Just a few years ago, we weren't even sure if the Marvel Cinematic Universe laid out by mastermind Kevin Feige could work. Now it's not only working, but intensifying. It's a blockbuster juggernaut that's primed to deliver at least two movies a year for the forseeable future, and its success has spawned similarly ambitious universe plans over at Warner Bros., Sony and Fox. There are a lot of factors that drove this success, but Joss Whedon is inarguably one of them.
So far, Whedon's contributions to Marvel Studios include writing and directing its two biggest films, co-creating its first TV series and serving as a kind of guiding hand that helped steer the universe on the road from Avengers to Age of Ultron. Now Marvel's planning to take Earth's Mightiest Heroes to even greater heights with Infinity War, a two-part saga that will likely serve as both a culmination of everything Marvel's done so far and a launching pad for what's next. It's a massive project, and yesterday we heard that Whedon is likely not the man to helm it.
"I couldn't imagine doing this again. It's enormously hard, and it would be, by then, a good five years since I created anything that was completely my own. So it's very doubtful that I would take on the two-part Infinity War movie that would eat up the next four years of my life. I obviously still want to be a part of the Marvel Universe - I love these guys - but it ain't easy. This year has been more like running three shows than any year of my life. It is bonkers."
Whedon spoke similarly about exhaustion and wanting to create something new after he'd made The Avengers, and just like last time these Infinity War remarks were met with a particular kind of reaction from a particular kind of Whedon fan. Now, this reaction is rooted in loving what the guy does and wanting him to do more of it, so I don't want to call anyone out specifically, but tell me if this sounds familiar: "What's so hard about this? You get to make SUPERHERO MOVIES! That's so much fun and I love them and you're the only guy who can make them the way I like so don't go please just let this be a negotiating tactic so you can be richer I love you Joss please only do what I want you to do AND OH YEAH BRING BACK FIREFLY TOO IT'S THE BEST AHHHHHHH"
Ahem, sorry. Maybe I got a bit carried away there, but you get my drift. Some fans tend to react that way, and they tend to do it every time this particular man makes a career move. I suppose you could make the argument that it's the price someone like Whedon pays for getting to do what he does, and he's certainly not the only creator to face such reactions (George R.R. Martin knows a thing or two about fans trying to keep him on task), but as a fan of the guy myself, I find it exhausting and tedious. Joss Whedon says Firefly is probably never coming back, so someone asks about Doctor Horrible 2. He says he might not want to do another Avengers film, so someone asks about a Cabin in the Woods prequel. He says making Age of Ultron was hard, so someone says he shouldn't complain about being a big-shot Marvel director. It's hard to change the mind of a fan like that, but after hearing Whedon's remarks on his future with Marvel, I'm perfectly happy to see him leave the director's chair open for someone else.
For one thing, negotiating tactic or not, no one is lying when they say making a movie is hard. I have no doubt that Whedon's exhausted, and now he has to go back out and promote the movie to boot, so it would make sense if he wants to step away from this kind of work, if only for a while. And hey, didn't we start to love this dude in the first place because of all those original stories he told? Don't we throw around words like "groundbreaking" and "innovative" when we talk about Buffy and Firefly? Wouldn't you all like to see him given free rein to try for something like that again? I know I would.
Then there's the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, a universe that thrived in the past year not on Joss Whedon's steady presence, but on new filmmakers looking at the universe in new ways. The Russo Brothers have been entrusted with a huge chunk of Phase 3's storytelling thanks to their swagger-packed thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and James Gunn gets to further map out the Marvel cosmos after crushing Guardians of the Galaxy. Then there's Scott Derrickson, who's about to delve into the spookier side of Marvel with Doctor Strange. As I look ahead at the new projects Marvel's about to launch, at T'Challa and Carol Danvers and the Inhumans, I see an opportunity not to maintain the status quo, but to get more exciting filmmakers involved.
So, while it would be sad to see Joss Whedon leave the Marvel sandbox altogether, stepping aside would create a more exciting future for both him and Marvel. Comics have long thrived on a changing of the guard, on new voices taking on familiar characters, and if done right, comic-book movies will, too.