I don’t know anything about comics. I couldn’t tell you which big, muscley guy is from DC or Marvel; I couldn’t tell you what the supposed science is behind the spider that bit the guy that turned into the Hulk that wears the iron mask. None of it. I know there are superheroes, and sometimes they run around with superhoes. I know there’s a lot of fighting, a fair few secret identities, and people sometimes rip their clothes off.
I don’t know anything about comics, but I do know a thing or six thousand about Joss Whedon. That was the thing that was so exciting about going in to see The Avengers: It was Joss Whedon with a budget. All those years of femme fatales, vampire brawls, space chasing, and, lest we forget, no small number of apocalypses (apocalypsi? Apocalypseseseses?) were going to pay off in a big way in the anything’s-possible, ink-and-pen, comic world. Yet, if you’re a Whedon fan you also know this: even a big budget (and the freedom to be as geeky as only he knows how to be) will not take the man from his most holy storytelling conventions.
And so, we present: the most Whedony things about The Avengers:
THIS WILL BE FULL OF SPOILERS. AVERT YOUR EYES.
1. Beware the woman with the pointy stick:
Scarlett Johnansson wasn’t going to spend half the film being inferior to the muscle-bound showoffs if it weren’t for a couple of kickassery scenes. In one, she played Buffy with a male Katniss-gone-Rambo; in another, she got the scythe of doom and discovered it slices, dices, and makes julienne energy fields. Double points if you caught her incredible found-object ability with her opening-scene chair, and it recalled the opening of Buffy Episode 100. (Yes. I’m that kind of Buffy nerd.)
2. A big speech means a big beat-down:
When the Big Bad starts to bloviate, that’s when Whedon sends in a wheat thresher: this time, in the form of the Hulk beating Loki to a catatonic pulp. There’s something so inherently satisfying about that; when you take a break from evildoing to proclaim how good you are at doing evil, it rarely ends well. Just ask Voldemort.
3. Never let sentiment get in the way of a good joke:
Don’t linger on the sap: move along to the funny. That’s a hardline Whedonism. Phil commits a last act of bravery? Give him a brave quip (this will endear him to us all the more before he bites the big cheese). Tony Stark, accused of being unwilling to sacrifice himself, saves the city and very nearly dies? Wake him up with a hilariously cheap Hulk joke, followed by some jabs about shawarma. The killer part of this Whedon rule is that it extends the sentiment further than purposefully lingering on it ever could. Bless our little plucky heroes, who can make jokes while the world goes to hell in a Hot Pocket!
4. People without superpowers are Big Damn Heroes:
Wash. Giles. Xander. That military guy from Dollhouse. Never put all your faith in the guys with the toys, in a Whedon anything. They will do the heavy lifting, sure, but always with key help from one poor shluck who was either used to playing second fiddle or is the only one in the room without supernatural abilities. This time it was Phil. Poor Phil with his Captain America cards and his cello, managing to blast Loki even as he lay dying. Good old Phil, who was just one of the regular people. Anyone else couldn’t help but think, “Dude! You killed Agent Casper!”? Or is that just the West Wing nerds among us?
5. Watch out for the Goth makeup:
Loki? Evil Willow? Just saying.
6. When in doubt, rip a hole in the sky:
It’s so handy, tearing a hole in space: an uncountable number of evil jerks can stream through a tiny hole in the sky. You don’t have to know how many are out there: they are coming through a hole in the sky and messing stuff up. See, again, Buffy Episode 100. Someone is going to have to go through that hole. It’s got to have blood. I mean, Tony Stark. And there’s a key – I mean a ball – no, a box – no, a scythe with a ball – of energy that opens and closes it.
7. First one to the Hero Shot wins:
Whedon is amazing at setting up and delivering that long-pan, circle-around, glory shot of the heroes. They were all over Firefly. They were in most of the opening sequences for Buffy. Sometimes it’s one slow shot on one hero looking badass; sometimes it’s the group ranged together looking collectively smug. In The Avengers our heroes stand back to back on the streets of Manhattan, finally a group, all in ready position and gloriously unattacked for the full three seconds it takes the camera to circle them. In my theater it elicited one of the night’s biggest reactions. See: Buffy Ep. 1.12, 2.1; Firefly 1.1.
8. It is rarely, in the end, about brute force:
Even when Hulk Smashes, the thing that does the thing that closes the thing that saves everyone from the thing, is usually one person doing something quite focused and small. Buffy jumping into the portal, even after beating a god bloody. Xander talking to Willow. Buffy blowing up the whole town of Sunny- okay, well, at the end of times, sometimes it is okay to be about brute force. Oh, and by the way: the Joss Whedon-created Town-Eating Crater Count is now at two.
9. The evil council of overlords is EVIL:
The Watchers, the Alliance, the Freaky, Misogynisty, Dollhouse Dudes: the Whedon heroes are always under the thumb of some shadowy beasties, all straight-haired, suited, and stodgy. They are so clearly TEH EVIL that any insurrection against them feels like a righteous plate of goodness. In Buffy they were blown to ash. In Firefly they were soundly defeated when the rebel forces regathered under the direction of Malcolm Reynolds and- no, wait. That’s just my fantasy world acting up again. In Dollhouse… well, no one knows what really happened in Dollhouse. Here, in The Avengers, they got a stern talking to by a one-eyed man. Same deal.
10. Things are wide open for a sequel.
And we want one.
So get going.