What Joss Whedon’s Departure Means for the Marvel Universe

Joss Whedon

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe can be described as a lot of things by critics and supporters alike. It’s carefully constructed so that each piece is consistent with the others. It’s expansive in its reach across film, network TV, and streaming services. More than either of those things, it’s been home to some of the most talented writers and directors in Hollywood, including the likes of Joss Whedon, Joe and Anthony Russo, James Gunn, and Jon Favreau. It hasn’t been a creative paradise for everyone though, as indicated by the messy departure of guys like Favreau (Iron Man) and Edgar Wright (Ant-Man). Joss Whedon was the latest to join the ranks of the recently departed.

For all intents and purposes, it’s not exactly a fun group to be a part of. Wright left Ant-Man after years of work on the project, after butting heads with Marvel over the creative direction of the movie. Favreau’s experience making Iron Man 2 saw the studio push the film into production well before the story was ready, in the interest of rushing it out before the first Avengers movie. There’s a trail of broken bodies left behind by the MCU that’s hard to ignore, making it that much more unsettling to see Joss Whedon exit in a similar fashion.

What we know so far, per a lengthy Q&A with Oxford Union: Joss Whedon’s final movie in the MCU was Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron ultimately was the straw that broke the camel’s back, with Marvel having taken over Whedon’s entire life as a writer and director. As he put it himself, “I made a completely clean break, not because we had a falling out, just because I was like, ‘I can’t.'” It’s a difficult position to be in for any director, and ultimately Whedon had to make the best decision for his own sanity and happiness.

[Update, 4/19/16: Added comments that Whedon made at Tribeca Film Festival.] Recent comments made by Joss Whedon suggest that he may not be completely opposed to doing another Marvel movie in the future. After noting during a Q&A session that he was “very proud of” Age of Ultron, Whedon later told Deadline that he was still open to doing Marvel projects and hoped that Marvel was too.

All this leaves something of a vacuum in the MCU that we have yet to see filled. Whedon’s role within Marvel extended far beyond directing the Avengers films, consulting on each individual film from the studio, weighing in heavily on ABC’s Agents of SHIELD (written and produced by his brother, Jed), and framing the entirety of the franchise around his touchpoint movies. His departure leaves some large shoes to fill, with no real indication as to who will be asked to step up in his place.

As of now, the smart money seems to be on Joe and Anthony Russo — the directors behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the upcoming two-part Infinity War saga — as the mostly likely candidates. The Russo brothers have shown a solid touch for the comic book genre, blending the oddball sense of humor they displayed working on Community and Arrested Development with skilled storytelling. The only question is whether they’ll want to step up into a role that left Joss Whedon so exhausted, that he stepped away from Hollywood entirely for the foreseeable future.

The alternative to putting the Russos in charge would be a decidedly more Marvel-esque approach: having the studio higher-ups assume the control they’ve always wanted. This would in essence make it so no single writer or director has the level of control Whedon had during his run, affording even more power to Marvel in its construction of the MCU. It’s obviously not the most writer-friendly approach, but it would carry the added benefit of dropping all pretenses in favor of a more straightforward running of the ship. Whatever they end up deciding though, it’s clear the MCU won’t ever be quite the same without Joss Whedon at the helm.

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