He was the man who resurrected Buffy, the teenage vampire slayer who returned from a lame movie and found longer life in a hit TV show.
Now writer-turned-director Joss Whedon has the second of Marvel’s mighty Avengers movies under his belt. It’s another form of resurrection – turning the comics brand into a franchise that has the fans salivating.
Whedon belongs to that breed of filmmakers that fans adore. They flock to him – and to contemporaries like JJ Abrams of Star Trek and now Star Wars fame – because they “get” what it is they’re putting on screen. Thus they become a living touchstone for what devotees want to experience.
Helming Avengers: Age of Ultron means managing an ever-expanding cast of current notables – among them Robert Downey Jr, Scarlet Johansson, Samuel L Jackson and Jeremy Renner – and introducing still more, such as Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Then there’s the not-so-simple matter of containing the story while linking it to the individual movies starring Captain America, Thor et al. Is it tricky navigating the Marvel universe? Whedon reckons so.
“There are restrictions,” he says. “You know going in what you have to work with. It’s something of a comfort. I just try to write it as well as I can. The restrictions are sometimes frustrating but sometimes very useful because the page is not so blank.” Whedon admires über producer Kevin Feige who, he says, treats every new entry in the cinematic Marvel universe as “a completely new idea – as a movie of any particular genre that happens to have superheroes in it. He’s not interested in creating a formula.”
Formula or not, the fans clearly want certain elements in place throughout the series. And as the franchise evolves, so the requirements to insert key characters and moments from the Marvel history become ever more pressing. Whedon doesn’t necessarily agree. “Kevin is interested in creating a universe. I think it has legs as long as someone who really cares is at the head, trying to create new versions of the superhero movie.”
Enter Ultron, a malevolent artificial intelligence intent on wiping out the Avengers and, as collateral damage, mankind. He’s a big villain and more than a match for the hero ensemble. Whedon nods his assent. “I said we should have Ultron in the second movie before I agreed to make the first. He’s big. He’s powerful. He’s angry. He’s metal!” says Whedon. “He’s strong enough to take these guys on on his own.”
But does he have a screw loose as all megalomaniacal baddies should? “He’s been angry for so long that I think he may be a little unhinged!” he laughs. “I thought, ‘I can write that!’”
As writer and director of Age of Ultron Whedon has an added authorial interest in the series. But he’s also active outside the franchise. It begs the question whether he will continue his association or move on to develop his own projects.
Three years ago he partnered Avengers Assemble with a low-budget modern dress indie film version of Much Ado About Nothing. And then there was the underrated The Cabin in the Woods, which he wrote but did not direct.
With such varied interests and output one has to wonder whether Marvel will continue to be a draw.
“I have no immediate plans,” he confesses. “I don’t think I’ll ever get that far away from it as I love it so much.”
• Avengers: Age of Ultron (12A) is on saturation release.