Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Man of Steel: In Defence of the "Disaster Porn"

(My full review of Man of Steel can be found here.)



SPOILERS!!!

While Man of Steel seems to have been well received by the general public, one of the main complaints from fans & critics has been against the level of destruction suffered by Metropolis at the end. Terri Schwartz on Zap2It described the destruction as a "big gaffe", adding "it seems somewhat surprising that a superhero who strives so hard to protect humans would be so careless about destroying a major city" and "the movie offered no resolution for how Metropolis would hope to recover." Comic book artist Ty Tempeton said "The orgy of death that is the last twenty minutes sickened me." One of the most passionate complaints about the destruction came from comic book writer and massive Superman fan, Mark Waid;
Superman (makes) absolutely no effort to take the fight, like, ONE BLOCK AWAY INTO A CORNFIELD INSTEAD OF ON MAIN STREET. Still, saving people here and there, but certainly never going out of his way to do so, and mostly just trying not to get his ass kicked.... And then we got to The Battle of Metropolis, and I truly, genuinely started to feel nauseous at all the Disaster Porn. Minute after minute after endless minute of Some Giant Machine laying so much waste to Metropolis that it’s inconceivable that we weren't watching millions of people die in every single shot. And what’s Superman doing while all this is going on? He’s halfway around the world, fighting an identical machine but with no one around to be directly threatened, so it’s only slightly less noticeable that thousands of innocents per second are dying gruesomely on his watch. Seriously, back in Metropolis, entire skyscrapers are toppling in slo-mo and the city is a smoking, gray ruin for miles in every direction…but, you know, Superman buys the humans enough time to sacrifice many, many of their own lives to bomb the Giant Machine themselves and even makes it back to Metropolis in time to catch Lois from falling (again), so…yay?
I just wanted to note a few thoughts down, just to say why I don't share their complaint. Firstly, when people have argued that Superman is boring because he's too powerful I've always argued that rather than answer this by scaling down Superman's powers, writers should dial up the threat he's facing. That's exactly what this film did. There's no doubt about how powerful Superman is in this film, but the bad guy's are even more powerful. There's more of them, they've got his powers and they're trained soldiers. In order to emphasise that this was the fight of Superman's life, despite his great power, then I would argue that this gigantic level of destruction was necessary.

So why didn't Superman save more people? Well Waid himself said it, he was "mostly trying not to get his ass kicked." How can the audience be convinced that the threat to Superman is real when he's got time to nip off and put out a bunch of fires, or even, as Waid put it "use his heat vision on the fly to disintegrate deadly falling debris after a sonic boom."

Surely though, you might argue, if Superman is designed for anything, it's accomplishing the impossible? And this brings me to my final point. I would argue that Superman isn't about saving every single person ever. He's about inspiring the people of Earth to save themselves. In Superman: The Movie (1978) Marlon Brando's Jor-El says "They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son." In Man of Steel Russell Crowe's Jor-El says "You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders." And he does! Once they've been exposed to Superman the people of Earth in Man of Steel accomplish wonders!

I think it's quite significant that while director Zack Snyder didn't take time out of the action to show Superman disintegrating falling glass, he DID take the time to show things like Perry White and Steve Lombard risking their life to save Jenny Olsen. We saw Colonel Hardy and Prof. Hamilton sacrificing their lives to send the Kryptonians back to the Phantom Zone. As Waid himself points out "Superman buys the humans enough time to sacrifice many, many of their own lives to bomb the Giant Machine themselves."

In Man of Steel Superman fails to help everybody but he does inspire plenty of people to help themselves, and as far as I'm concerned that's very true to the spirit of the character.

And besides nobody complained about all the destruction and death in bloody Avengers!

8 comments:

  1. I think it's more Snyder using 9/11 imagery to convey the sense of hopelessness that normal humans would feel in a world suddenly populated by people who *can* destroy entire city blocks without even thinking.

    In The Avengers there was some destruction presented onscreen, but the NPCs were basically surrounded by the force-field of plot, so even when cars were being thrown about they and the buildings they were thrown into were shown to be empty.

    In other words, The Avengers is an action movie and Man of Steel is a war movie.

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    1. Maybe, but I didn't think the civilians we saw came across like they saw the situation as hopeless. They weren't just passive victims of events beyond their control. That scene where Perry & Lombard are rescuing Jenny for example. They're not giving up, they're fighting to rescue her.

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  2. I liked the destruction of Man of Steel because it scared me a little. Avengers was great, but you never felt that the threat wouldn't be overcome, and the enemy were more or less bumbling, faceless legions, a bit like Lucas' stormtroopers.

    Against a God? Please.

    But General Zod is terrifying, ALL the Phantom Zone Kryptonians were terrifying. Superman has incredible power, but we still got to feel his helplessness in front of a threat possibly too huge for him to contain.

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  3. YES!! Spot on well argued and well said sir!

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  4. A totally crap movie made for the A.D.D generation. Bigger isn't always better and explosions aren't an answer for bad scripting. It was pure demolition porn , shamelessly using images of city wide destruction in a new york(esque) setting to garner shock value. If the destruction was just one element of the film that sucked then that would have been something....but the entire pacing and wooden acting combined to make this movie a total waste of my time. make sure your well stocked on Methylphenidate before seeing this crap, if only to stomach the teenage fans orgasmic gushing of praise after the movie. if i ever hear the phrase "awesome/sic/ pwned" in a movie theater again, I'm going to shit out a compendium of Shakespearean plays and beat the fuck out of someone.

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    1. Sorry they're not making superhero movies for you any more Grandad.

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