Tag: Joss Whedon
What a massive letdown. I feel like everyone who’s been raving about it for the last few weeks has had their expectations of the superhero genre lowered so far that they’re willing to accept an intermittently entertaining movie as a massive triumph.
It did have funny moments. It had lots of them, actually, and I laughed at them. Those seem to be what audiences appreciated about the movie, and quite rightly, since they were the best thing in it by far.
But I felt like all those jokes were just there to get the audience through what was otherwise a tiresome bore of a story. I’ve heard plenty of people complain that it takes the Avengers too long to Assemble, and yes, it does, and that’s boring. But the final big battle—the last half-hour to 45 minutes of movie—is also boring. Again, not the jokes that leaven the action, which were funny. The action itself. It’s just a bunch of CGI things chasing each other around and knocking over CGI buildings. Yawn.
By contrast, I also just got around to seeing The Raid: Redemption, which for 0.5 percent of The Avengers’ budget delivered 100 minutes of awesome action. Part of that is because one guy trying to kill another with a machete or his bare fists is simply way more relatable than Commander Data in a goat helmet trying to destrooooy the wooorld with his magic GameCube, nyah ha ha ha. But another major part is that for all Joss Whedon’s strengths, and many are on display in The Avengers, he’s never been great at action sequences. (With the notable exception of River Tam vs. the Reavers, which kicked more ass than all the action scenes in The Avengers combined.)
What he has been good at, however, is establishing emotional stakes for his fighting, and I was really surprised to see him fall down on that job entirely. I challenge anyone reading this to explain what any of the Avengers wanted out of life or how the battle that took up the last third of the movie either got them what they wanted or changed their goals.
It’s not like this stuff is impossible. Take the example of Captain America, whose disconnection from modern society is played for a couple of laughs in The Avengers. This go-around of Avengers movies has been mostly based on Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, and in those comics Cap’s disconnection isn’t just a joke, it makes him deeply lonely. When he went off to war his fiancee was a young woman; in the blink of an eye she has grown old and married his best friend. He still hangs out with them all the time because they’re the only people he can relate to, and he struggles to meet someone new because his attitudes about women are naturally stuck in the 1940s. Cap needs the Avengers because otherwise he would be completely isolated, but they don’t understand him either.
Who is Captain America in The Avengers? Something about trading cards?
Or take Thor. In The Ultimates he’s a radical environmentalist who thoroughly mistrusts Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., and loathes working with a war profiteer like Tony Stark. He’s forced into an uneasy alliance with them when Loki manages to trick the world into seeing him as a delusional mental patient who believes he’s a Norse god.
Who is Thor in The Avengers? Something about come home with me brother, daddy misses you.
And believe me, I don’t want to be making a boring “The book was way better” complaint, because my feelings about Millar are at best mixed, while I’m a big Joss Whedon fan. But be honest, everybody: did The Avengers stir anything in you other than laughter, a few times? Did it make you feel suspense, or empathy, or excitement? If you took out the one-liners from Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, and a couple of good sight gags from the CGI Hulk, wouldn’t what remained have been completely intolerable? Wouldn’t you have laughed more at a good comedy anyway?
We can expect better, people. We have seen better, with superhero movies, many times. The first Christopher Reeve Superman, both Tim Burton Batmans, the second Sam Raimi Spiderman, X-Men: First Class, and The Dark Knight, just off the top of my head.
Maybe it’s just not possible to do better than this with superhero teams. Maybe that’s too much to ask. Though strangely I do have some hope for the Runaways movie.
Zack Whedon again. Last time, with the Dr. Horrible book, it was ambiguous how much Zack contributed to the original idea. With Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale, it’s quite clear. Firefly was big brother Joss’s creation. And Zack tells us in an author’s note that Joss outlined this story; Zack merely wrote the actual script.
Which, let’s face it, is lame and smacks of Joss using his little brother to cash in.
