Talking about Joss Whedon is hard for me, because I know how much other people enjoy his stuff, and I hate to ruin that. But I must confess that I’m beginning to believe that Joss Whedon is the crazy enemy of comic book movies.
Take his most recent statements about “The Dark Knight.” When by HuffPo how he felt about the current state of super hero movies, Whedon correctly recognized that people are tired of entire cities being destroyed in every comic book movie, which is good since he is basically the one who appropriated the aesthetic from “Transformers.” Of course, the film that gets the most flack for this is rightfully “Man of Steel” whith it’s excessive 40+ minutes of Metropolis destruction, but let us not forget the large portions of Washington DC that take in a fare share of outrageous destruction in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but in that movie no one seems to have noticed or cared.
Whedon then moves on to a more metaphysical analysis of the comic book genre that has been strangely misconstrued by most media outlets:
I watched ‘The Dark Knight’ and I thought of that as riffing on the genre. That was a superhero movie as ‘The Godfather.’ And I was like, ‘But I just still want to see a superhero movie!’ We had just gotten the technology to make it awesome, and I wasn’t ready to be post-modern about it yet.
Here, Whedon is not saying that “‘The Dark Knight’ is the ‘Godfather’ of comic book movies,” as some outlets seem to think. It is not Godfather = Greatest Movie Ever, The Dark Knight = Godfather, therefore The Dark Knight = Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever. What he is saying really amounts to “I don’t think ‘The Dark Knight’ qualifies as a comic book movie.” Whedon is worried that TDK takes itself too seriously and get’s most of it’s narrative strength from how it uses influences outside superhero comic books.
Kind of like Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns.”
Or Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum.”
Or Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.”
Or Mark Millar’s “Red Son.”
Or Chris Claremont’s “God Loves, Man Kills.”
Or Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One.”
Or Allan Moore’s run at Swamp Thing.
Or Jeph Loeb’s “The Long Halloween” and “Dark Victory.”
These are all (great) stories that recognize the important truth that “Comic Book” and “Super Hero” are not genres, at least not in any clear way, and they are the kind of stories that make comics worth reading. The best Superman stories are not just stories about Superman, they are science fiction. He is, after all, an alien. “Watchmen,” According to Allen Moore, was a political book that, as Whedon puts it, “riffed on the genre.” It was about power and corruption, Moore simply used superheroes as a vehicle to explore those themes. I still haven’t seen all of Snyder’s film version, but from what I’ve heard his biggest problem is that he viewed it as a “comic book movie,” and not what it really is: A story about the dangers of political power.
What is a Batman story if not about trauma, justice and vengeance? There have been many attempts to simply tell the story of a rich man who fights crime in a batsuit — most principally Adam West’s Batman of the 1960s — and all you get with that is camp. The themes of “The Dark Knight” are complex, because Batman is complex. I can’t help but feel that what Joss Whedon is saying is he wishes comic book movies could just be stupid for a little while longer, as if “Batman & Robin,” “Fantastic 4” and Superman II-IV weren’t enough.
It’s also fascinating to me that this statement came out right around the 25th anniversary for Tim Burton’s “Batman.” The movie that proved to the world, and comic book fans, that the characters of comics can be handled with sobriety. Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie” was a film about a man who could fly. Tim Burton’s “Batman” (with all of its flaws) was about a man so damaged that he dressed up in a batsuit every night to fill some frightening void. For many years the latter is exactly what fans were constantly calling for. Now, it seems, the godfather of comic book cinema (who has only made one comic book movie) is worried that we didn’t spend enough time in the gutter.
He says other flowery things, like”I work with the idea that (being a superhero) is just a natural way for people to be, so that you still make a movie about people” which is great. But of all the many things “The Avengers” was, it was not “about people.” Which, I think, is actually the point of his earlier comment. “Avengers” was about superheroes. That’s it. Really fun people who can fly and stuff who TEAM UP!!! There’s no shame in that. Not all comic book movies need to be deep thinkers. But when we are discussing the “direction of the genre” lets not fight backwards.
I have no real beef with Joss Whedon. His dialogue is fun, it has a geeky Aaron Sorkin quality to it. It’s straight out of the dialogue heavy rom-coms of the 1950s, and that’s a lost writing quality that’s refreshing to hear in a more modern and cynical film. But a master story teller he is not. And you can hardly call him a director. Having recently re-watched “Serenity,” I’m not sure why he bothers directing his own writing. The dialogue is sharp but the camera is dull. And to those who say the best directors are the ones whose directing goes unnoticed, that is absurd and we all know it.
So I wish mix-master Whedon well on “The Age of Ultron” because I’m sure it will be a great teaser trailer for whatever the next Marvel movie is. I’ll see it in theaters and have a good time. But I do hope that no one takes his advice when it comes “the state of the comic book movie.”