I recently (finally) went to see the movie “The Avengers,” a tale of several folks, some more super than others, who team up to fight a threat to Earth. This movie was written and directed by Joss Whedon. As it happens, I am also currently immersing myself in all 7 seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (I’m about 1/8 through the third season right now), a series that Whedon created, wrote for and executive-produced. Which is just to say, I am impressed and inspired (if not overwhelmed) by the creative powers of this guy. Talk about a superhero – Whedon, who is primarily a writer, has fought up through the ranks and given viewers several different visions of flawed and compelling characters over a span of 20 years. And these visions always focus on the fantastic in one form or another, whether it’s vampires and demons, spaceships and strange planets, living “dolls,” or superheroes.
If you’re a fan of Whedon, then you already know that his first big triumph was the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which ran from 1996-2003. This triumph came after the forgettable movie of the same name, which Whedon wrote (and which starred heavy hitters such as Donald Sutherland and Rutger Hauer, as well as Paul Reubens). His script was heavily rewritten for more laughs, however, and Whedon eventually left the set out of frustration with how his vision was being botched.
But then, a few years later, Whedon was approached to create a television series about Buffy. This time he was in control, and the result was a dark ride through high school and beyond, with various monsters representing the anxieties of adolescence. This series’ powerful writing and persuasive acting ensured that Whedon had a success on his hands.
Soon, Whedon was also writing and executive producing a spin-off series, “Angel,” which featured several characters from “Buffy” over its five-year run. And in 2002, Whedon developed a third series that he also wrote and executive produced, “Firefly,” a Western in outer space. The result – Whedon was behind the wheel of three shows between 2002-2003 (both “Firefly” and “Buffy” ended in 2003). That’s quite an achievement right there, to be the creative force behind three different shows on three different networks.
But even after “Firefly” failed to live beyond one season (although managing to garner quite the rabid fanbase), and “Angel” only lasted one season after the end of “Buffy” (even though it seemed to have gotten its creative mojo back after foundering for a while), Whedon kept on thinking up new creative projects.
In 2005, Whedon wrote and directed “Serenity,” a story showcasing the characters from “Firefly.” And in 2009, Whedon teamed up with Eliza Dushku for the television series “Dollhouse.” Although unfortunately short-lived, “Dollhouse” played with the interesting premise that a corporation is running underground dollhouses around the world, wiping their Dolls’ memories and temporarily instilling them with different personalities and skills, then renting them out or utilizing them in other nefarious ways.
“Cabin in the Woods,” a movie Whedon co-wrote, finally came out last year after being on the shelf as a result of the MGM bankruptcy. I unfortunately did not get to see this in the theater while it was out, but I do know that this movie, which plays with horror tropes, garnered quite a bit of buzz.
And so we’ve circled around again to “The Avengers,” a movie that came about after several other Marvel superhero movies, including “Ironman,” “Ironman 2,” “Captain America,” “Hulk,” “Incredible Hulk,” and “Thor.” Most of these (with the exception of the Hulk films) did very well at the box office, and whoever took on the task of writing, and of directing, the Avengers movie would have a monumental task before them. They would need to integrate 6 heroes and their back-stories, a credible villain, and assorted other characters from the Marvel comics canon into the mix, giving all of the heroes equality in terms of plot importance and screen time.
I think Whedon did a fantastic job with “The Avengers” on all these counts. The plot allowed all of the heroes to give a sense of their back stories to the viewer, it offered Loki as a very credible and complex villain, and other characters, such as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, stood out as well.
Whedon clearly has achieved a great deal as a writer who can generate all kinds of stories, whether involving fantasy, science fiction, or horror. I admire him for many reasons (trust me, there will be a Buffy post after I’ve gone through all of the seasons), including his ability to create incredibly involving characters, his structuring of plot, and his versatility. So here’s to you, Mr. Whedon – and here’s hoping you continue to create amazing stories for many more years to come.