BAM! POW! ZAP! 'Avengers 2' Update, Michael Shannon Talks 'Zod' and More

Welcome to the debut of BAM! POW! ZAP!, in which I'll be regularly hitting you smack between the eyes with firsthand word on superhero, sci-fi and fantasy films, directly from the stars and filmmakers of the genre movies you'd be already be camping outside the multiplex to see if Fandango didn't make it so easy for you, plus retro catch-ups with some incredible icons.

Rather than simply offering slivers of repurposed news and rumor, I'll be going straight to the sources: assembling Avengers, shedding light on Dark Knights , deconstructing Droids, debriefing Bond Girls…you get the gist. I've been writing and reporting all over the entertainment space for a while now – from People and TV Guide to InStyle and NBC – but I've been a bag-and-boarding, Mego-hoarding, Holiday Special-bootlegging fanboy since age five, pilgrimaging everywhere from Skywalker Ranch to Blade Runner's Bradbury Building to achieve nerdvana – so this gig is kinda my Lost Ark, my Horcrux, my One Ring.

Enough about me –  let's kick off with a really, really big BAM! with some words from Avengers 2 helmer Joss Whedon; a powerful POW! from the general who'll make the Man of Steel kneel, Michael Shannon; and a zingy ZAP! with a classic sitcom star who you might not know once did a tour of duty on Hoth.

Joss Whedon Gives an Avengers 2 and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Update

Now that Marvel and Disney are inaugurating the post-Avengers era of filmmaking with Iron Man 3, Joss Whedon tells me that he's enjoying a somewhat vaguely defined role with the movies that will precede his follow-up film, making sure the connectivity that defined the comic book universe created by Stan Lee and his collaborators and carried over into the Marvel Cinematic Universe stays as cohesive as superhumanly possible in the lead-in to his sequel – without, y'know, getting crazy about it.

"Right now we just make sure there's nothing glaringly antithetical to what it is I'm trying to do," says Whedon. "These movies [the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America sequels] were all further along, and they all are being made by people with their own vision. And you want to respect that. Because that's, I think, what makes Marvel interesting: they get a different filmmaker to tell his story.  Every now and then I'm adjusting to what I see. And, to an extent, there's a certain amount of buyback that you always have when you're doing a series of movies. I mean, it's not like James Bond buyback where he's in love and then gets amnesia in every single movie. That's weird! But you know that they're not going to suddenly change so much that you can't work on your movie. It's just fun, really to sort of see all the balls in the air."

The filmmaker has in fact, broken the story for Avengers 2 and is making progress on the screenplay. "It's going well," he says. "I did a first draft. I've been talking to some actors about some key roles and that's exciting. And we're just going to start storyboarding a couple sequences and start with the concept art. It's the very first blush, so it's all very exciting."

By the time Whedon gets the band back together, most of the actors will have multiple stints as their respective characters under their belts, and he says he's very open to their input on their alter egos' arcs as he shapes the story. "I always tell everybody what my intent is, and they're very good about speaking up if there's something that feels weird….The first time I got the chance to sit down with them before when I was still crafting the story. Now I've spoken to a couple of them and I'll eventually hit all of them, but I think they trust the process. They know that I have their best interests at heart. Because the cooler they look, the better we all do."

Fans should expect some synergy between the almost-certain-to-be-picked-up ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the films, but Whedon also wants the show to stand strongly on its own merits. "S.H.I.E.L.D. has to work on its own. It can't be an Easter egg farm. It's got to be a show with characters you care about week to week. That if you've never seen a Marvel movie you can tune into. I believe the Marvel movies work partially because the idea of a superhero universe is not alien to our culture on so many levels – we're so used to it. And so the idea of a superhero show that isn't about superheroes, I think its time has come."

Avengers 2, however, will be a superhero movie about superheroes (and their bad guys), he assures. "There are some villains and other characters that are very particular to The Avengers that I'm very excited about."

Michael Shannon: Why Zod Is Like the God of War

Speaking of villains, they don't get any badder than the Kryptonian military mastermind General Zod – or bigger, especially when Zod's played by 6'3" star Michael Shannon, who'll be menacing Henry Cavill's Superman in Man of Steel.

The Oscar-nominated Shannon (Revolutionary Road), who's already downright frightening in his role as real-life mob contract killer Richard Kuklinski in The Iceman (in theaters May 2), reveals that he tackled the role of Zod with an entirely different mindset from some of the scarier characters he's played previously.

"Honestly, I approached Zod not as a villain, really," Shannon explains. "In the structure of the story, he is the antagonist in the Greek sense, but I really try to think of him more as someone who was a general of a place, and he was trying to protect his place, like any general would. It's like if you were a general of the United States, and some little country over in the desert says, ‘Oh, we're coming to get you,' you go over there and you bomb the shit out of it and kill everybody. And nobody walks around saying, ‘Well, general such-and-so is such a villain! I can't believe he did that!' You come home and everybody salutes you. And they give you flag and a medal or whatever, and you're a hero. So to me, that's what General Zod is: General Zod is the most fierce warrior in the history of Krypton. He's like the God of War."

The actor also has a sci-fi drama slated for 2014: director Jake Paltrow's Young Ones opposite Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) and Elle Fanning. "I really have pretty high hopes for Young Ones," he says. "It's an intense story. It's set in the not too distant future, and there's not much water left on earth. I play a farmer whose land has been completely obliterated by drought, and I deliver supplies to the water miners up in the mountains. I have two kids and a wife who is in the hospital because I got in a drunk driving accident with her, and she's like paralyzed. So I'm a pretty down-on-your-luck kind of fellow. It's got a little bit of a Steinbeck type feel to it."

Where Nobody Knew His Name

Cheers' trivia-obsessed postal worker Cliff Clavin would love this "little known fact": John Raztenberger, the actor who played the buffoonish barstool warmer for 11 seasons, started his acting career as a bit player in a handful of films that would go on to be just as revered as his classic sitcom – including The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, where he was a Rebel officer leading the defense of the Alliance's Hoth base from the AT-AT assault.

Surely Ratzenberger, who also gone on to provide a voice in every single Pixar film, had an inkling that being in the sequel to Star Wars might be a standout on his resume decades later. "I had no idea," he chuckles. "They had all these special effects and these jet fighters and Wookies so it was fun. I had no idea what it would become – but the same thing with Superman I and II. And I did A Bridge Too Far and Gandhi."

With a new slate of Star Wars sequels coming from Disney, I reminded Ratzenberger that as far as the movie mythology's concerned his character (retroactively dubbed Major Bren Derlin in franchise lore) survived the Battle of Hoth and could be ready to join Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo's cause once again. Maybe Ratzenberger will get a phone call from director J.J. Abrams? "He probably doesn't even know!" laughs the actor.

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