When he was nine years old, director/writer Joss Whedon’s father — a writer for the PBS children’s show “The Electric Company” — came home with something that would forever alter the course of young Joss’ life.
As research for the show’s live-action Spider Man skits, the elder Whedon brought back a bunch of Spider Man comics and gave a few to his son.
The effect, Whedon would later claim in interviews, was like giving crack to a small child.
More than 30 years later, Whedon has gone from being an avid follower of superhero stories to an active architect in their mythology.
Released last week, “The Avengers” acts as the culmination of an ambitious, multi-film project set into motion back in 2007 with “Iron Man.” The film features every live-action Marvel Avenger — including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk — coming together to fight against a large-scale alien invasion.
As the film’s director and co-writer, Whedon has found himself living every comic geek’s fantasy. Judging from the film’s half-billion worldwide weekend gross, the public is more than happy with the result.
While audiences around the world may see “The Avengers” as a gathering of iconic superheroes, Whedon sees these characters in a different way — a couple of dysfunctional humans who together are more explosive than an estranged family at Thanksgiving.
“The Avengers are all really, really messed up people, which I think is a fine reflection of me,” Whedon jokes in a conference call with the Wheel.
Since first cutting his teeth on shows like “Roseanne” and “Parenthood,” Whedon has developed into something of a geek icon. The creator and showrunner of such cult shows as “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly” and “Dollhouse,” Whedon’s brand of subversive genre-based projects has earned him a devoted legion of fans and critics alike.
His reputation as well as his devotion to comic book lore was what eventually helped him land the gig as “Avengers” director, despite having only directed one feature film (2005’s “Serenity”).
This decision was but the latest in Marvel Studio’s unorthodox choices of directors.
“I think Marvel has a great nose for a director who has a passionate vision who’s not famous for turning out big-budget hits, but will bring something a little bit fresh to the concept of a hero movie,” Whedon explains. “It’s one of the things that I respect the most about them.”
For Whedon, “The Avengers” acts a dream project, an opportunity to make the type of blockbuster he fell in love with as a young film-goer.
“I think ‘The Avengers’ is the kind of movie that I grew up wanting to make and thought they had stopped making,” he said. “When I grew up, the ‘summer movie’ was literally just created as a concept, and all my life I wanted to do something like the first ‘Indiana Jones;’ something that was steeped in character, in love of the genre that it was portraying, had intelligence, had real acting, had a story that unfolded and wasn’t just a sort of big premise.”
For Whedon, what distinguishes Marvel superhero films from others is their devotion to quality storytelling and assembling ensembles of the best talent possible.
“More and more summer movies have felt a little cynical. [Studios aren’t] interested in a story, they’re interested in barraging you with excitement and imagery and brand names,” Whedon says. “Marvel doesn’t operate that way. They care about the people. That’s why they hire some of the best actors in the business to play their heroes. This is an old-fashioned movie — it’s a little bit bigger than life, but it’s very human.”
So, having directed the biggest superhero film of all time, what power would Whedon most desire?
“I would have the power of invisibility,” he quickly replies. “Then, I wouldn’t have to show up for as many shooting days.”
Whedon has certainly earned the right to be a little lazy.
— Contact Mark Rozeman.