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Thursday, April 15, 2010
  Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers
Great news for comic nerds this week: Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and geek-TV icon Joss Whedon is in final negotiations to direct The Avengers for Marvel Stuidios. It sounds like it’s not completely official at the time of this writing, but as a fan of Buffy (never could get into the spin-off, Angel) and Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi series Firefly and the movie it eventually spawned, Serenity, I think this is wonderful news. As much as he’s being looked at as a director (and he’s pretty good behind the camera, having helmed Serenity and many of the best episodes of his TV shows), it’s his skills as a screenwriter that have me excited. Whether it’s official or not, it’s hard to believe Marvel would be talking this seriously with a guy like Whedon, known more for knack for characters and dialogue than his filmmaking chops, if they weren’t open to him polishing up the Avengers script as well.

The Avengers, in case you’re unaware, is Marvel’s all-star superhero team, featuring Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, as well as a ton of cool B-list characters like Hawkeye, Giant Man, the Wasp and the Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson in this summer’s Iron Man 2). Marvel has been slowly building up to The Avengers since Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo as Nick Fury in the first Iron Man, having signed the main actors in their movies, including Robert Downey Jr., Captain America’s Chris Evans and Thor’s Chris Hemsworth, to multi-picture deals that include The Avengers. A movie featuring Captain America, Iron Man and Thor all together is the stuff of fanboy dreams, and I think Whedon’s an excellent choice to realize that dream on the big screen.

I’ve heard that Marvel likes to let little tidbits like this leak out before anything is official to gauge the fan reaction online (no idea how true it is, but I read somewhere that the Captain America job was basically John Krasinski’s until the studio saw the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the news on the web), but given Whedon’s cred with the geek crowd, I suspect that won’t be an issue here. Whedon has one of the most devoted online fanbases; based purely on Google search results, you’d think both Firefly and Serenity were far more popular than the show’s brief life and the film’s relatively anemic box office take would suggest.

My only concern – and it’s a minor one – is that the scale of The Avengers dwarfs anything he’s worked on before (think city-destroying superhero fights and alien invasions), but Whedon’s nothing if not a sharp guy, and I assume he realizes The Avengers needs a little bit of a Roland Emmerich (2012, Independence Day) vibe. But I had similar concerns going into Serenity – would it just look like a two-hour Firefly episode, or would it actually feel like a movie? – but he put those to rest right quick, showing an ability to handle actions sequences that far more complicated and kinetic than anything he attempted on any of his shows, and the film had a scale to it that was only hinted at in the TV series. I definitely think Whedon’s got it in him to step up his game on a project as big as The Avengers.

Most importantly (to me at least) Whedon is the first filmmaker hired for a Marvel project who is actually a comic book fan. He’s written for Marvel Comics in the past – he has an excellent 24-issue run on Astonishing X-Men that’s a pretty solid entry point for newcomers to the X-Men or superhero comics in general, and another book he spent time writing, Runaways (about a group of teenagers who realize their parents are all supervillans) is also headed for the screen soon. More than Iron Man’s Jon Favreau or Thor’s Kenneth Branagh or Captain America’s Joe Johnston, he understands the dynamics of superhero stories, specifically superhero team stories; anyone who’s seen Buffy, Angel or Firefly knows of his knack for witty team dialogue and relationships.

The Avengers is expected to begin shooting some time in early 2011. You can bet your sweet can I’ll be following the news on this one closely.

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