How to Destroy Cities

Heads up, kids. This is going to be spoilery. I’ve been rather flippant with my money spending lately, which is why I have seen both Man of Steel and Pacific Rim at the cinema. Full disclosure: I LOVED PACIFIC RIM. IT WAS SO GOOD AND SO MUCH FUN. On the other hand, I hated Man of Steel. Now, aside from the fact that I saw them almost back-to-back, the films do have something in common that I’ve started to notice in a lot of big budget productions: monumental destruction. Both Man of Steel and Pacific Rim feature the annihilation of entire (heavily populated) cities that the audience is supposed to disregard in favour of… I dunno…plot or something.



Normally I’m not a fan of that kind of thing. Even in The Avengers (which I loved and saw multiple times), the fact that the final fight scene featured an entire city being flattened and probably a couple of thousand people being wiped out never sat well with me. It’s probably because there’s never any real consequence to these sort of scenes shown in the film. Star Trek: Into Darkness, for example featured a city being totally flattened by a giant spaceship, and then ten seconds spent mourning the death of the people on board. The Avengers featured a gratuitous 20 second montage of people laying wreaths on the wreckage of buildings.

So it is with Man of Steel. I didn’t like the movie for a lot of reasons… many of them based on the fact that we’re apparently supposed to ignore the entire history of Superman and his whole ethos because they wanted to make it less like Superman and more like Batman. (Christopher Nolan is producing…is Superman gritty enough yet? We’ve given him a beard. How ’bout now? We’ve made him choose a life of solitude and deep-sea fishing. IS IT GRITTY YET? IS THERE ANY WAY WE COULD ADD MORE GRIT?)

"Are you finding me gritty enough yet? I grew a beard. How 'bout if this fight takes place at night? Would that make it better? Why don't you like me as much as Batman?

“Are you finding me gritty enough yet? I grew a beard. How ’bout if this fight takes place at night? Would that make it better? Why don’t you like me as much as Batman?

But my main problem lay with the fact everything got flattened. EVERYTHING. First, it was Clark Kent’s home town. Rather than, oh I dunno…taking the fight to space (which he is perfectly capable of doing), he instead tells everyone on the streets of Smallville to “go inside, stay there” so that he can attempt to beat the ever-loving Christ out of a bunch of super-charged, super-angry alien beings. In the process he manages to destroy the entire main street and eventually blow up a gas station, ensuring that anything that didn’t get punched to death caught fire.

Then, since wiping out Smallville isn’t enough to stop General Zod (our villain…I probably should have mentioned that earlier), he continues on with his genius plan to terraform earth so that it becomes a reborn Krypton. The fake science involves plugging two really big things in either side of the earth, getting them to make a dramatic “wump wump wump” noise, something-something-magents and hey-presto! Basically it picks everything up and then drops it, so that that it flattens down and eventually transforms the atmosphere. Superman does pratically nothing to stop this for a really long time. It just kind of happens and the people of Metropolis watch their city crumble before getting pounded into dust themselves.

The only time we’re given any insight into the human impact of the destruction is when we briefly look 3 staff members from the Daily Planet who we don’t really give a fuck about who calmly sit down and wait for death. (Lawrence Fishburne is one of the people, so I think we’re supposed to care, but I couldn’t muster it.) Superman eventually manages to stop the ‘wump wump wump’ machine from doing the thing, but that doesn’t actually stop Zod either. So, amongst the ruins of Metropolis they proceed to have another punching contest to destroy the rest of the city (just in case anything escaped unscathed). Eventually, Superman kills Zod (spoilers) to save four people. No word on why those four people are more important than the tens of thousands of people who were wiped out while the Soops and co. were dicking around elsewhere, but whatever.

And then the movie ends with exactly no acknowledgment of the fact that everyone is dead. It’s not just the fact that Metropolis (clearly a parallel for NYC) is flattened either. As I mentioned before, we’re explicitly shown the machine plugging into either side of the globe… Then it’s never mentioned again. I realise that it’s an America-centric movie, but why even show the fact that Zod’s quest for world domination has global implications if you’re not going to follow through with any of it?

In short, the reason this kind of mass destruction doesn’t work for me, is because we’re only supposed to care about the destruction of the city insofar as it has an impact on the main characters. Superman simultaneously destroys the world and saves it, no one calls him out on the death toll and Metropolis is mysteriously in tact. There are literally no repercussions for Superman making some seriously stupid decisions and thus the audience is supposed to assume that the city was eventually fine and/or that it wasn’t important anway. Considering how directly a lot of these films reference 9/11 imagery in their city-destroying sequences, there’s something inherently disturbing about pushing that sort of chaos to the side in favour of snappy one-liners about drone planes. (Spoiler: they’re not good snappy-oneliners.)

Pacific Rim features similar large scale destruction. It has to – it’s a Godzilla movie. However, Pacific Rim deals with its crumbling cities in a very different way. Unlike your usual disaster film, the action in Pacific Rim takes place in a world that’s become accustomed to being laid low by monsters. Kaiju are coming through a interdimensional portal…and they just keep coming, squishing cities and battling Jaeger robots. An effort is made by humanity to battle to monsters at the source. Several of the fights take place in the middle of the ocean, which is pretty spectacular. As we’re slowly introduced to more of the Jaeger program, it becomes apparent that the main purpose of the program is border patrol – to keep the kaiju away from heavily populated areas and generally just minimise the death toll.

