Someone who is stuck in the moment of promoting their own film or TV show is often a very different person than they are years down the line at which point corporate interests no longer prevent them from sharing their honest opinion. For example, if you ever watch the DVD special features for Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan the Leonard Nimoy in the archival interview from 1982 has far more charitable things to say about the film’s development process than the Leonard Nimoy of 2002 featured in the special retrospective made for the DVD. I thought something similar might be happening when I saw the recent headlines that Joss Whedon was saying some surprisingly frank things about the consistently beleaguered Agents of SHIELD, a show he co-created before handing it off to his brother (Jed), sister-in-law (Maurissa Tancharoen) and Jeffrey Bell. I wondered if I would be able to pull a Daily Show and find some old quotes in which the Whedon of 2013 (when the show debuted) appears to contradict the Whedon of 2015. After all, Whedon is a man on his way out of Marvel at this point. On top of that, making Age of Ultron just about killed him. So, this is a sleep-deprived, soon-to-be-unemployed man finally peeling back the curtain, right? Marvel Studios vs. Marvel Television. Fight! Fight! Fight! Right?
Let’s find out:
The Joss Whedon of 2015
Revealed that there is a slight disconnect between Marvel’s film and TV divisions (IGN):
“I think actually the movie people were a little bit cross about the TV show. They were sort of like ‘Well you can have this but not this. And this but not that.’ It’s complicated enough as it is without me adding another layer of complication. We also created a TV show called S.H.I.E.L.D. right before they made a movie where they destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D. So everybody’s having a GREAT time!”
“The Coulson thing was, I think, a little anomalous just because that really came from the television division, which is sort of considered to be its own subsection of the Marvel universe. As far as the fiction of the movies, Coulson is dead. But I have to say, watching the first one with my kids—I had not watched the first one since it came out—and then watching it with my kids and watching Coulson die but [thinking], “Yeah, but I know that he kind of isn’t,” it did take some of the punch out of it for me. Of course, I spent a lot of time making sure he didn’t. And at the time it seemed inoffensive, as long as it wasn’t referenced in the second movie, which it isn’t […] As far as I’m concerned, in [Age of Ultron], Coulson’s dead. If you come back in the sequel and say Coulson’s alive, it’s like putting f***ing John Gielgud in the sequel to ‘Arthur.’ It mattered that he’s gone. It’s a different world now. And you have to run with that.”
The Joss Whedon of 2013
Sold Agents of SHIELD as being about the Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns of the Marvel universe (EW):
“Anybody who’s ever seen one of my shows knows I love the ensembles; I love the peripheral characters. This is basically a TV series of “The Zeppo” [an episode of Buffy], which was a very deliberate deconstruction of a Buffy episode in order to star the person who mattered the least. The people who are ignored are the people I’ve been writing as my heroes from day one. With S.H.I.E.L.D., the idea of [Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson] as the long-suffering bureaucrat who deals with Tony Stark’s insufferability is delightful and hits the core of something I’m also writing about all the time—the little guy versus the big faceless organization. Now, somebody might point out, “But isn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. a big faceless organization?” It absolutely is, and that’s something we’re going to deal with in the series. But what’s really interesting to me is there’s a world of super-heroes and superstars, they’re celebrities, and that’s a complicated world—particularly complicated for people who don’t have the superpowers, the disenfranchised. Now, obviously there’s going to be high jinks and hilarity and sex and gadgets and all the things that made people buy the comics. But that’s what the show really is about to me, and that’s what Clark Gregg embodies: the Everyman.”
Appeared to dismiss a question about how much Marvel was limiting what they could use in the show (EW):
“Marvel is the least restrictive studio environment I’ve ever experienced, across the board. I probably wouldn’t be back if that wasn’t the case. It is genuinely a mom-and-pop mega-store.”
And explained that Agent Coulson wouldn’t cameo or even be referenced in Avenger 2, which he was still writing at the time (EW):
“Yeah. I don’t have time—Jesus. I mean, again. The draft is a million pages long […] It’s north of 150, and it’s not gonna be. There’s a point at which I’m not holding back; I’m going to put in everything I like. Then there’s a point where it’s: “Okay, what do I like best.””
Eh. This more seems like it’s two years down the road and several Marvel Cinematic Universe movies later (Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Whedon now has the wisdom of hindsight as well as freedom from worrying about spoiling SHIELD’s Hydra-sized season 1 twist. The main revelation from all of this is probably that Marvel Studios and Marvel Television are not quite the harmonious unit we might have guessed.