Director Joss Whedon Balances a Super Hero Spectacle in “Marvel’s The Avengers”

Marvel Studios provided this behind-the-scenes look at what it took for Director Joss Whedon to create “Marvel’s The Avengers.”  Continue reading for more details on the delicate balancing act required in assembling a film with so many popular Super Hero characters.  Click here for all the news, press releases, hi-res images, and trailers for “Marvel’s The Avengers.”

Director Joss Whedon on set, photo by Zade Rosenthal © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

“When we put the word out that we were looking for directors, Joss Whedon came in and was very interested,” recalls Marvel Studios’ President (and the film’s producer) Kevin Feige.  “I have known Joss since 2001 and I told him that one of the most important things with ‘The Avengers’ is it needs to stand alone and you need to structure it in a way so that people can watch the film without having seen any of the other Marvel films and get the story start to finish.”

Producer Kevin Feige Photo by: Marion Curtis © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


The producer continues, “The genius of Joss Whedon is that he can take these huge elements and find the balance, so the characters are never lost to the spectacle and visual effects.  We wanted the film to have amazing sets and incredible action, but we did not want the tone and humor to be trumped by the spectacular images on the screen.  What’s always been the most exciting to see is Tony Stark and Steve Rogers together and how Tony reacts to Thor and seeing Nick Fury on his own turf for the first time.  We wanted those relationship dynamics to be the real heart of the film and Joss was someone we felt could delve into the character development just as much as he could with the action in the film.”

Joss Whedon and Scarlett Johansson, Photo by: Zade Rosenthal. © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Serenity”) explains what piqued his interest: “I am a fan of what Marvel has established.  The films they have released are extremely informative, useful and fun, but when they first came to me, ‘Thor’ and ‘Captain America’ were not even close to being finished and I just felt like, ‘Okay, you have all these moving parts, but how can you possibly bring them together?’

Iron Man and Captain America © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


“Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor and Captain America don’t seem like they could co-­exist and ultimately that is what intrigued me and made me go, ‘This can be done and this should be done,’” continues Whedon.  “These people don’t belong together and wouldn’t get along, and as soon as that dynamic came into focus, I realized that I actually have something to say about these people.”

“We have been able to attract uniquely talented directors as well as the best film technicians from top to bottom, which  has resulted in mega-­event movies with compelling storylines and characters that audiences enjoy watching,” says Feige.  “We were able to pull this off again with ‘The Avengers’ by landing Joss Whedon, who is incredibly talented, and could not only direct the film but also develop a compelling story and screenplay.”

Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man) Photo by: Zade Rosenthal. © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


Actor Robert Downey Jr., who plays Tony Stark/Iron Man says, “Aside from casting, what Marvel does best is pick the right directors and it’s always an exciting announcement.  Writing the script for ‘The Avengers’ is much more precise because it’s a more complex piece of machinery, where you’re trying to interface eight characters and have them all make sense, all have arcs and get their day in the sun.”

“I’ve been able to spend time with all of the cast members while I was writing the screenplay, so they knew I was building  their  character from the ground up for them,” explains Whedon. “As we progressed, I would go to them and say, ‘Here are my ideas and this is how I think you should play it.  Is there something in particular you want to avoid?  Something you feel the character needs?  Wants?’ Every cast member had their input, to the degree that they wanted, so the script is very much a collaboration from the ground up and I think it helped set the tone right away.  My motto has always been ‘I know exactly what I want and if you tell me what you want, we can usually do both.’”

Director Joss Whedon at "Marvel's The Avengers" World Premiere on April 11, 2012


For the filmmakers, developing the screenplay brought on a new challenge as they would have to rely more heavily on the Marvel cinematic universe than the Marvel Comic universe which consisted of 500 “Avengers” issues over the last 48 years.

