic books. And now that I’ve seen it, I am in awe of his accomplishment, not because the movie is perfect–it’s not–but because it was a difficult movie to make (in bridging preceding and succeeding movies, and in handling multiple protagonists and storylines) and, somehow, it works.
Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Joss Whedon (writer/director), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America) on set.
And it works despite its flaws. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Loki’s Big Evil Plan is a little easy, especially when you compare it to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, where villains have nuanced motives beyond “I want to rule the world. Send in the space army!” I enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s creepy turn as Loki, and it’s not that he lacks a good backstory, it’s just that his scheming clearly functions merely to force the Avengers Initiative into action. Of course, it’s happening so fast and the reaction from S.H.I.E.L.D. is so entertaining, you hardly notice.
Secondly, sprinkling attention among the ensemble makes it difficult for Captain America, the unequivocal leader of The Avengers, to really rise to the level of protagonist, though that would have been a risky move, what with Steve Rogers not being even half as interesting as RDJ’s Tony Stark. (There are a few reasons for that, which I discuss in this podcast I co-host! GO FIGURE.) In the end, trying to balance all the different characters leaves little room for any individual character arcs (exception: Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was handled magnificently). But what you have to remember is, this isn’t the story of any one character; the character is the group, and in that way, it works.
(I like to think that if The Avengers were a TV series, or if it becomes a trilogy, Joss would have the space to give each character the arc he/she deserves, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.)
But back to my obsessive adoration of Joss Whedon. If you know me, you know that I’ve been a fan of his since Buffy premiered in October 1997 when I was a mere 12 years old, and that I’ve followed his projects ever since. I even went to see him at San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. (And almost met him! It’s a very sad story full of woe and regret; ask me about it sometime.) You could say I’ve grown loyal over the years, though hopefully not to this extent…
Me too, Gabe. Me too.
All that being said, I don’t want to be accused of a particular kind of loyalty, the kind that inspires eye-rolling pop culture commentators to accuse fanboys/girls of being unconditionally allegiant to the point where they’re incapable of being objective and will start campaigns to save a show before it even airs. No, I like to think my kind of loyalty is of a different brand.
I don’t think Joss Whedon is infallible. I just love the things he makes, and it’s a very pure love. I look forward to his projects, and generally feel great affection for them despite their flaws (the ones that stand out to the critic in me), because when I watch or read something where he’s had a controlling creative influence–that hasn’t been messed up by meddling forces–there’s something purely JW in them, something that I would say is an extension of his personality. The witty dialogue, the way he manages relationships between characters, his balancing of drama and humour: when he gets it right, it appeals to something in my personality.
On that note, this combination of elements is something I try to achieve in my own writing because it’s the kind of chemistry, a perfect storm of wonder and beauty, that makes people fall in love with a story and its characters. Joss Whedon fans are as fervent as they are because they don’t just love shows like Buffy and Firefly, they fall in love with them. (Whoa. Too much? Are you tearing up?)
When The Cabin in the Woods came out a couple of weeks ago, I had a similar reaction. You could tell how much fun Joss and Drew Goddard (co-writer, director and Whedonverse alum) had making that movie. And if you love horror movies and monsters the way they do, and the way I do, you’re going to love this movie. Not because it’s flawless, but because it speaks to something in you. You’re kindred spirits! We’re kindred spirits!
This is also how I feel about a lot of books, like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, and TV shows like Lost, which I’ve written about before. Yeah, it fumbled a lot and didn’t live up to everything that it could have been. But I love that series and I love Whedon’s ouevre* for being whimsical, for being mysterious, for having fun with the genre, and for creating character ensembles that I care about. I love them not because they’re the best things being made from a critical standpoint, but because they speak to something in me. I love them for everything that they try to be and for everything that they very often are.
It’s the same way, I suppose, that you’d love a person.
And now, I leave you with this letter from Mr. Whedon himself, which was the impetus for this post. Enjoy.
*Does that sound dirty? I think it sounds kind of dirty.