An unofficial leader of the nerd realm, Joss Whedon has established himself as a prolific and venerated screenwriter on television with the dynamic duo of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” — as well as the short-lived but ever-loved “Firefly” — and on the big screen with cult favorite “Serenity” and the more recent, self-aware “Cabin in the Woods.” It’s fitting that a man with the super skills of Whedon has stepped up to write and direct Marvel’s “The Avengers,” the much-anticipated culmination of four years of box-office-exploding Marvel superhero movies.
In a recent conference call in which The Michigan Daily participated, Whedon explained that this is not the first time he has had to work with pre-existing characters and stories, as he worked on an “X-Men” movie and wrote one of the “Alien” installments.
“Even on a TV show, even if you’re the one who established them every time you write a script, you’re dealing with an established universe,” Whedon said. “So it’s not hard for me to fall into the cadences of these people. in fact, it’s a lot easier when you’ve already seen them being acted in the other movies.”
In “The Avengers,” S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, “Pulp Fiction”) has to bring together a bunch of heroes who all have superhuman powers and superhuman egos. Having to direct a cast made of a slew of acclaimed and talented actors, Whedon’s job as director was similar.
“I felt very much like Nick Fury,” Whedon said. “He’s the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., literally, and that puts him at a remove from everybody, even if he likes them … I’m not nearly as intelligent or manipulative as Nick, and I didn’t have as many problems because my actors actually wanted to be together. they enjoy each other.”
Whedon explained that he differs from Nick because he never — at least he hopes — put his actors in harm’s way as Nick has to do with his team.
“You do feel that responsibility that you’ve gotta get all of these people to give their best,” Whedon said. “You know, for him it’s in battle and for me it’s when we’re rolling to really, you know, come up with their best stuff and play off each other as well as possible. and you have a great responsibility to service them with your camera at the same time. so I definitely felt some of the pressure, but I can see out of my left eye.”
Because the film had such a large cast, Whedon noted that unfortunately not every pairing got screen-time. he had difficulty choosing a favorite combination of characters.
“I love the Bruce Banner-Tony Stark relationship,” Whedon explained. “Bruce Banner’s the first guy Tony Stark’s come across really who operates on his level intellectually, who isn’t a villain. … Tony’s particular attitude about the Hulk is endearing and cool. but I also love Tony and Steve and how much they can’t stand each other. and I’m very invested in Natasha and Hawkeye and their deep, deep friendship, so … oh, I love them all.”
In explaining how he became attached to the project, Whedon said he has known Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige for a while and has been reading comics for even longer.
“I think Marvel has a great nose for a director who has a passionate vision, who’s not famous for turning out big-budget hits, but will bring something a little bit fresh to the concept of a hero movie, and it’s one of the things that I respect the most about them … it just seemed like a good fit,” he said.
Though the characters and cast will be familiar to moviegoers, Whedon said his directorial style is distinct and that his film won’t necessarily look like the other Marvel movies that preceded it.
“There’s no way you could make a movie that looked like a Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier movie,” Whedon said. “I do think, you know, the DNA of the Marvel movie begins with ‘Iron Man,’ and that’s very grounded in the real.
When Joss Whedon introduced The Cabin in the Woods to a rowdy, friendly, huge crowd at the Paramount Theater on the opening night of the South by Southwest Film Festival, he explained that one of the challenges of marketing the film is that you really can’t say anything about what happens in it. and he begged everyone in the audience not to say anything about what happens in it, either.
It was a tall order for 1,200 screaming festival attendees who had waited in sometimes heavy rain in a line that more than circled the block. They were there for Whedon — as the excited response to his appearance on stage suggested — and for Drew Goddard, who directed Cabin and previously wrote Cloverfield.
Now, when you hear that Whedon says you’re supposed to be surprised by what happens in the film, you might be a little skeptical, or you might write it off as buzz manufacturing, because it looks from the trailers like you kind of know what happens in it. Friends at a creepy cabin, something wicked this way comes, that sort of thing. Perhaps a little meta-commentary in the Scream vein, perhaps a few tweaks to the formula, but you basically know the story, right? Not at all. I assure you that when Whedon tells you that the marketing does not even explain what the movie is about, he is not lying. The trailer is giving you a formula movie; The Cabin in the Woods is basically another story entirely, which serves to upend that formula — making fun of it, criticizing it, analyzing it, and having a really, really good time.
I’m not going to tell you how that’s accomplished either, not as a favor to the filmmakers, but because I’m already sad that by the time it opens in April, few of you will probably have the opportunity to see the film knowing as little about it as we did last night, and I don’t want to make that worse.
The formula portion of the film — the part you already know about — goes like this: A pretty young woman (Kristen Connolly) goes off for a weekend trip with four friends. They are, as the rules of the genre provide, her more adventurous, sexy friend who’s always telling her to loosen up (Anna Hutchison); the attractive guy she’s just met (Jesse Williams); her friend’s big, affable, athletic boyfriend (Chris Hemsworth); and the group’s wisecracking pothead pal (Fran Kranz). They head out to somebody’s cousin’s cabin. They even take a big RV that kids like this would almost definitely never take anywhere, but that’s what this kind of movie calls for, so that’s what you get. They meet an unfriendly local. Weird things begin to happen.
You have seen this movie, but you have not seen this movie.
For one thing, it also stars Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. That’s right: Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. What are Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins doing in this, right? exactly. I don’t even want to tell you what they do or who they’re playing (I can’t! I really can’t! you will have less fun if I do!), but they are both predictably terrific and perhaps unpredictably funny.
Cabin is sort of a … horror-thriller-comedy-creepfest, where the horror elements are both legitimately scary and legitimately witty, but there’s also a strong thread of commentary about what has become of the horror/thriller genre. It’s well-known that Whedon created the character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in response to his frustration with the stereotypical helpless cheerleader in peril; this is an extension of that work. He and Goddard have done a fine job of making a scary, armrest-grabbing thriller while also making a comedy that provokes howling laughter and also making one that asks questions: What always happens in our horror films? why those particular elements? What do they contain that we want to see? Is this the best we can do?
I have often told people that popular entertainment can be spoken of intelligently just like anything else, but you have to know it, just like anything else, and if you reflexively hate it and therefore don’t touch it, you don’t know it. To do what these guys are doing, you have to know genre film so well and have given it so much thought that you can crawl inside it and start to take it apart, to question why it’s built as it is, to make an argument from it.
Horror movies, like the one the trailers make The Cabin in the Woods out to be, bring in enormous amounts of money. They are watched by huge numbers of people. They are a huge part of American film culture, for good or for ill. and what’s impressive about The Cabin in the Woods is that it recognizes what’s exhilarating and fun about that genre and represents an exceptionally good example of it — the wisecracking pothead really is about 50 times as funny as that stock character generally is, to give just one example — but it also serves up a dollop of cultural criticism.
Now, with all that said, The Cabin in the Woods is not school. The SXSW crowd — admittedly primed and excited and eager for the film to be good — was not studying. They were whooping, cheering, laughing, gasping and, from all appearances, generally enormously entertained. I think I can say, without ruining anything for you, that there is a sequence late in the film that is so audacious, so absolutely crazypants bonkers funny and so fully and passionately realized that I was laughing, squirming and having the feeling that is so rare to have in a positive way while watching commercial American films: “I cannot believe this.”
It’s gory and bloody, it’s funny and creepy and really sharply written. there are moments of convergence with films from The Conversation to Heathers. It’s very good. But I can’t tell you what happens in it.