For all his success, critical acclaim, and devoted fan base, Joss Whedon still has his fair share of detractors. On occasion, these haters may present a valid criticism of Whedon and his work (which will be summarily dismissed and disregarded henceforth), but most of the time, they’re riding high on the train of spite and antagonism. They may say things like, “Joss Whedon fans are insufferable,” “Whedonites worship anything Whedon does, even if it’s crap,” or “Whedonites can’t accept that Whedon is a better writer than director, he’s not a cinematic genius of the magnitude of Kubrick or Spielberg, and his attempts don’t hit every time, whether it’s a storytelling choice or a shot at feminism.” This article is an obstinate fist right in their hate-scowls, so buckle up for an overzealous, hyperbolic adventure into the very real virtues of the unparalleled brilliance that is Joss Whedon.
These are the things that make Joss Whedon great:
1. HE IS A TOTAL NERD
Even before Whedon became known for the unmitigated masterpiece that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the television show, not the movie), he was a fan of comics and nerdtastic creators like Ray Bradbury, James Cameron, and Rod Serling. One component of his signature style, especially in his television shows, is the ability to deftly move through different tones and genres, paying homage to the things that have inspired him, from westerns to horror films to musicals. His unique brand of paying tribute also includes direct references inserted into dialogue. Like a meta hipster, he was doing this before the practice was so ubiquitous in mainstream movies and television.
Whedon is a staple of Comic-Con and other nerd conventions. His speeches are always anticipated as he tends to drift from entertainment to philosophy to politics and more. There’s no way to know what topics will be broached with Whedon. Part of what makes Whedon such a captivating orator is his long and varied history with sci-fi and beloved nerd properties. In addition to his better known contributions (pretty much everyone is familiar with his work on Buffy, The Avengers, and Firefly), Whedon also performed writing duties on Speed, Waterworld, Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection, Titan A.E., and X-Men, among others. He has also doubled back to work on the main source of nerd culture, which is comic books. Whedon has written for Astonishing X-Men, Runaways, and Captain America: Sam Wilson for Marvel and Superman/Batman for DC.
It takes a true fanboy to create the kind of beloved material that Whedon has. His understanding of the characters is what gave Avengers fans the perfect first meeting between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, the Stark/Banner bromance, and the brilliant evolution of J.A.R.V.I.S. into Vision.
2. HE HAS AN UNCANNY ABILITY TO BALANCE PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIAL COMMENTARY WITH ACTION, COMEDY, AND DRAMA
It’s obvious that Whedon is almost equally adept at creating jaw-dropping action sequences, laugh-out-loud comedic scenes, and scenes that make you curl up into a little ball of sobs and drool. The thing that really separates Whedon from other directors is his ability to explore more sophisticated themes in his work. He tends to explore things like existentialism, anti-authoritarianism, sacrifice, misogyny, and feminism. Scratching at these deeper aspects of human existence allows the audience to have an even stronger connection, not just with the characters themselves, but with the piece as a whole.
Buffy obviously explored a lot of Whedon’s preferred topics of feminism, loss, sacrifice, and maturation, among others. Dollhouse, in particular, was able to cleverly explore themes of consent and bodily autonomy in a way that has rarely been done, save for a few shows like Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones. Firefly and the Avengers movies feature refreshing platonic boy/girl relationships that you seldom see in media. While all of Whedon’s work has deeper philosophical implications, his crowning achievement may be the prophetic, matter-of-fact exchange between Ultron and Vision dropped right in the middle of the epitome of a big budget summer blockbuster movie called Avengers: Age of Ultron–
VISION: Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be, but there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.
ULTRON: They’re doomed.
VISION: Yes. But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It’s a privilege to be among them.
3. HE’S A FANTASTIC WRITER AND DIRECTOR
This has been touched on a bit earlier in this article, but Whedon gets to the heart of the matter like few creatives can. He understands his characters and what makes them tick. He allows them to do the stupid things that everyone does when they have lapses in judgement. He lets them get them get hurt and destroyed and rebuilt and reassembled and allows his audience to tag along on the heart-wrenching journey. One of the tools that allows him to do this is an innate understanding of language. Hie dialogue is unparalleled in its ability to convey so much emotion and meaning, while being clever and sounding authentic all at the same time.
