Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Man of Steel and unowned apocalypses

Warning: mild spoilers about Man of Steel ahead.

In Greek myth, the Gods sent disasters, monsters, plagues to those guilty of crimes, offence or overweening arrogance. These days at the movies, we have to settle for 'because blowing sh*t up looks way cool in 3D.'

Time was, it was man's meddling with the atom that unleashed Godzilla. Our imperial hubris which triggered the 'oh yeah? response from aliens in The War Of The Worlds and a hundred bug-eyed descendents. Our blind faith in science and progress over-turned by eco-disaster, intelligent apes, viral zombies or road warriors in spandex.

Whether we were right, wrong, or some confused mess in between, homo sapiens owned this apocalypse even if we hadn't earned it. This was our metaphor, dang it.

But now, thanks to CGI and the seemingly endless ability of 3D to make debris fly out of the screen at the audience, the end of the world seems to be getting longer, more superficially spectacular, more unprovoked and, dare I say, more pointless than ever before.

Yes, I'm looking at you, Man of Steel. Although previous offences such as Transformers, Star  Trek II and to a lesser extent Avengers, should also be taken into consideration.

MOS climaxes with an extensive set piece with Superman fighting renegade Kryptonians above, around and through the skyscrapers of not-Manhattan. Buildings fall, planes explode, the earth shakes. 

Woah, right?

Yet what sounds epic swiftly hits Magpiemoth's law of diminishing returns from CGI: once you've seen someone body slammed through a skyscraper once, you really don't need to see it again, let alone ten times more. 

Technical bravado - and Zac Snyder is a great technical director - creates an interminable scene which unbalances rather than caps the entire film.  

What's more, these films can destroy New York and its surrogates like Metropolis as many times as you want, but by making them the backdrop to clashes of god-like robots or robot-like gods, with humanity relegated to screaming and running only, you rob them of any psychodrama. 

This not our apocalypse any more, we're only living in it.

And when you've got a Superman film - rescue cape boy par excellence -  and you make the crisis not only indirectly his fault in the first place, but then then give the impression of not really caring about the people caught up and presumably dying in the final battle because you're too busy focussing on techniques of destruction, you know you've got problems. 

Ethical problems, arguably. Dramatic problems, very probably. 

The end of the world blues, certainly.


  1. I agree Tim. The ending took the edge off the film for me.
    Too much reliance on CGI- just 'How can we up the carnage?!'

    To jump to the defence of Avengers, although the invasion of New York wasn't Humanity's fault - there was a small attempt to bring the drama of the destruction to the eye of the common man- by which I mean that whilst the heroes were charging around putting the Smackdown, there was an attempt to elicit some empathy by showing the residents of New York.
    Unfortunately, I have seen clips of additional footage that did tell more of this story (the beat cop who picks up a laser weapon and charges into the fro... and the waitress (who we ended up seeing in the Bank scene) also showing heroism on the street that were left on the cutting room floor.

    A shame, as I thought they added to the story, rather than it just being a Destructo-fest.

    But yes, MoS didn't seem to make that attempt.
    Kal didn't even seem to want to take his 'scuffle' outside of the city... But hey, there you go!

  2. I was letting off The Avengers more than Man Of Steel, as it did at least try to bring things down to human level more. And it sounds like the scenes removed from the film would have strengthened that tendency.

    Interesting, thanks!

    And as you say, it's not like there wasn't a whole lot of water just outside Metropolis Zod couldn't have been fought over/under.