Collateral Damage

I’ve seen a bunch of the Big! Summer! Movies! this year, and there seems to me to be a disturbing trend: huge special effects, train crashes, shoot outs, aliens, superheroics…and dead bodies.

Last year The Avengers showed us a whole team of people who saved the world–but took the time to get as many people as possible out of danger while they did it.  This year, in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark often rescued people put in danger (the catching-people-who-fell-from-a-plane sequence is particularly brilliant) while fighting the Bad People.  But in this year’s Superman relaunch, along with buildings blowing up, vehicles being tossed about, and buildings being crushed to dust, Pa Kent would rather have people die than have his adopted son reveal who he is. WTF? I admit I often have a “who’s going to pay for all this” feeling while watching superhero movies–is there a department of post-heroics cleanup in the major municipalities of the U.S.?  But that’s property damage.  This year it doesn’t seem to be limited to that.

My favorite internet meme this year has been this one:


That was my problem with Man of Steel in a nutshell.  Superman–the one I grew up with, anyway–would have been torn between catching the bad guy and catching people falling out of a building.  Much drama has been made in past Superman movies of the tension between “he’s getting away” and “but the little old lady’s kitten is in danger!” It’s easy to deride Superman as a Boy Scout, the nice boy, Batman’s sunnier side; but he’s always been the hero who cared about the people he was protecting. Nice Kansas boy, raised by upstanding good folk (Pa Kent’s depiction in Man of Steel is slanderous: he’s so determined to protect his kid’s identity that he would prefer an entire bus load of school children drown, rather than have Clark outed).  The whole of Man of Steel is one big whirling mass of steel, cement, fight scenes–and dying humans being tossed around like confetti, like set-dressing.

And then last week I went to a screening of The Lone Ranger.  Like Superman, he’s a white hat.  A good guy.  If it was between catching the villain or pulling little Timmy out of the well, Timmy would be out and dry in no time.  And as portrayed in the movie, the Ranger himself is wishy-washy and disconnected, a pretty unconvincing good guy*.  But of all the train wrecks in The Lone Ranger the biggest is the movie itself.  Not least because of the spectacular loss of life all over the screen.  It’s as if the director and special effects people thought that you wouldn’t buy the multiple locomotive crashes and mine explosions and other cataclysms unless there were bodies strewn everywhere.  There’s a supposed-to-be-comic moment when, after there’s been a head-to-head train collision with a brass band and grandstand sandwiched together and then, the band is reassembled so that the speaker can continue his speech, with the bandaged musicians playing a wobbly version of a Sousa march.  Because people not being able to play their instruments properly after they’ve been hit by a train is comic, right?

Am I asking too much of these two movies?  I don’t think so.  If it were just me, I wouldn’t have been able to find the wealth of comments (or the meme above) about this Summer of Collateral Damage.  I do wonder who the film makers think they’re making the movies for.  Kids? Adults? I suppose DC wants to make a more “adult” Superman to go with their dark, dark Dark Knight.  And Disney made–not a Lone Ranger film, but a “made-by-the-guys-who-made-the-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-movies” film.  Coming on the heels of those movies, the filmmakers appear to have decided that the only thing to do was throw More! at the screen.  Cause, as one of the editors at the comic book publisher I used to work in used to say, “the kids’ll love it.”

I think I’ll go watch Iron Man again.


* I will pass over the collection of tics and mugging which is Johnny Depp’s Tonto, in deference to movies in which he was splendid, like Chocolat and Don Juan de Marco.





Collateral Damage — 9 Comments

  1. Yes. This. From reports, I don’t even want to see Man of Steel or this incarnation of Lone Ranger. Where are the people?

    Like the kids’ finger puppet game. These film makers open their hands, and…empty.

    • I had intended to see both, but these comments bring together all the little murmurings of discontent I’ve heard and *pow!* right in the kisser! Nope, not interested in watching that. I had enough of this reaction in AVENGERS, where they did attempt to keep people safe.

  2. I’ve heard that about the new Superman, and elected not to see it for exactly these reasons. Maybe it’s my age showing? I suppose I wouldn’t have thought about the collateral damage at age thirteen.

  3. I quit going to these sorts of movies a very long time ago.

    The no-consequences destruction po-ed me long ago, particularly as no consequence destruction meant the movies spent more time and money on destruction than anything else — because it supposedly is vastly entertaining. But by throwing this out there as no consequence Hollywood trained generations to believe in no consequence destruction, and that it was ‘merely’ entertainment. Thus wars are televised, with the same attitude, here in the U.S., as we squander more and more of what little remains of our national honor and treasure.

    In the meantime, I’m also sickened by the destruction, over and over and over, of my home, played as a joke and for the entertainment of people far far far away.

  4. The side branch of this set-up is the hero/heroine who is in big trouble or actually dies, and any number of spear-carriers end up in worse trouble, or more often dead, in order to save the hero/ine’s skin. Nobody ever says, “Hey, let’s take this same process of resurrection and apply it to the dead spear carriers.” Who had their own lives and stories, but they weren’t exciting enough for anybody in power to think of them.

  5. I think the enormous costs of the Summer Blockbuster has forced the movies into an irritating dead end. Bigger! More effects! Everybody has had plastic surgery! It is becoming annoying.

    • If they haven’t had plastic surgery, they’re just plain plastic. Or fake, anyway. I’d rather watch limited heroics that are done by real people than CGI figures boinging around the screen.

  6. We don’t see many movies when they’re at theaters, but it reinforces my thoughts of watching the LOTR series over the summer, we just finally saw the first Hobbit and enjoyed it. I’d like to see the movies again and see if they put in the same anguish that Tolkien had in his books as people are lost to the crush of war. I was so struck by the feeling of actual mourning and loss, of the background charactors, the heroes are not untouched by the “collateral damage”.

    Otherwise I have a feeling that we’ll stick to seeing some of the better kids movies again, we just saw Arthur Christmas and Rise of the Guardians and were pleasantly surprised by the stories.

    • I am all for a realistic portrayal of the costs of conflict. I’ve killed of characters I loved, because it seemed to me there had to be some cost to what was happening in a story. But I cannot imagine (for example) the Man of Steel in the movie looking at the devastation he’s caused and feeling bad about it.