As a writer, Whedon has altered modern English. Very few writers are able to contribute to the cultural evolution of society on such a large scale. Syntactic choices that are made everyday by English-speakers all over the world can be traced back to Whedon and what has been dubbed Buffy Speak. Creating an elliptical comment or question by following a word or phrase with “much” was popularized by Whedon. Adding suffixes to unexpected words is another staple of Buffy Speak, as is shifting usage of words from nouns to adjectives or verbs to nouns. There are numerous other examples. It’s hard to say exactly how big of an impact Whedon has had on society, even on people who may have no idea who he is.
Whedon may get knocked as a director for not being as technically proficient as a Spielberg or a Kubrick or even a character-deaf Bay, but he is consistent, critically and audience-wise. He is more than capable of telling the story that needs to be told and almost every project he tackles connects with so many people on a personal level that it achieves cult status in addition to whatever critical and box office acclaim it may garner. How many TV shows get cancelled after one season and go on to get a movie, because of fan adoration (Firefly and Serenity)? They say it’s better to burn out than fade away, but what about just staying at a steady simmer? While other directors are blowing audiences away with movies like The Matrix, District 9, or The Sixth Sense and then going on to other movies that are… less impressive, Whedon finds an ecstatic following for almost every project he does.
4. HIS PROJECTS ARE THE BOMB
Every single project that Whedon has had any control over has either been a creative masterpiece and/or a financial success. Every one. Very few writers or directors can say that. As was covered before, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a phenomenal show by any measurement and penetrated the zeitgeist as very few shows do. Its spin-off Angel was a success in its own right, running for five seasons and delighting fans. With Firefly, Whedon somehow managed to capture lightning in a bottle yet again by creating another enduring cult classic that still has devoted fans almost fifteen years later. Dollhouse is perhaps his most underrated work. It ran for only two seasons and got a mixed response from critics, but it was good. If you want to say otherwise, you can just exit this gorram article right now. It was good. Whedon’s final television offering may not be his strongest, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had some incredible moments as the show has evolved from something of an episodic procedural to a sprawling epic exploring the Inhuman aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Season four seems set to shake things up again as it will introduce Ghost Rider to the MCU, which is exciting for a show that benefits so much from change. As per usual with a Whedon creation, the characters are easy to fall in love with and want to follow. At this point, the shining achievement crafted from pure beauty that is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog has to be mentioned. Dr. Horrible was a three episode web series starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion. Everyone who has ever seen it has declared it to be one of the best things they’ve ever experienced.
On the cinema side, Whedon obviously knocked it out of the park with The Avengers and just slightly less so with Age of Ultron. Even Whedon has expressed his understandable disappointment with Age of Ultron, but it was still a solid superhero movie. One of the best among movies that weren’t directed by Bryan Singer, Christopher Nolan, James Gunn, or the Russo brothers. If the weakest component of your portfolio is Age of Ultron, then you’re sitting pretty. Moving on. The Cabin in the Woods wasn’t directed by Whedon, but he produced it and co-wrote it with his long-time associate Drew Goddard, who did direct it. Cabin in the Woods is a hilarious, brilliant feat of cinema. It marries horror and satire and comedy, serving as far more than a horror film. It is sophisticated commentary on the genre, movies in general, and society as a whole. It is one of the most enjoyable experiences one can have watching a movie; it is so damn good. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and go find it right now. Even Whedon’s more intimate work has gotten critical acclaim. His adaptation of Shakespeare‘s Much Ado About Nothing was a labor of love filmed over twelve days with a cast of his friends in a house his wife built. It has been a hit among fans and critics alike, receiving great reviews. Even In Your Eyes was a creative masterstroke according to the seven people who saw it.
In summary, it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Joss Whedon is one of the greatest creative forces alive and if you disagree with that then you’re obviously an unimaginative troglodyte, who kicks puppies.