Leave Joss Alone! An Open Letter to the People of 2015

Let’s talk about stock futures. No, not that kind.

As a meganerd, I still find the idea of a “comic book genre” enormously depressing — strictly from a creative standpoint, and yes, even as I continue to fuel the ever-burning fire by writing about them. Hypocrisy aside, let me take this as a chance to tell the people of 2015 to leave Joss Whedon alone!

But wherefore the overreaction? 2012 is the Age o’ Whedon after all. He’s getting a shot at a brand new TV pilot; studios are suddenly eager to slap his name on producer’s creds; he’s even got a ballsy, out-of-the-box Shakespeare adaptation with his own wheelhouse actors; and don’t forget Whedon’s return to helm Avengers highly-anticipated sequel in 2015. But would you be surprised to hear this sudden confidence in a director is nothing new? Because it isn’t.

Just ask Christopher Nolan.

Given their respective summer successes, I’ll invite the comparison between Avengers and Dark Knight because Nolan and Whedon share a strong career parallel. Nolan makes an atomic butt ton of cash in 2008; Warner Brothers grants him free reign on an expensive pet project (Inception) as an iffy handshake agreement to pretend it was a Batman trilogy all along; and Nolan becomes prolific enough for top tier producer’s credits, too, both on his ex-cinematographer’s pet project as well as some little Superman reboot, and more will surely come. In hindsight, 2008 was a very good year to Mister Nolan. 2012? Not so much.

Yes, Dark Knight Rises will likely be the year’s second highest grossing film, however that’s a small part of a bigger picture. Stock in gritty superheroes is down while light-hearted fun continues to sky-rocket. Look no further than Marvel Studios’ lineup for the next three years:

  • Iron Man 3 – dir. Shane Black (see: Lethal Weapon franchise, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
  • Thor: The Dark World – dir. Alan Taylor (see: Sex & the CityBored to Death)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier – dir. Joe and Anthony Russo (see: CommunityHappy Endings)
  • Ant-Man – dir. Edgar Wright (see: duh)

Every confirmed director on Marvel’s payroll has experience with comedy. Behold, People of 2015, because this is the new era of the “comic book” genre, like it or not. I do, for the most part. This is also a new era of director cults. Nolan’s out, and Joss is in. Sampling any number of Dark Knight Rises reviews reveals a strange desire to take down the mystique of an impossibly overhyped summer blockbuster. I found the film fantastic, but not perfect, and I say that as an admitted Nolan addict. What followed in its release was a wave of almost covert criticism, 8/10 reviews with laundry lists of complaints. Opinion is opinion but let’s keep a balance here, or at least ditch the letter grades. There was simply no way Rises would meet expectations for many.

Now, sampling any number of Avengers reviews reveals a different majority opinion — call it a verbalized sigh of relief. Like 2008’s Dark Knight, Earth’s Mightiest were revolutionary for their complete tonal facelift. For crying out loud, we got to experience a fully-realized comic book melting pot behind dollar store Iron Man masks and Cap shields. Well, maybe not all of us. The Avengers dazzled in a way that will once again shape the course of comic book movies, and audiences, just like with Batman, are going to expect that same dazzle and revolution in three years.

Brace for the disappointment now.

Take an expert at his word when he tells you pessimism is a terrible life guide, but history has already shown how this Avengers hype goes down, sometimes in violently dramatic ways.

Whether it takes six films or three, the polished statue eventually cracks, and some of that blame falls on us. Look no further than a YouTube trailer for The Prestige and try not to spit-take at the ‘Nolan the greatest director of alltime!!’ comments with their 237 thumbs. Nolan’s rising 2008 stock was a great thing. If even one action fan left Inception and looked into creatives influences on its director — the Stanley Kubricks and the David Leans — then that film succeeded twice as much.  That’s Nolan’s value, but it’s important not to get lazy. Or ahem, it’s important not to stay lazy.

‘Joss is WAAAYY betta than boring nolen LOLZ.’ It’s easy to look like an amazing director with only three features under a twenty+ year career belt. I’d like to see Buffy at some point, and I enjoy Firefly even if its squandered potential gives it a bit of an unfair free pass, but Whedon still has a lot to prove. And yet, he already deserves mounds of credit for appreciating strong, complex female characters and a desire to subvert genre conventions.

People of 2015, anticipation is a good thing, maybe the best of things. I’ll be defending Joss Whedon from the likes of you if The Avengers 2 turns out to be ‘only pretty damn solid.’ So please, lets not get carried away. For Mr. Whedon’s sake?

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