When the city finally becomes the battle ground it’s Hong Kong being destroyed, which is just such a nice step away from a US-centric cinematic vision that it made my soul weirdly happy despite the fact that the Hong Kongwas being flattened in the process. Anyway, as the kaiju hits the coastline an alarm sounds, much like the sort of alarm that rang during air raids in WWII and everyone just very calmly heads underground. Because that’s what this world is. Humans have just kind of adapted to the idea that their home could be wiped out at any minute. They’re not happy about it, but they’ve learned to live with it. At one point a news report flashes up talking about Australians in Sydney rioting over the fact that the Jaeger program was discontinued just days before another kaiju attack. Black markets have sprung up around the sale of kaiju organs. Jaeger pilots are elevated to the status of rockstars and made into collector cards. It’s all just so human. They just kind of get on with life because what else are they going to do?

All throughout the film, it has been subtly implied that people are just soldiering on despite the dramatic heroics happening elsewhere. There’s something really wonderful about that and, more importantly, it means that seeing an entire city being wiped out doesn’t feel meaningless. It feels like, despite the destruction there is potential. And that’s kind of fantastic.

What I’m trying to say is that somewhere, somehow the roles of Man of Steel and Pacific Rim got reverse. Man of Steel is a superhero flick that shows a blatant disregard for human life and wantonly destroys entire cities because it has the budget to do so. To quote a friend of mine, Superman has basically become a pub brawler with super powers. It’s a superhero film that lacks a hero (and a sense of humor). Pacific Rim is a cross between a Western disaster movie and an Eastern monster movie that actually cares about the things it’s wrecking and takes pains to ensure that the audience isn’t going to be distracted from the actual plot by the carnage.

Obviously, this is just a review of the way the these two films treat the scenery. I have a lot of feelings about the characters in Pacific Rim (MAKO MORI! PLEASE MARRY ME!) and also about Idris Elba’s butt in tight pants. In terms of Man of Steel, I have a lot of feelings about Lois Lane (who was pretty great). But they’re stories for another day. Feel free to ask me about my feelings in the comments. I’d love to hear yours.

On another note, I’ve decided to stick to blogging once a week. The blog will now be updated on Fridays only. I figured “quality” over quantity, right? Right? Guys?


Superman: The Christopher Nolan Effect

I know I spent last week’s post ranting about The Dark Knight Rises, but there’s a lot of shit going on surrounding the humble superhero film, so I thought I’d take a second to discuss the upcoming Man of Steel. They released a poster at Comic Con (which I didn’t bother to discuss in my Comic Con-related post) which looks like this:

Dark, broody poster. Slight frown wrinkling his oh-so-chiselled superhuman features. Beacon of hope shining across his glorious ‘S’ logo. Now take a look at this teaser trailer that came out the other day:

Woah, you guys! Does anyone else smell a rebranding? Like, I know that Superman has always been ‘the man of steel’ but usually we get a little more than just his tagline for a title. And what about that trailer? He’s got a beard and a dog. He seems like he’s doing hard labour on some tiny fishing boat somewhere. He’s hitch-hiking, for Pete’s sake! It looks positively…gritty. Superman isn’t gritty…he’s Superman! I have developed a name for this new-found phenomenon, bear with me. I’m calling it “The Christopher Nolan Effect.”

You’ve probably already guessed where this is going, but allow me to elaborate. Cast your minds back to all of the cinematic and television incarnations of the Batman that you can remember. I’m willing to bet that the first two that you think of are probably Adam West’s Batman from the TV series and Michael Keaton’s version from the Tim Burton movies. Both of those are equally valid, but they’re pretty camp and that’s what everyone remembers.

His Bat-mask literally has angry eyebrows painted on it.

Everyone thought Burton’s revamp was pretty gloomy (read as: walked, talked and rained like a Burton movie) but then you sort of remember that the Joker had a dance number to a Prince track, and no matter how creepy Jack Nicholson is there’s no moving past that.

Then, along comes Christopher Nolan and makes Batman genuinely dark again in a way that reflects some of the brilliant writing that’s appeared in the comic books in recent times. It’s the goddamn Batman with a full range of human flaws. Unsurprisingly, due to the monumental success of Nolan’s bat-films, Hollywood and DC are now trying to replicate this with Superman.

Problem with Superman is, it’s surprisingly hard to make him a fully-fledged emotional character because he’s perfect. He’s super-strong, he can fly, he has a sense of justice unfettered by the more terrible end of the spectrum of human feeling and he is like, really chiselled and handsome and shit. When they were writing the comics it got to a point for the authors where they had to stop and go, “Oh crap… We’ve created someone who is indestructible and MY GOD is that boring. There is NOTHING we can do with him. We should probably invent a weakness or something, yeah? We’ll call it uuuuh…kryptonite?”

So, existing is never really going to be all that much of a struggle for Superman. But, using faulty Hollywood logic, the fact that the Batman films were successful because of a flawed and ultimately human superhero, means that we should then repeat that formula for everything that follows it. That, ladies, gentlemen and other variations thereof, is what I have dubbed ‘The Christopher Nolan Effect.’

This is, of course, pure speculation. I’m probably being a bit mean. I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan. Man of Steel could be totally unique and surprising. I’d be willing to put money on the fact that it isn’t though. If the teaser is anything to go by, it has a grand vision of bringing humanity into the Superman character/being very similar to Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

The Man of Steel release date has been pushed way, way back to June of next year so until then, enjoy all the promotional material they’re going to attempt to excite you with and I will go back to waiting for them to make another X-Men movie or some shit.

Also, if you’re Superman super-fan and you haven’t seen the video below, you should definitely check it out. It’s by Max Landis, the writer of Chronicle (which is worth a watch) and it is a rather humorous re-telling of The Death of Superman. I laughed so hard I cried a bit.

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