All Style, No Substance – “Man of Steel,” Blockbusters Ignore Collateral Damage


In the finale of Man of Steel, Superman fights Zod, and building after building is destroyed. Let’s ignore the fact that the World Machine killed hundreds of thousands on its own – in the final battle itself, there’s no way Supes and Zod don’t have collateral damage while crashing through dozens of buildings. Not once does Superman try to take the fight out of Metropolis. No one mentions this damage or loss of life at the end. When the building falls, you’re supposed to care about the two people running away from its impact zone, not the hundreds of people inside. And the way it is filmed, you’re not supposed to care about this collateral damage or mass loss of life to people you don’t see – you’re only supposed to care about the three people Zod tries to laser at the end before Clark gives him some aggressive chiropractic adjustments.

In the finale of Avengers, a portal is opened up in New York, releasing waves of gigantic alien things that begin slaughtering everyone. In response, our heroes feel lost, fighting what is a losing battle because they can’t save everyone, despite their best efforts. It’s still a fun, kick-ass finale, but the sense of loss is high. The score reflects the tragedy of the situation. We, and the characters, understand the magnitude of the devastation and loss of life, even in victory.

In the finale of Star Trek: Into Darkness, an enormous ship crash lands and decimates half the city into nothing but rubble. No character ever mentions this event. No one seems to regret anything. The only words mentioned at the end are of the officers lost in the initial attack, not the millions lost in the catastrophic crash. No perspective of the gravity of the situation is granted to anyone inside the film.

One of these situations is not like the other. One of these situations doesn’t belong.

600 million people die and NO ONE CARES. It’s an unfortunate trend in Hollywood blockbusters that I’m seeing recently – this summer alone has two of the most egregious offenders that I’ve seen. We’re supposed to behold the spectacle of the crashing buildings and explosions, but turn a blind eye to the truth behind the truth – that thousands of people are being killed, and no one seems to care.

It’s an extension of one of my least favorite tropes – an entire police force is gunned down, but our heroes are okay, so they’re able to laugh and turn a blind eye to what’s happening around them.

If you’re going to topple a building, it should be for a purpose. Provide us the scope of the devastation. Let us know what it truly means, by giving it weight and acknowledgement from the characters. In all likelihood, Superman could not have diverted Zod away even if he tried. But he didn’t. There was no moment when Clark accepted the fact that he had to finish this fight in the city, come what may – no sense of realization that in order to fight this enemy, collateral damage was necessary. He just punched mindlessly until Zod got 360 degrees of vision.

I’m not in the camp that thinks we need to neuter our films in light of real world tragedies. But at least take a page out of the Avengers book, and more recently the Arrow season finale, and give it weight. Make it mean something to our characters. Ollie didn’t ride off into the sunset with Felicity when the Glades were leveled. He struggled with the fact that, in many ways, he lost. He was forced to face the consequences head on. And that’s what needs to happen.

Without a sense of consequences, the effects lose all meaning.




4 thoughts on “All Style, No Substance – “Man of Steel,” Blockbusters Ignore Collateral Damage

  1. Yeah lots of heroes in film seem just fine with forgetting there were people in those collapses buildings, but turn on the waterworks when they have to get their hands dirty and directly kill anyone. Oh please. Movie directors must think we’re all that oblivious lol

    1. Exactly. That’s what bothers me more than anything – when it’s the film’s creative team that thinks audiences are too dumb and can’t see past the crumbling buildings.

  2. I really liked the comparison you made with the Avengers. Shortly after watching Man of Steel I remarked to a friend that it felt like I had never seen so many buildings destroyed and so many civilians and law enforcement just evaporated. Thinking about it, just as many people (probably not quite as many buildings) went down in Avengers. I think the difference in my level of shock is for the exact reason you said. Avengers took time to acknowledge how horrific the events were and that lives were being lost. Man of Steel did not really take the time to do this and thus I felt compelled to mention it because I felt like it was never really addressed.

    I think Hollywood has never really done a great job at dealing with this whole issue but what has really brought it to the forefront is the fact that battle scenes are becoming increasingly more grandiose, either because there is now the technology to make the scenes bigger or the directors feel the need to make them bigger to awe/shock us. If movies are going to continue to blow up small towns, mega cities, whole planets, etc I really hope they get better at conveying the impact of these actions to us because it is going to get harder to pretend people aren’t dying in scores when more and more things are being destroyed. Yes, some people are just in it to see things explode, but those of us who pay attention to these things will continue to feel unfulfilled every time a movie does not address the losses suffered

    1. Thanks! And you make a good point – they can’t have it both ways. If they want us to invest emotionally in the characters and the action on screen, then they need to provide gravity for what’s happening.

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