There are few writer/directors in the world who have inspired the kind of fan devotion that Joss Whedon has. Beginning with the cult hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer and moving on to Angel, Firefly and Serenity, Whedon has imprinted himself on an entire generation of audiences. There are Joss Whedon fan sites, and his life and career take up a very long and informative Wikipedia page. English professors even use episodes of his TV shows to teach their students writing and storytelling.
All of this, plus his love of Marvel comic books, is what made Whedon the perfect person to direct the epic, big-screen adventure Marvel's The Avengers. The movie promises to be the Super Hero team up of a lifetime when an unexpected enemy threatens global safety and security and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Director of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. He initiates a daring recruitment effort and gathers Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to fight together.
Whedon was also very excited about whom he got to work with on the film. "One of the big things that made me jump on board was the casting. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson were already on board," he says. "These are all actors who audiences got to see in movies of their own. In Marvel's The Avengers, they get to see them interact with each other. Everyone is so good that this film is going to be unbearable to edit.
"All of the actors came to me with an extraordinarily positive attitude," he continues. "Not just about the project, but about each other. All of the conflict that we create amongst The Avengers is acting, because these guys are really rooting for each other and helping each other.
"It's been interesting. Everybody's very different. Robert has that anarchic, uncontrollable energy that is very magnetic and very Tony Stark. I wanted Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner because he's just an open book. He lets you into his heart and you understand everything he's feeling. That's who he is as a guy and how he performs. Chris Evans really locked in to the old-fashioned sort of aesthetic of a guy who's from the '40s. He has rectitude without being stiff.
"Sam Jackson is Sam Jackson. He does that look and he only needs one eye to pin you to the wall. At the same time, he's extremely sensitive and textured and that's what I wanted to get from Nick Fury. I didn't want him to be all bluster. We've seen that and I think there's more there.
"Chris Hemsworth is a god. This is a man who just makes other men stop going to the gym. It's not fair. He's very centered in the way he approaches a scene and the way he is in life. Jeremy Renner has been a wildcard and keeps to himself, but that makes sense because he's playing a sniper. He shoots a bow and arrow and keeps his distance. He's fully engaged, but he's in his own place.
"Scarlett isn't like her character at all, because she's so funny and delightful. She's always in a good mood and is just a riot. Black Widow has a darker incarnation in this film than she did in Iron Man 2 and Scarlett is very precise when she acts. We hint a little bit at her back-story and it isn't pretty.
"I got almost every actor a day or two before we started shooting, but I've been able to spend time with them while I'm writing and I think they knew I was building from the ground up. I went to every single one of them and said, 'Here are my ideas and this is how I think you'll be playing it. Is there something in particular you want to avoid? Something you feel the character needs or wants?'
"They all had input to the degree that they wanted it and it's been a collaboration from the beginning. I think that helped set the tone right away. I knew exactly what I wanted when I started, but the actors knew that if they told me what they wanted, we could usually do both."
Whedon also talked with Iron Man director Jon Favreau and Thor director Kenneth Branagh before he started production. "Jon walked me through his experience on 'Iron Man' and shared with me how he worked with Scarlett [Johansson] and Robert [Downey Jr.]. Ken called me to talk about Chris Hemsworth before he cast him in 'Thor.' Then I called him when he was shooting the film to ask him about Chris and Tom [Hiddleston] and how they were working out. His insights were wonderful. Both of them have been very helpful and generous."
Whedon's visual style for Marvel's The Avengers is perfectly tailored for the project too. "As much as anything, my visual style as a director comes from comic books," he says. "My understanding of visual storytelling comes from panel art, which I was reading more voraciously than I was watching movies for most of my childhood. In that sense, I had sort of a head start when I started visualizing this film. I hired Seamus McGarvey to be my Director of Photography because of 'Atonement.' It's a gorgeous film. Seamus' understanding of light as romantic and naturalistic is dazzling.
"Visually, the movie is similar to a lot of things that I do because it's supposed to be casually iconic. In other words, I want to hit iconic moments without hitting people over the head with them. I want it to feel like a comic book without trying to look like one. I'm trying to ride that line between bigger-than-life characters and their bigger-than-life moments and the very human aspects of them."
As for fans' expectations--both his fans as a writer/director and Marvel comic book fans--Whedon has come to terms with them. "I feel respect for the fans, but you can't let yourself feel the weight of how much they want or need from the project," Whedon explains. "I really believe that you can die from fan expectations. There are two things that I can't stand when I go to see a movie based on a comic book: being ignored and being pandered to. Fans are well aware when movies are doing either one. Ultimately, they're going to see everything they ever hoped to see in 'Marvel's The Avengers,' from every single one of these characters. There won't be a hint of, 'Well, we thought we ought to put this in to make the fans happy.'
"Honestly, if I felt the weight of how famous the actors in this movie are, or how big the budget is, or how high the fans' expectations are, I'd be in my bed right now with the covers pulled up over my head. I did have one little minor freak out and my wife just said, 'Honey, it's just the next story.' That helped."
Whedon concludes, "I want to make a great Super Hero movie. I want to make a movie that has to have Super Heroes in it and makes it very clear that the world needs Super Heroes--especially this ridiculously motley, mismatched crew of Super Heroes. I want to make the kind of movie that inspires people to say, 'There should be more movies with Super Heroes in them.'"
(Marvel's The Avengers will assemble in the Philippines on April 25, 2012. The film is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures. Marvel's Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk animated series are now aired over ABS CBN, comprising an hour of early programming on Sunday mornings from 8:30-9:30am. ABS-CBN previously aired Marvel's The Avengers and X-Men animated series.)