I also think Zack may have believed too much something like the blurb copy: “Shepherd Book, one of the most beloved characters from the cult-hit television show Firefly, is an enigma amongst the vagabond crew of the starship Serenity.” The truth is, I think most Browncoats would rate Shepherd Book as nearly the least beloved of the crew, ahead of only Inara and maybe tied with Simon. Certainly far behind the affection fans feel for Mal, Wash, Zoe, Kaylee, Jayne, or River.
He does have a mystery in his past. That much is true. That mystery lent weight to a character who, while well played by Ron Glass, was otherwise pretty thin. But by the end of Firefly‘s all-too-brief existence we viewers had at least a partial handle on his past. He used to be a fighter and someone of status in the Alliance. Then something happened and he went to live in an abbey. We just didn’t know what that something was.
A comic book that filled in the reasons for his conversion from Alliance fighter to Shepherd could have been a nice addendum to the series, then. But the Whedons needed to understand that even fans didn’t especially care about Shepherd Book, and had to be made to care. We fans/readers needed conflict and uncertainty—an actual character arc ending in Book’s decision to enter an abbey (or his decision to leave the abbey, I suppose).
Instead Joss outlined and Zack faithfully scripted a story in reverse that assumes the reader does care about Book and merely wants his mystery solved. Worse, it’s a story with too many steps for its length, a string of reversals and deceptions stretching all the way back to Book’s childhood. Told forward, at much greater length, it could have given me the insight into Book’s character I wanted. Told backward, with gaps of years separating each vignette of a few pages, it merely answers questions without any feeling.
(A much smaller complaint is that it answers one of those questions in a manner inconsistent with an episode of the TV show. In Safe, Book is shot and gets medical treatment aboard an Alliance ship by showing his ID papers. The explanation in A Shepherd’s Tale for his departure from the Alliance military would seem to preclude that possibility. I wouldn’t be getting all continuity-geeky, though, if I felt the comic stood on its own.)
Zack Whedon, Joss’s considerably younger brother, seems like a faintly tragic figure. For one thing, when I bought Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories I assumed he must be Joss’s son, nepotistically handed the Horrible franchise to make a few comic book bucks. But in fact he co-created Horrible (along with third brother Jed, a composer), and has been gainfully employed as a writer for a couple of TV shows. It must be rough to be the younger brother in a family in a profession, following the footsteps of one of the most famous auteurs in the medium, especially when you share such a distinctive name. (Though according to Wikipedia, Joss and Zack’s father and grandfather were also both screenwriters, so what do I know.)
On the other hand, he seems to have banged out this Dr. Horrible book without putting a huge amount of thought into it. There’s exactly one new idea in the whole of the book that really tickled me: Evil League of Evil member Fake Thomas Jefferson insists he’s the real thing and defeats a low-rent hero with a quill. Some of the rest was good but basically rehashed, extensions of what we already knew from the Web series. The remainder was blah. Certainly there’s no attempt to make the comic anything more than a pale reflection of the video version.
Dr. Horrible on the Web was an inspired half-hour of funny, earworm-inducing, ultimately heartbreaking story. This offers nothing of the kind. Skip it.
The Guild, Felicia Day’s Web series about online gamers, has proved deservedly popular, so it only makes sense to bring it to comics. Day is in the Joss Whedon orbit (having starred in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog plus a couple of episodes of Dollhouse), Whedon has been doing at least as many comics as TV shows lately—certainly more comics in the years between Serenity and Dollhouse—and The Guild the comic book is edited by Whedon’s long-time editor at Dark Horse. Plus there must be some overlap between comic-book buyers and fans of Web series about online gamers. Right?
I hope so. I was the first person to buy a copy when I went to the comic book store yesterday, and the owner didn’t seem optimistic that anyone else would want one.
Day isn’t just reiterating the plots of the Web series in comic book form, incidentally. The comic is starting as a kind of origin story, in which Cyd discovers the joy of gaming and the Knights of Good begin to form. Her understated humor doesn’t quite translate to the static page yet, but it’s enjoyable enough, and I want her to succeed.
Tank Girl if it was about a rock band and given snappy dialogue by Joss Whedon. Not bad.