Regardless of whether or not Ant-Man and the Wasp are in The Avengers – I’m not saying either way – the movie is damn good. My friends and I saw it Friday night and we uniformly loved it. So did audiences around the world, with the movie setting a new opening weekend record with more than $200 million at the box office.
This is very good news for nerd culture. And not because it’s a superhero movie.
Much more important is the fact that The Avengers does much to cement 2012 – which is only five months old – as the year of Joss Whedon. Disney/Marvel took a relatively big chance on the writer-director, who has helmed only one other feature film, Serenity, a continuation of his cancelled TV show Firefly. Yet, as the box office receipts show, he delivered spectacularly.
Aside from the big financial haul, The Avengers succeeds on many levels. The action is only slightly more jaw-dropping and expertly paced than the humour. Best of all, though, is the characterization. What truly impressed me was how Whedon, who wrote the screenplay, was able to get the audience to care about six separate superheroes despite having them all crammed into one movie.
In some cases, most notably with the Hulk/Bruce Banner, the characters exhibited more personality than they did in their respective solo films. It seems like a no-brainer that if Marvel wants to finally get the Hulk movie franchise off the ground after two failed starts, Whedon is the man to do it, although he’ll probably be busy with an Avengers sequel if the company knows what’s good for it.
He accomplished this by understanding what has made the characters special over their nearly 50 years of existence, and by pitting them against each other. While the explosions are nice to look at, the real fireworks in the movie come from the verbal jousting between reluctant teammates.
But The Avengers might not even be Whedon’s top work this year. The Cabin in the Woods, shot in 2009 and released last month, is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time and is even better than The Avengers. Heck, with a 72 rating on Metacritic, it’s even officially critically acclaimed.
Whedon co-wrote the movie with his long-time pal Drew Goddard, who directed it. I wouldn’t dream of divulging any spoilers, since the less you know about it going in, the better it is (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about). Suffice it to say, it’s one of those surprise horror movies that comes along every once in a while and turns the genre on its ear, much like Scream and The Blair Witch Project did. But with Whedon’s trademark wit, The Cabin in the Woods is much funnier.
With a pair of big successes – okay, one is a mammoth success – Whedon is well on his way to becoming one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. That’s why things are getting good.
Whedon’s rough patch started in 2004, when the WB Network announced it was cancelling Angel after five seasons. The show was a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which remains Whedon’s masterpiece – a series many critics consider to be one of the best ever. The cancellation hit fans hard because, as many agreed, Angel was just hitting its stride.
Then came the sci-fi western Firefly, which got canned after one season. The modern-day sci-fi series Dollhouse followed suit after two seasons. Things were looking grim, so Whedon turned to writing X-Men comic books and producing his own web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. It seemed like he couldn’t catch a break in mainstream entertainment, yet through it all he maintained his nerd cred. His comics work and solo web effort only strengthened his relative cult following.
Now, that cult is likely to blow up into the mainstream, which means that if Whedon wants to do another TV show, it’s not likely to get cancelled before it has time to develop and find its voice. Similarly, if someone wants to exploit his previous work without his permission – as in Warner Bros. trying to remake Buffy – well, they may just have to think twice.
It’s great to see smart and funny individuals get their due, since it provides that little spark of optimism that not all is lost in the world of entertainment. We can at least hope that tomorrow’s big sci-fi summer blockbusters are a little more Whedonesque and little less Michael Bay-ish.