"Well, there’s all sorts," said of the secret to successfully turning a storied comic mythology into a coherent movie. "But for me, it’s capturing the essence of the comic and being true to what’s wonderful about it while remembering that it’s a movie and not a comic. I think Spider-Man, the first one particularly, really figured out the formula of, 'Oh, tell the story that they told in the comic.' It was compelling. That’s why it’s iconic. But, at the same time, they did certain things that only a movie can do, that were in the vein of the comic. You see things like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where they just throw out the comic, or Watchmen, where they do it frame for frame, and neither of them work. You have to get the spirit of the thing, and then step away from that and create something cinematic and new."
"Honestly, it’s enormously difficult to take very disparate characters and make them work," he explained when asked why Warner Bros has yet to mount a similar Justice League movie. "And DC has a harder time with it than Marvel because their characters are from a bygone era, where characters were bigger than we were. They’ve amended that, but Marvel really cracked the code, in terms of, 'They’re just like us.' A dose of that veracity that Marvel really started with Iron Man is what you need to use as your base.
Asked what the most exciting and intimidating elements of this film were, the characteristically verbose Whedon replied, "I think the exciting thing speaks for itself. That bunch of characters, that bunch of actors playing them, that much money is a no-brainer. The hardest part is and always will be structure. How do you put that together? How do you make everybody shine? How do you let the audience’s identification drift from person to person without making them feel like they’re not involved. It’s a very complex structure. It’s not necessarily particularly ornate or original, but it had to be right and it had to be earned, from moment to moment, and that’s exhausting. That was still going on in the editing room, after we shot it."
"It’s the same problem I had with Serenity, and swore I’d never have again," he explained of reintroducing each character and ensuring they all have a purpose in the story. "Tracking the information is more difficult because it’s not as much fun as tracking the emotion of the thing. You have to know how much people need to know because some people will come in knowing everything and you don’t want to tell them too much, and some people will come in knowing nothing and you don’t even want to tell them too much. You want some things to be inferred. It’s fun to see a movie that has texture beyond what you understand. When I watched Wall Street, I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I was very compelled by it. It clearly mattered a lot. If I watch any film about sports, I feel the same way. If you feel that there is a life behind the life, outside the frame, you feel good about it. You don’t necessarily have to lay everything out, but organizing that is and was the most exhausting part of the film. The stuff between the characters is just booze and candy, all day."
The film's story finds the titular superteam coming together in order to combat an extraterrestrial army called to invade Earth by Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, reprising his role from Thor. The identity of the alien race has been the subject of much speculation, rumors, denials, and conjecture. Whedon singled out the bad guys and addressed the consistent rumors that it would be the Skrulls, saying, "The alien race are the Chitauri, or a version of them, because they are not one of the key races and they don’t have a storied history. That wasn’t the point. I know this debate will go on, long after I’m dead. I’ll say it’s the Kree-Skrull race and really make everybody angry."
Watch for spoilers in this next paragraph, but if you're okay with a small surprise being revealed, read on. The need to utilize an alien army without the burden of an especially elaborate history speaks to the potential of The Avengers to become overstuffed. That's an obvious reason not to carry over supporting characters from the individual franchises. "My first instinct was not to have anybody from any of them," Whedon explained. "Partially because you need to separate the characters from their support systems, in order to create the isolation that you needed for a team. That way, you can put them in new environments, and also, when they go back to their own movies, they’ll have something that The Avengers didn’t have. I didn’t want to suck juice out of all the sequels that are going to be coming up. But, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was really Robert’s thing. He pushed hard. He didn’t want to be crazy, alone guy. He wanted to be crazy, in-a-relationship guy. He really thought Gwyneth would bring something great to the table, and we all thought so as well, but he’s the one who convinced her to come do it. That made sense because he’s been through two movies, he’s had more of a journey, and he is in more of a stable place, but he can still be that and be completely isolated from the world, in his giant tower that he built and owns."
Once The Avengers was actually in production, seemingly every member of the cast and crew had a moment when the endeavor seemed suddenly real and exciting. "Mine is super-boring," Whedon shared. "But people kept asking me, 'Are you excited that you’re directing this movie?' And I kept saying, 'I will be. I don’t feel things necessarily in the moment. It will happen.' We were in the lab when almost all of The Avengers get together for the first time, and I was giving Chris Evans a piece of direction. I walked through the hall and I stopped and I said to the producers, 'It happened. I’ll tell you later.' That was the moment it just flooded over me and I was like, 'Oh, that’s nice. Excitement.' That was it. Told you it was dull!"
Given the nature of this huge event movie, it was essential that the product itself not be dull. Creating an appropriately spectacular summer movie could not come at the expense of story and character, Whedon said, explaining, "The most important thing, for me, was that it not be
spectacle for its own sake. It needs to be earned, believable and
understandable, visually. You needed to know exactly where things were,
what was at stake, who had to get where from where and how, and what was in
their way. I tend to be very pedantic about that. I don’t just want
a blur of things crashing around. I want to know how everybody is
doing. Sometimes I would try to obey the laws of physics, and that would
actually just make for weaker footage. Eventually, I just had to give
myself up and realize that every time a car is hit by anything, it blows up and
flips over. A hamster could hit it, and it would blow up and flip
How did Whedon keep the film grounded, then? "You have to write something that you believe in," he said. "Captain America was my ground zero for this film. The idea of someone who had been in World War II, had seen people laying down their lives in the worst circumstances, in a world where the idea of community and the idea of a man being somebody who is part of something, as opposed to being isolated from, bigger than or more famous than it, it’s a very different concept of manhood, and the way that, in my opinion, it has devolved from Steve to Tony, is fascinating. Obviously, you’re not going to stand around and speechify too much – although, you will a little bit – the idea of the soldier, and the person who is willing to lay down their life, is very different than the idea of the superhero. Since I wanted to make, from the start, a war movie, I wanted to put these guys through more than they would be put through in a normal superhero movie, it was very important for me to build that concept and to have Tony reject that concept, on every level, so that, in the end, when he’s willing to make the sacrifice and lay himself down, you get where he’s come and how Steve affected him."
Put on your Rogue 3D Eyewear, because The Avengers arrives in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D this Friday, May 4th.