My visual style as a director comes from comic books.  My understanding of visual storytelling comes from panel art, which I was reading more voraciously than I was watching movies for most of my childhood.“ —Joss Whedon, Director

“It was a very unique challenge in figuring out what material to adapt into the screenplay for ‘The Avengers’ explains executive producer Jeremy Latcham.  “For all of the previous films, we could look at the comics for a jumping off point, but with ‘The Avengers’ we said ‘Let’s see what we’ve established in our previous films.’  It’s really about, ‘How do we pay off this cinematic universe that we’ve established?  How do we give fans of the movies what they want while still honoring and giving fans of the comics what they want as well?’”

© 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


“Marvel had a very clear idea of what they wanted in the screenplay and the structure in which it played out,” says Whedon.  “That was really great for me because it gave me something to build off of and the only thing I was interested in building was ‘how do we get there?’”

The director continues, “With spectacle, I believe you have to create it yourself so it fits into the framework.  I don’t think you can just drop it in as you need it.  I love creating action and I love being very specific about it.  The start of the process for me is ‘who are these people and how is it that they are dysfunctional?’  How hard is it for them to be with each other and how much does that save them from themselves?’”

Director Joss Whedon on set with Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) Photo by Zade Rosenthal © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


In the film, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury must assemble his team of Avengers when he discovers the world may be in great jeopardy.  Kevin Feige explains how S.H.I.E.L.D. is presented in the film: “Up to this point in the previous Marvel movies, S.H.I.E.L.D. has just been this shadowy organization that pops out occasionally to give some advice and goes back into hiding. In this film, you really see the world through the eyes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and for the first time, audiences will get to see this big organization that has a lot of resources, a lot of equipment and has been tasked with keeping the world safe.”

© 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


The  producer continues, “At the beginning of the film, we check in with them and they’re overseeing an experiment with the Cosmic Cube—also known as the Tesseract— which they don’t know much about.  So they’re working on this and something goes very, very wrong, which brings sources of evil into our world who begin to lay waste to them in such a way that it begs one question: If this big organization S.H.I.E.L.D can’t handle this, who can?  It’s at that point that Nick Fury realizes he’s got to pick up the phone and start building a team of Avengers.”

What Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. don’t count on is how hard it is to get a group of the greatest Super Heroes ever assembled to come together and work as a team.  “The events that happen in the first act of this film are so far-­reaching that Nick Fury realizes The Avengers must assemble despite what the World Security Council or other forces outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. might say,” explains executive producer Louis D’Esposito. “He knows it’s an extremely desperate measure, but he has to take it in order to save the world.  Unfortunately for Nick Fury, bringing his Super Hero team together is not as easy as it sounds.  He has the means to bring people together, whether it’s Agent Coulson or Natasha Romanoff, but the bigger issue is what happens when they all get in the same room together.”

Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff) © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


That dynamic would be one of many challenges for the filmmakers in developing a screenplay that revolves around eight characters, all of whom are larger than life, and four of whom already have their own individual franchises.  With so many characters and worlds colliding, keeping the story and script grounded in reality was vital for the filmmaking team.

“One of things we always try to infuse all Marvel films with is that there are consequences to actions and that they play out in the real world,” says D’Esposito.  “That’s why in the opening sequence of the film, it’s really important that audiences see that there are real-­world implications to the events that are unfolding and that Nick Fury is affected by them, because if you can set that up, then you can really buy off on the rest of the conceit.”

Nick in the house! Samuel L. Jackson at the Avengers red carpet world premiere on April 11, 2012


“The tones of all of our films are very different, but they all have those classic Marvel elements: wish fulfillment, action, adventure and escalated stakes,” says Feige.  “What I really loved about Joss Whedon’s script was all of these colorful personalities interacting together.  As impressive as some of the spectacle moments are, it’s those interplay moments in the script that will resonate with audiences because sometimes they’ll all agree with each other and other times they’ll disagree and not play so friendly in the sandbox.”

“When I finished writing the script, it really felt like an original story,” says director Whedon.  “You get to see how these characters come together to form The Avengers despite themselves and all of the forces trying to prevent it from happening.  Even with so many characters in the story, they all have their moments and scenes in which they get to shine.”

For all the latest news, press releases, images, trailers, cast Q&A, etc. from “Marvel’s The Avengers,” click here.  And to stay up to date on all the adventure movie news we’re watching, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.