Black Widow, Star Wars or Terminator: what should Joss Whedon do next?

The Avengers director seems keen on a solo outing for Scarlett Johanssons karate-kicking ex-Soviet agent. But other franchises need his originality more

Joss Whedon may not have created the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that wildly ambitious tangle of interweaving superhero movies, but he certainly gave it much of its vim and verve. Rather like the outlandish technology featured in the cult film-makers creepy Dollhouse TV show, in which brainwashed human beings are imprinted with off-the-shelf personalities for the entertainment of rich clients, Whedon took an existing property and upgraded it to the next level.

The Iron Man movies benefited from Robert Downey Jrs knack for a charismatic one-liner way before The Avengers hit theatres. But Whedon made himself the master of laser-honed superhero badinage with the release of the 2012 debut for Earths mightiest heroes, setting a template for sharp and witty comic-book banter that the Russo brothers retained for this years Captain America: Civil War, and will no doubt revisit during the upcoming Infinity War movies.

In the wake of The Avengers $1.5bn blastoff at the global box office, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer briefly seemed to have been handed the keys to the Marvel universe. There were plans for him to direct several more movies, and the TV series Agents of Shield set off under the stewardship of his brother Jed (with Joss writing the opening episode). Yet Whedon has been candid about the struggles he faced getting follow-up Avengers: Age of Ultron into cinemas, signalling via a speech at the Oxford Union earlier this year that he was unlikely to be involved in future Marvel movies.

But hang on. Whedon now seems to be saying he might be up for an unexpected return, providing he gets to take charge of Scarlett Johansson in a long-mooted solo outing for karate-kicking, ex-Soviet hellcat Black Widow. With his history of pushing strong female characters to the fore, and the fact that Marvel hasnt yet announced a director, this seems like perfect synthesis. The leather-clad agent is already firmly ensconced as a key member of the Avengers, so the studio might be willing to give Whedon a little more free rein than it usually allows directors when introducing new heroes. And no one knows Natasha Romanoff better.

But if Whedon is ready to return to work, might other movie franchises need his help even more? In 2009, the film-maker offered to revamp Terminator if the owners of James Camerons once-great dystopian saga would agree to sell it to him for $10,000. Sadly, Whedons tongue-in-cheek query fell on deaf ears and we ended up getting last years completely pointless Terminator Genysis instead. The really bad news is that thanks to Chinese audiences, the saga might not yet have been lowered into molten steel for a final time.

The remarkable thing about 1984s Terminator and its 1991 sequel T2: Judgment Day is how grounded in reality each movie felt compared to the plasticky non-events that came later. Whedon is the only director (bar Cameron) capable of returning the franchise to its doom-laden blue-collar humanist-feminist roots, and has even gone on record to declare his undying love for cancelled TV spin-off Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

But what about Star Wars, currently expanding faster than Jabba the Huts waistline? Whedon is the only film-maker other than George Lucas to have invented his very own space opera galaxy, filled with enough planets, creeds and spaceships to fill a dozen movies, if only the studios had backed him. Fans of the excellent TV series Firefly, and its big-screen spin-off Serenity, may have almost given up on the prospect of more material. It beggars belief that Disney hasnt had employees parked outside Whedons home for the past few years tapping up the one guy who really knows about this stuff to make his first trip to a galaxy far, far away.

JJ Abrams did a fabulous job of returning Star Wars to its knockabout planetary romance roots with The Force Awakens. But Whedon is an original thinker, with the cosmic chops to send the long-running saga successfully into radical new territory.

It would also be fascinating to see what the cult director turned Hollywood powerhouse might do with poisonous little scream queen Harley Quinn. Whedon once spent years trying and failing to convince Warner Bros to greenlight his Wonder Woman movie, only to see it languish in development hell. But the studio is now embarked on an ambitious slate of 10 comic-book movies between now and 2020, as it vies to play catchup with Marvel. And there has been talk of a spin-off for The Jokers favourite squeeze if David Ayers Suicide Squad turns out to be the full-throttle Day-Glo supervillain rave-up weve been led to expect.

Why not give the movie to a pop culture hero who has always pushed female empowerment and last year declared himself more than up for directing a DC movie provided Warner let him throw in a few jokes? After all, I hear the studio is coming around to the idea that brooding heroes are yesterdays news, and a Whedon-led Quinn outing might easily manifest as the first $1bn female-fronted comic book flick.

On the other hand, perhaps in a cultural zeitgeist of ever increasing sequels, prequels, reboots and rehashes, we should be celebrating the fact that Whedon appears to have stepped off the studio hamster wheel. Maybe, just maybe, hes working on something shock, horror! entirely original to blow the whole shebang wide open.

In the meantime, that Black Widow movie would do very nicely indeed. Are you listening, Mr Feige?

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/jul/26/joss-whedon-next-project-black-widow-star-wars-terminator

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