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Five reasons Joss Whedon is your new god

In Joss we trust: Why Whedon has always been the smartest guy in town

Joss Whedon is Hollywood's pet nerd and perpetual underdog. The writer-director has made a 20-year career out of cult hits and misunderstood classics, earning an army of loyal fans but never the kind of money that turns studio heads. Until now.

All of a sudden, Joss Whedon looks very much like the king of all Hollywood, having produced and co-written critical hit horror The Cabin In The Woods (out this Friday) and written and directed The Avengers; the culmination of a superhero project spanning several movies and summers, not to mention a $220 million blockbuster in its own right. Here are five reasons why Joss Whedon is awesome and none of this is really a surprise.

1. He's the king of cult

Whedon is the ultimate nerd's nerd, specialising in comic books, fantasy and sci-fi and treating his stories and characters with a fan's-own sensitivity. As a result his audiences might be relatively small, but they are extraordinarily committed – Buffy The Vampire Slayer and spin-off Angel have inspired a raft of semi-professional productions and, when his sci-fi adventure series Firefly was cancelled, hardcore fans called Browncoats campaigned relentlessly for its reinstatement, eventually being rewarded with big-screen follow-up Serenity. This is why notoriously protective comic book fans – who can work themselves into a rage over the exact shape of Thor's helmet – were so relieved that the huge Avengers get-together was entrusted to Whedon.

2. He's a storyteller

As well as the things you might know him for – Buffy, Angel, Firefly – there's a ton of stuff you probably don't. Whedon has been Hollywood's go-to guy for storytelling fixes and script rewrites for years. Some of these are on the record, like his Oscar-nominated work on the first Toy Story and his screenplay for Alien Resurrection. But many more are uncredited, like his dialogue work on Keanu Reeves mega-hit Speed, or his story treatment for the first X-Men. While he'd not handled a front-line event movie himself until The Avengers, he's long been considered a premier craftsman of story and character.

3. He's a feminist

With the possible exception of James Cameron, you won't find a top-level filmmaker working today with a better sense of how hard women can kick ass, and a knack for telling awesome stories that don't rely on tired, big-armed cliches. From Buffy's Slayer to Firefly's lethal River Tam, the women are regularly the muscle in Whedon's stories, which is worth celebrating not just because it's right on, but because it gives them an unconventional freshness that regular shows headed by regular, lunk-headed Joes don't have.

4. He writes the best dialogue in town

The fictional world of Whedon is so cosy and insular that it even has its own easily identifiable style of speech (called "Slayer Slang" in one academic publication). It's a sort of ironic shorthand filled with familiar tics, like adding 'y' and 'age' to everything ("You look surprisingly robust and casual dress-y"), using adjectives as nouns ("Love makes you do the wacky") and generally twisting stresses for freshness and funnies ("Can everyone else just notice how much fire I'm not on?"). And if all that sounds familiar, it's because Whedonspeak became widespread without you even realising it was a thing.

5. He's a realist

As much as Whedon is a fan champion, he's also a smart Hollywood operator with a practical sense of how the industry works. When Fox demanded changes to his troubled sci-fi Firefly, Whedon did his best to please his network bosses. And when Warner Bros. announced plans for a Buffy reboot, his hilarious, fan-mollifying response was perfectly judged ("This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths – just because they can't think of an original idea of their own, like I did with my Avengers idea that I made up myself.") In other words, he's no impotent idealist, he's a savvy filmmaker with an understanding of what a studio needs, as well as audiences, which makes it all the more likely his films will please both.

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11-04-2012