Parallel Universe talks with the writer and director of 'The Avengers'
Mention Joss Whedon to almost any geek you meet and they'll know who you're
talking about. Creator of TV series like "Buffy the Vampire
Slayer," "Angel" and "Firefly," writer on comic books like "Astonishing
X-Men" and "Runaways," and producer, writer and/or director of films like
"Serenity" and "The Cabin in the Woods," Whedon knows his fan culture, knows his
way around almost any franchise and, most importantly, has a seemingly natural
ability to tell compelling stories about well-developed and humanistic
So when Marvel needed someone to write and direct "The Avengers," the
culmination of five years of linked superhero movies from the comics publisher
turned studio, it turned to Whedon even though his one feature directing credit,
"Serenity," was a much smaller if well-liked project. But Whedon is especially
known for his ability to juggle multiple characters and story lines, and
combined with his knowledge of the Marvel Universe, it made sense to tap him for
And guess what? He managed to pull off what many thought was the impossible:
an "Avengers" movie that is not only awesome in terms of sheer spectacle, but
delivers the tone, flavor and character interaction that fans of the comic book
have loved for years -- not easy when you're dealing with outsized icons like
Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. We sat down with Whedon for a
one-on-one chat about bringing "The Avengers" to the screen.
MSN Movies: We're going to quote to you what the guy next to us said
last night as soon as the credits started rolling. He turned to us and said, "He
freaking did it." So, you know, in terms of getting an "Avengers" movie right,
what were the things you felt had to happen, had to be there and had to
Joss Whedon: You know, obviously you want the big battles and the iconic
moments, and it'd be hard to get through the movie without them. They're going
to happen. And for me, it's always about, how do I earn it? How do I get from A
to B? How do I get from B to C? For example, when Thor and Iron Man fight, early
on people had pitched out, "Well, maybe Loki has to cast a spell." Or,
"Maybe it's a case of mistaken identity or something." I'm just like, you know
what? No. Those are not conflicts, that's just a fight. That's just a fight that
you're waiting for it to be over so you can find out, "Oh no, you're a good guy
The idea had to be, and it's not a particularly original one, that it's two
guys with different agendas who are neither of them necessarily wrong. They were
too fired up to settle their differences over a cup of tea. That for me is a
conflict, and that fight becomes much more interesting. That was the idea
throughout. It was like, "I know what you need. I need to get us there, so that
when it happens, people care."
How did you find the right balance of tone? There's a lot of comedy,
which you're known for. But then there are certainly stakes and sacrifice
involved. There's a sense of fun to the movie but not without taking away from
the sort of gravitas of the situation.
Well, take "The Dark Knight." I find that stuff
enormously compelling, and (director) Chris Nolan is a master of creating that
tone and just keeping you ratcheted into it for the whole movie. "The Avengers,"
first of all, had to distinguish itself from that, because that really is what
everybody knows right now. And, at the same time, "The Avengers" is kind of
idiotic as a concept. It really is a weird idea for a team, and there are so
many colors in it, literally, and so many colors in it tonally. You have to play
with it a little bit.
And I like movies to be fun. I like the "Indiana Jones" sort of mixture of what this genre is.
You love it, we love it, we're going to play with it, but we're going to get
people of real caliber to take us through it, and give you some real texture so
that you really care, but still make everybody a bit larger than life. If a
movie like this took itself completely seriously, then audiences couldn't.
Laughter is a gateway drug to suspension of disbelief.
Marvel has been known for their frugality in making some of the
earlier movies. Was it a little bit different with them on this one, knowing
that this was the summation of the last five years?
They were not going to be frugal when it came to putting up the movie "The
Avengers" needed to be. And I made a lot of movie -- even more than they
expected. And they went with it. So that's where the money should be. It's all
on-screen. Even then I felt like there were times when I wanted to get more "run
and gun," and be less stately, and spend less money. It was very important to me
that we were sensible about it, and we didn't just throw money at things. But
just knowing that we could do, that whatever we needed to happen could happen,
was an exciting thing.
Did you have mandates from Marvel as far as what you needed to
include to fit with the previous films, like "Thor" and "Captain America," and
how much did you feed off those earlier films?
It was very useful to me to be able to see stuff, to be able to talk to the
directors. I did some (work on the script) on "Captain America," which was really fun because I got
to write a period piece, which is always a good time. So all of that was
enormously useful to me. I kept begging them to show me some stuff from "Captain
America," so I could see how Chris was playing him before I started shooting
him. The more information I could get, the more I would know how I should be
tailoring what I was doing. They had their stipulations, they have restrictions,
but they were all reasonable. If I was running Marvel, I'd have them too. So it
was a very organic process.
It took three tries, but on this film you and Mark Ruffalo nailed the
Hulk, finally. Why do you think it's been so tough with the two previous Hulk
films and what was the approach that you took to make it work?
I don't think there's a more difficult task, and the biggest problem is that
you have this mix of superhero movie and werewolf movie. The Hulk is a rampaging
beast who solves problems. So you're stuck with a guy who -- in the other movies
I think what you have is a guy whose only obsession was to stop you from seeing
the thing that you pay your money to see. In the case of something like a
werewolf, an actual werewolf movie, it's usually because tragedy will ensue. In
the case of the Hulk, it's usually that he's a hero, and so it becomes
The two things that we felt were super-important going in were number one, to
build him more on the Bill Bixby model of, "I've got this issue, but I'm going
to be just keeping myself off the radar and helping other people. I'm not going
to be self-obsessed." And two, when he does start to change, we're going to put
somebody we love in peril from that. We're going to make it a situation where
the Hulk might actually do everything that Banner fears. And we're going to make
sure he's not conveniently around a group of bullies. You know, reconciling a
horror movie and a hero movie is an unenviable task in the best of
circumstances. So I do think it's very difficult, but for us, we knew going in
that we had the sequences that would explain why you don't want him around, and
the sequences that would explain when you do. And also we worked just painfully
and extensively on every frame of his physicality and his expressiveness. Mark
did a ton of performance capture. We really wanted to make sure that there
wasn't a frame where you didn't understand why he was doing what he was doing.
And I thought him and the animators at Industrial Light and Magic did a
There are a lot of seeds planted for future adventures in this movie.
If you end up doing "The Avengers 2," do you know where you'd like to take
Totally, yeah. I'm not entirely sure that I have the stamina to do another
one, but, boy, do I know what I'd do. And, boy, am I not going to say!